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Lancaster City Council has recently given permission for a 34,000 square metre Science Park to be built immdiately adjacent to the University, with the aims of it becoming “an internationally significant centre of commercial scientific excellence.” The site will include an “Innovation Centre,” to accommodate science-based businesses, as well as links between these businesses and Lancaster University’s established science community, such as the Lancaster Environment Centre.
This sort of development is not unusual for Lancaster University – since I arrived four years ago, the campus has constantly been developing, a constant building site. Student learning space has constantly been renewed and improved upon, largely with the goal of creating a university environment attractive to prospective students as well as to provide more modern teaching facilities. Although this science park will be independent from the university, it would be directly adjacent to it, and thus the construction of it would directly affect student life on campus. We are, however, very used to building work taking place on campus, from the Charles Carter building to the renovation of the Underpass and the creation of a university branch of Subway, construction at Lancaster is something that we have had to deal with and survive. This science park will be no different.
However, this development would bring many opportunities for those studying sciences at Lancaster, in particular those with practical or industrial applications. This science park would enable more connections to be formed between students, departments and employers, giving students valuable opportunities following their higher education. These valuable connections can mean a lot to students, as many people repeat the adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In a world where personal connections can still give you the edge when applying for work or developing your own ideas, this Science Park would provide students with exposure to the science industry outside of a university setting, and therefore be a point in Lancaster University’s favour when dealing with prospective students and student satisfaction.
However, the university must make full use of this opportunity, and not simply allow industries based at the science park to take advantage of the university adjacent to it. Student welfare must come first, and students in any sort of partnership with the science park must be allowed to experience the reality of the science industry without being used for menial work by the virtue of the fact that they are motivated. If these students may be the future of the science industry from which Lancaster University may profit, their interests must be protected by Lancaster University, which would, in turn, help to protect the future of the science industry itself.
I do believe that this Science Park will be a positive development for Lancaster University. Students will be able to develop their science skills in an industry setting, and greater involvement between the Faculty of Science and Technology and the wider industrial world that is in many of its graduates’ futures is a positive step. However, we must remain vigilant in order to prevent these same industries from taking advantage of science students, motivated by work skills, without giving them the opportunities to better themselves and improve their chances of employment following their degree schemes that this relationship could give.