Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark Power
Mark is the university’s fifth Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, having committed to a lifelong working career at the university. As LJMU celebrated its Bicentenary in 2023, Mark also celebrated a significant milestone - 42 years since he first began working at the Liverpool Polytechnic which would later become LJMU.
With a higher education career spanning four decades, some might assume that a traditional academic trajectory and a research-driven professorship would form a part of this Vice-Chancellor's story, but in fact his story is rather unique compared to many of his counterparts.
Mark was born in Toxteth to a marine engineer and a headmistress (his Mum even has LJMU links as she was a course member of the Polytechnic Certificate of Professional Development in Multi-Ethnic Education during the ‘80s). Life might have been very short-lived for Mark though if it hadn’t been for the incredible medical staff at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital; at just three-months-old he became severely ill with bacterial meningitis and was in hospital for months. He credits the hospital with saving his life.
Mark attended Prescot Grammar School after passing the eleven-plus exam. It was around this time that he decided what he really wanted to do in life – to pursue a career as a professional artist. At 16 he went to St Helens College of Art, gaining his A-Levels, and then accepted a place at Lancaster College of Art to study for a degree in fine art.
“My family were very supportive of me doing really whatever made me happy. I used to have to paint in my bedroom at home, so art school was a real opportunity to go and experience working alongside other artists in a real studio space.”
His parents were true believers in the power of education and Mark thoroughly enjoyed his art school days as a student living in Morecambe and travelling to the unique College of Art building in the centre of Lancaster. He remembers the superb staff who guided and encouraged him, leaving a lasting impression on him as a young art student, particularly their patience in finding him enough studio space to construct and hang his 27-foot-long final year piece.
After completing his degree, Mark returned to Liverpool, and it was then that his relationship with LJMU would begin.
“I came back to Liverpool in 1981 and was interviewed for and offered two jobs in the same week. One was at Liverpool Polytechnic in the Fine Art Department and the other one was in an advertising agency in the city. I chose the Liverpool Polytechnic one, mainly because the people I met at interview were really interesting and I thought ‘OK, I’d like to work with them’. So that’s why I chose to start working here and now my entire professional career has been at Liverpool Polytechnic and LJMU.”
And so, he was appointed in November 1981 as a senior technician for the Fine Art Department in the Hahnemann Building, a former hospital. It was a hands-on, student-facing role, from helping them to make paper (unbelievably using the old mortuary slabs and hosepipes), to showing them how to hang an exhibition in the polytechnic’s gallery space at 68 Hope Street. But at this time, Mark was still very focused on gaining art commissions and exhibiting his own work.
“Alongside working in the Fine Art Department, I used some of my income (£5,652 a year in 1981) to rent a studio space to paint in, as at that time I was regularly exhibiting my work, including at the Bluecoat where I was interviewed and selected by Bryan Biggs, Artistic Director, on whom I recently conferred an honorary fellowship as part of our Bicentenary celebrations – a full circle moment! I vividly remember Bryan coming to the studio to interview me and to look through my portfolio of work.”
Mark continued to practise his art, exhibiting both nationally and internationally, but as his career advanced at the polytechnic, influential leadership and change management roles soon began to come his way.
From senior technician he became a supervising technician, overseeing all technical staff across the School of Arts, Media and Design, including life models such as the famous June Furlong. When the university was incorporated, new divisions were created, and an opportunity arose for Mark to take on the role of Technical Services Manager, running a much larger team of 60 staff.
Not long after, Mark sat on a transformation group, selected personally by the then Vice-Chancellor Peter Toyne, to share his insight and expertise. This was a defining moment in Mark’s work life as his career ambitions were ignited.
“We were taken out of our roles for three months to prepare a transformation report which was essentially a change agenda for the university and how the university could develop further. So that was a real opportunity and the point at which I thought, actually I could start to make a real difference in many ways. That’s perhaps when I became a little more ambitious about my career at the university.”
With renewed direction and drive, Mark applied for a role as a Divisional Secretary for the newly formed Division of Arts and Professional Studies, managing the changing needs of the academic schools under his remit.
To compliment his now clear focus on career development and progression at the university, Mark began studying part-time on the Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme at LJMU. Soon after gaining the qualification, he applied for and secured the role of Director of Academic Planning.
Working closely with the incoming Vice-Chancellor, Mark was tasked with establishing an academic registry, taking on the role of Chief Information Officer and eventually becoming Registrar and Deputy Chief Executive, a wide-ranging senior leadership role, with the relationship between students and the university at the heart of all decision making.
After a year as Interim Vice-Chancellor and CEO, Mark became Registrar and Chief Operating Officer for two years, overseeing the university’s response to the pandemic, and subsequently being officially appointed as the new permanent Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive in November 2021.
“I never harboured any ambitions to be a Vice-Chancellor, that was never part of a career path, but when the opportunity arose, I realised I was prepared for the role, and perhaps the route that I’d followed in my career to become a Vice-Chancellor stands me in very good stead for managing such a large and complex organisation.”
– Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark Power, 2023
And for Mark, being a Vice-Chancellor is very much a collective effort.
“I have worked with some absolutely wonderful, innovative people, and I couldn’t have achieved what I have achieved today without being part of a larger team. There’s the Executive Leadership Team but there’s also Team LJMU and you get a sense of that at events like graduation and clearing; those are the opportunities when we come together and work collectively - I don’t think there’s any other organisation that pulls this off the way that we do.”
“Just because you’re a Vice-Chancellor, it doesn’t mean the professorial title follows, it certainly doesn’t here and nor should it. But having gone through the robust professorship conferment process, I was absolutely delighted to find that I measured up against the criteria. I’d also like to think that for other colleagues that there’s a message in there, that it’s not beyond the reach of anybody. It isn’t a research-based professorship, it’s around leadership and academic leadership, and a commitment to higher education on every single level.”
Looking ahead and beyond the university’s milestone Bicentenary, Mark has a clear vision for the future and the type of legacy he hopes to leave behind when he one day leaves the place in which he has spent his whole professional career.
“One of the things that really drives me forward is giving our students a choice. We must ensure that we are operating in a region with a solid, strong economy, so that if students want to move into a graduate level job in the Liverpool City Region, then they can. I’m engaged in a lot of work in and around the region around inward investment, recently joining the Business and Enterprise Board of the Combined Authority to try and drive change and leverage opportunity.
“We are an institution that recognises our place in Liverpool, and the Liverpool City Region, we celebrate our roots as a former polytechnic, and we deliver a curriculum and graduates that are skilled and ready to go into the workplace – that always has to be the ambition.”
And finally, how does a Vice-Chancellor unwind in his limited spare time? Well, when you’re an artist, and still exhibiting occasionally, it’s travelling to Cornwall every year to draw and paint on a beach.
“I don’t have the ambition anymore to become a professional artist, I hope I’ve made my mark in other ways now, but I use art for its therapeutic purposes. It’s a fantastic diversion, an opportunity to refresh, and a time to pause and gather thoughts. I find it sustains me, and then that creativity and thought process feeds back into the role of Vice-Chancellor which I love. More than anything else, being the Vice-Chancellor is an honour and a pleasure.”