SCAN Interviews: Vice Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith

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In its 50th year, SCAN spoke to the Lancaster University Vice Chancellor, Professor Mark E. Smith, about the university as it turns 50, celebrations for the 50th anniversary and his plans and hopes for the future.

Most prominently, Smith said that he believed that after 50 years Lancaster is in a very strong position. “Lancaster has so many strengths,” Smith told SCAN. “It’s one of the UK’s leading universities, our graduate employability record is excellent and we have a superb research record.

“But one of the most impressive things about Lancaster is that it manages to successfully combine academic credentials with friendly community values, as well as placing teaching and the wider student experience as key priorities. I think that’s why our students love Lancaster.”

2014 is a celebratory year for students, staff and alumni alike, though many of the events held during the year are aimed at alumni of the university. However, Smith told SCAN that there were a host of ways in which current students have got involved in the 50th Anniversary celebrations. “I am delighted that students seem to have embraced the celebrations and that they are so proud of Lancaster,” Smith said. “Roses was a wonderful event which really showed off our investment in sport and it was brilliantly organised by the students. Our cricket team’s visit to Pakistan was another high point.”

The 50th year is also a moment of reflection and looking to the future of the university. In terms of his hopes for the future, Smith said: “We have a culture of always striving to improve. Although we have high quality research, facilities and teaching, we will not be complacent and will always be working to be the best.

“Lancaster has achieved so much already and needs to be recognised for that – we will be doing a lot more shouting in the future!”

On the subject of the University’s intentions for the future of Lancaster, a phrase which repeatedly appears in speeches by Smith and other members of the University is making Lancaster “globally significant.” SCAN asked Smith what this term meant and how he intended to achieve it. “We compete in a global market place for students around the world of course – over 100 nationalities are represented at our UK campus – but we also offer Lancaster’s distinctive teaching style and experience in countries such as India, Pakistan, Ghana and Malaysia,” Smith told SCAN, referencing Lancaster’s teaching campuses in these countries, also pointing to future similar projects in China. “In this respect we are truly global.”

“I see our network of overseas campuses expanding to offer international students the valuable Lancaster experience in their own country,” Smith continued. “And to offer students based in the UK great opportunities to study and visit.”

The flip side to being a “truly global” university is nurturing a relationship with the local community back in Lancaster. This is something Smith appeared to be particularly passionate about. “We can’t be a globally successful university without being firmly rooted in our local community,” Smith told SCAN. “I hope our community feels proud of its university and there are lots of things that we are introducing to help that further.”

In terms of the benefits the university brings to the local area, Smith said: “Lancaster makes a significant impact on the local economy, partly through sharing expertise with businesses to create jobs and wealth, but we also have a big role to play in the cultural life of the city – through our partnership with the Duke’s and our exciting programme of concerts, theatre and dance which is open to all, through to our popular public lectures and sports facilities.

“Our students are part of the fabric of the city and add to its vibrancy.”

2014 are also important landmarks for the two founding colleges, Bowland and Lonsdale, which both celebrate their 50th anniversary this year too. Smith said he still believed the colleges were relevant to Lancaster’s identity. “It is part of Lancaster’s success – students and alumni feel real affection for their colleges. Our colleges definitely add to the student experience and offer opportunities to get involved in campus life.”

To close the interview, SCAN asked Smith what he hoped Lancaster would be like in 2064, when the university celebrates its 100th anniversary. Smith replied: “I would hope that our alumni continue to be sought after by global employers and that Lancaster’s remarkable journey in just 50 years continues apace – while also keeping those distinct qualities that make it such a great place to work and study.”

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