Left university free to be sensational (5)
I believe the answer is:
'sensational' is the definition.
(similar in meaning)
'left university free' is the wordplay.
'left' becomes 'l' (common abbreviation).
'university' becomes 'u' (abbreviation for university).
'free' becomes 'rid' (to be free of something is to be rid of it).
'to be' acts as a link.
(Other definitions for lurid that I've seen before include "Awfully bright" , "Ghastly bright" , "Horrifying - sensational" , "Melodramatically sensational" , "Ghastly in appearance" .)