In his career as a theoretical physicist, Andy Schofield has always had very precise goals, and as Vice-Chancellor his aim is just as clear - to increase Lancaster University’s ‘footprint’ at home and internationally - to turn it into a globally significant presence for teaching, research and engagement on the world university stage.
Since taking up his post in May 2020 at the height of the Covid pandemic - after more than 20 years at Birmingham University, latterly as Pro Vice-Chancellor - Andy has overseen Lancaster’s £19m commitment to becoming the UK’s go-to research and teaching institution in cyber security. It has launched three new undergraduate degrees specifically focusing on cyber security, and this will create almost 60 jobs. This capitalises on the Government’s £5bn 10-year investment in establishing Cyber Force in Samlesbury, Lancashire.
Over the next few months, he is also excited about Lancaster’s plans to increase its international ‘footprint’ to include Indonesia as well as the overseas campuses it already has in Malaysia, China, Germany and Ghana.
“We’re a fantastic world class university and my vision is for us to be even better and to be known to be even better,” states the VC enthusiastically. “We’re a hidden gem from the point of view of the wonderful research that is going on here, and particularly around the quality of the student experience. I will have succeeded when everyone else knows that too.”
His own student years were spent at Cambridge - where he completed both his undergraduate degree in Physics and his PhD - before specialising in non-Fermi liquids, quantum criticality and high-temperature superconductivity. Perhaps taking up his post as VC in Lancaster in May 2020, at the height of the lockdown, accounts for the strong commitment he feels towards it. For a year he worked in the building completely alone.
Over those months he cycled in to the University from his temporary accommodation and communicated with his team online, making significant and expensive decisions with people he had never met, via a screen. He also got to know most corners of the University and every cupboard and filing cabinet in his own department.
He laughs as he recalls jumping at a shadow of a person falling on his computer screen, the first time a member of the team came up to his floor: “It was a very strange world,” he says.
Lancaster’s reputation for low and high- temperature physics meant that Andy was well acquainted with some of its leading physicists. When the opportunity to apply for the post of VC came up, he was attracted by its reputation for research and teaching. A big draw for him was the fact that he is the University’s Chief Academic and is expected to continue to publish his research. This was not the case at Birmingham, where publishing had been written out of his contract. Since his arrival he has taught a few lectures, he has published papers contributing to REF 2021 and is carrying out a small amount of research, including recent work on novel superconductors, with colleagues from Oxford.
He describes his own university years as ‘transformative’ and therefore wants Lancaster to do the same for every one of its students. His father was an engineer and his mother a physiotherapist, who both prized education and supported him when he won a part scholarship to Whitgift School in South Croydon, but he said: “It took me my three years at university to have the confidence to be myself. The reason I’m in the university sector is because of the transformation that it made for me.”
“It was so powerful and so influential, not just in giving me a research career and friends, but also in becoming an adult.”
Married with three children, Andy is a lover of swimming, running and hill walking. He makes no attempt to hide his enthusiasm for Lancaster’s campus situation on the edge of the Lake District and recounts how much it contributes to family life: “I love that combination of a really high-quality academic environment, but in a landscape that is so beautiful and accessible, with walks on your doorstep. Whether you like the sea or the hills, it’s all there.”Back to News