From a homeless hostel to vice-chancellor of Lincoln University | Education

Lincoln has always sounded like a city that ought to have a university. It has Roman origins, a Norman castle and a cathedral. In the middle ages, the Lincoln diocese was the biggest in England. Its scholars had a national reputation and the city had the potential to develop into a centre of learning comparable to Oxford. It didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen again in the 1960s, when the government chose eight greenfield sites for new universities, but preferred York to Lincoln. That was how things continued almost until the end of the 20th century.

Now, though, Lincoln has a university of 14,500 students, occupying a campus among barges and swans on the city’s waterfront, overlooked by restaurants and entertainment venues. Nearly all the university league tables rank Lincoln in the top half. In the Guardian’s University Guide 2018, it comes sixth for students’ satisfaction with their courses. It got a gold in the first teaching excellence framework, a distinction that eluded Durham, Bristol and Manchester.

Mary Stuart, the vice-chancellor, has presided over this remarkable success for eight years. Lincoln began in the 1990s as a satellite of what was then Humberside University, which had its headquarters in Hull – but she has turbocharged its progress.

When she took over, it concentrated on arts and social sciences with small computer and forensic science departments. She started an engineering school; courses in chemistry, physics, life sciences, pharmacy and maths soon followed. A school of geography has just opened alongside a research centre on climate change and flooding. Now Stuart talks about opening a medical school. As she whisks me round the campus – the mix of architectural styles betrays the speed with which buildings have been constructed – she says, “this is still a project; it is not complete”.

People who have worked with her describe Stuart as an inspirational leader. “She creates a buzz, a sense of excitement,” said…

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