Professor Clare Milsom
Clare is LJMU’s Registrar and Chief Operating Officer. She is a key member of the university’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT), supporting the Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive in the leadership, management, and effective operation of the university. It’s a role she has held on an interim basis since 2020 and permanently since April 2022, but her LJMU career goes back some three decades to 1991.
A palaeontologist by background, Clare studied geological sciences at the University of Durham before completing her PhD (‘Functional morphology and mode of life of Mesozoic stemless crinoids’) at Liverpool University. The first generation of her family to attend university, she describes her initial experiences as ‘a little overwhelming and daunting’.
“I went to a comprehensive school in rural Wiltshire and there was no expectation that pupils would go to university, but I was lucky because my family believed in the transformative power of education and supported my ambitions.”
The ‘transformative power of education’ is something that resonates with Clare and encouraged her to take a teaching role at LJMU’s predecessor, the Liverpool Polytechnic, in 1991. She was appointed as a ‘new blood’ lecturer in the Faculty of Science, at a time when there was a national programme to bring research into polytechnics as they prepared to become universities. In September 1992, the polytechnic received its Royal Charter and became Liverpool John Moores University. As one of the youngest and newest lecturers in the university, Clare played a key role in the inauguration ceremony.
“It was very, very special to carry the mace the day we became a university. It was the most extraordinary day – the ceremony itself was exceptionally moving, as a new member of staff I felt a real sense of excitement and anticipation, I could not believe how fortunate I was to be at the start of LJMU’s ‘journey’. There was a real sense that higher education was evolving into a more inclusive accessible learning environment.”
For the next 20 years Clare lectured in the Faculty of Science. She saw her role as inspiring students, expanding their knowledge and encouraging them to follow their passion for science into careers of their own. Teaching didn’t always just take place on campus; she made the most of the proximity of Liverpool’s museums to the faculty’s home in the city.
“I used to bring my geology students to the Liverpool World Museum on their first ‘bones and stones’ field trip. Preserved only as footprints, the ‘invisible dinosaur’ was the highlight of our expedition.”
Alongside teaching she also continued with her research, gaining international grants and publishing in prestigious journals, as well as co-authoring Fossils at a Glance which remains a standard introduction to palaeontology textbook for undergraduates and A-Level students today.
As her career evolved, Clare became more involved in the design and development of programmes across the university, marking the progress being made in widening participation in higher education and helping to create more inclusive learning experiences for students of all backgrounds. Clare led on the creation of a pioneering access programme, the Foundation in Natural Sciences, to encourage more students to take science degrees. She also delivered the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and professional recognition programmes to raise the profile and standard of teaching across the institution.
Throughout this time, she began to influence, shape, and share recommendations for improving the student experience, with a key focus on second years, using qualitative survey data to evaluate practice. It was these projects that led Clare to move away from lecturing and into a central role in the Learning Development Unit, and more quality roles as a Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) External Reviewer, eventually being appointed as the Director of the Teaching and Learning Academy and later as LJMU’s Academic Registrar.
Now as the institution’s Registrar and Chief Operating Officer, Clare uses her three decades of experience in higher education to ensure that students remain the main focus of the university.
“I never lose focus on the value of education. People talk about the marketisation of higher education and we can’t get away from that. It has become more regulated and consumer-led and there is a risk that we end up talking more about costs and compliance than the curriculum. However, I think it's important for someone in my role, surrounded by governance and regulation, to keep students at the front and centre in all we do.”
– Professor Clare Milsom
“You can change your life through education. That should be an option for anyone at any point – not just when they leave school. We must keep education open to anyone to access. It should be inclusive and it should drive change. I’m pleased to see that we have a much more diverse population at university now and we aspire to provide an equality of opportunity for students to fully access and succeed in higher education.”
At the end of every LJMU students' journey is graduation, and that’s a significant bi-annual event that for Clare highlights the huge amount of effort that the university invests in its student. She sees it as a testament, not just to the hard work of students themselves, but lecturers and support staff.
“I love graduation it’s so affirming. It's an achievement that will last our students all their life. I feel so lucky to be a part of the ceremony, it’s a massive privilege to watch the students walk across the stage. From where I sit, I can see out to all the parents, friends, and family, as well as our university colleagues, all smiling, crying, clapping - I can see how enormously proud they are.
“It's exhilarating; I absolutely believe that education is for everyone. I suppose that’s because when I grew up it wasn't. Higher education was very narrow and very selective, but universities are now full of people from all walks of life. This is a massive achievement for the sector.”
Clare is also a National Teaching Fellow and an active member of the European Association for Institutional Research (EAIR) and holds additional national reviewing responsibilities alongside her role with the QAA. She received her Professorship of Academic Practice in 2015.