Professor Peter Toyne CBE DL

Peter as the first, or founding Vice-Chancellor, oversaw both incorporation and then the move to university status during his tenure at LJMU. He used his own educational experience to inform his philosophy. Coming from a Yorkshire mining town where he was one of the first to go to university, he strongly believed in the transformative power of higher education and the need to cater for the whole person.

As a scholarship boy, Professor Toyne discovered a world of educational possibilities at Ripon Grammar School that enabled him to forge his own path rather than following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a butcher.

Bristol University followed, where he gained a first-class degree in geography, followed by postgraduate studies at the Sorbonne in Paris before beginning his career in academia as an Assistant Lecturer and Warden of a Hall of Residence at Exeter University. Speaking during his Roscoe Lecture in 2017 celebrating 25 years of LJMU, he said: “I loved to lecture because I was performing, and you could really inspire people.”

Following a sabbatical at the Department of Education and Science (DfES) where he worked on the pioneering Educational Credit Transfer scheme, he explored how access to university could be widened by considering previous work and life experiences not just academic grades.

As Deputy Rector of Chichester College, Professor Toyne had the freedom to further experiment with ideas he’d explored in the DfES, before moving onto “a place of revolution” - North East London Polytechnic.

Thereafter came the approach by the City of Liverpool about him taking on the role of Rector at Liverpool Polytechnic. At first, he wasn’t sure, but was soon persuaded by the people he met in the city and was appointed in 1986.

Once in post, he set about widening access to the Liverpool Polytechnic, something he reflected on during his Roscoe Lecture. “No-one wanted to know about Liverpool,” he explained. “The University of Liverpool was struggling too, so we worked in partnership. All the city movers and shakers came together in partnership to lift the fabric and infrastructure of the Liverpool way of life and community.”

His vision for the polytechnic, and later the university, benefited not just students but Liverpool too, with campus improvements and transformation of city centre buildings helping with regeneration throughout his time as both Rector and Vice-Chancellor.

In 1988, the Educational Reform Act freed the polytechnic from local control. “This was the beginning of a new era, a mixture of relief and worry, but we were freestanding, and we could dream dreams,” said Professor Toyne during his Roscoe Lecture. “We grew and we grew. We had great staff working as one. We had a vision, we had zeal.”

This zeal saw Professor Toyne play an instrumental role in government talks about polytechnics gaining university status in 1992.

“There was a lot of excitement round the foundation of LJMU, and Peter Toyne was all sorts of things rolled into one, an academic with a formidable track record and the skills of an impresario and property developer. The acquisition programme around the city was something to behold, and it gave the impression that the new university was energetic. Yes, it was the new kid on the block, but it was clearly dynamic, and sitting alongside a Russell Group university, it required all of the energy, commitment and determination that Peter showed.”

– Professor the Lord Alton commenting on Professor Peter Toyne’s role in establishing LJMU

Gaining university status also meant that a decision needed to be made about the new name of the university.

Professor Toyne recalls: “Many suggestions were made and rejected...the University of Liverpool sent me a really helpful note, congratulating us on becoming a university, but saying it could not, under any circumstances, agree to a name that included the words Liverpool and University whether separately or together!

“In the end we decided to adopt the name of John Moores, our first Honorary Fellow who would be an excellent role model for our students, having been born into a working class family and through his own determination became a highly successful and respected entrepreneur, having founded the Littlewoods retail and leisure business based in Liverpool, and being a generous philanthropist supporting many deserving causes locally and nationally. Even so, that was controversial enough.

“When our governing body finally met to decide the name, it also met with howls of protest from a small group of militant students outside – a potentially embarrassing situation given that the meeting was being chaired by Sir John’s son, John Moores Jr., but he took it all in his stride and, characteristically, even went to have a word with the protesters who cheered and wished him well afterwards.”

There followed a new corporate identity for the university, created through a competition for its own graphic design students. The only stipulation was that it must include at least one Liver Bird, the most famous Liverpudlian icon, and to this day the university’s logo remains essentially unchanged.

To accompany the new identity, a clear mission statement for the new university was also agreed through a series of discussions and consultations with the whole university community. The new mission summarised as ‘To Serve’ was:

  • to put our students’ and clients’ needs first
  • open up opportunity for all to fulfil their potential
  • seek efficiency with environmental awareness
  • encourage excellence, effectiveness and internationalism
  • require continuous quality improvement
  • value our staff and students
  • ensure that we are a non-racist, non-sexist, multicultural community

And then a special ceremony was arranged to mark the formal inauguration of the university, which took place at the Anglican Cathedral on 26 September 1992. This was masterminded by Professor Toyne himself, something he reflects on fondly: “I planned another ‘OTT’ event in the cathedral with even vaster processions, organ music and fanfares than those that by now were now a common feature of our graduation ceremonies.

“It was a wonderful and memorable way to start the new era of our development which then continued apace as we expanded from the 3,500 students we had back in our Polytechnic days to the 20,000 we had by the turn of the century in 2000.”

In order to facilitate the anticipated growth in student numbers, a comprehensive buildings and estates development plan was drawn up, and construction and acquisition of a wide range of academic and residential accommodation in the city centre followed apace.

Recalling this time Peter says: “All these amazing developments were, however, eclipsed by the phenomenal positive publicity generated by our decision to buy and convert the long-derelict but iconic North Western Hotel at Lime Street station into student accommodation... JMU was widely acclaimed for bringing back to use this much-admired building in 1996, designed by Alfred Waterhouse in the French Renaissance architectural style. The only artefact that was found during the renovation was a British Railways’ porter’s hat which was presented to me more for my gricing role than that of Vice Chancellor. To open the hall formally we traced the only former employee of the former Hotel, its ratcatcher, who, of course, became the focus of media attention on the day.”

As the university settled into its new status, it gained positive media coverage, and things like an innovative new style of university prospectus worked wonders to bring student applications to record levels, then came the time for Professor Toyne to look at the next steps for his own career.

He continues: “I had been in my element leading the challenging yet exciting expansion and development from polytechnic to university...I started to reflect on what I had said in my interview on 1 March 1987 in the first issue of Beacon, the polytechnic newspaper I had started in a resurgence of my earlier Journalistic Tendency: ‘My aim is to establish the Polytechnic as a major contributor to the active regeneration of Liverpool and Merseyside, and at the same time to inspire confidence in the Polytechnic as it develops its programmes relevant to the needs of the region and the nation into the 1990s’…it now felt like a clear case of mission accomplished. The end was drawing nigh.” Reflecting on his retirement Peter said: “The city and its former polytechnic had come a very long way both geographically and academically. With increased confidence in itself, its reputation and its future now looked both promising and secure. There could surely have been no better way to end my time in academe.”

After retiring from the university, he took a lead role in Liverpool’s successful bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2008. He was awarded a CBE in 2009 for services to the community in Liverpool and in 2010 he was granted the Freedom of the City, having taken a very keen interest in the life of the city while undertaking the role of Vice-Chancellor. He served as both High Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant and was very involved in activities associated with Liverpool Cathedral, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, where he was Chair of the Board, and the Territorial Army 33 Signals Regiment based in Huyton, of which he was Honorary Colonel.