Education: Fighting for talent that now goes to waste: Peter Toyne, 53, Liverpool John Moores University (formerly Liverpool Polytechnic).

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PETER TOYNE led the field among polytechnic directors in campaigning for university status.

'That does not mean we were waiting like Gadarene swine to plunge into a lake of academe,' he said. The campaign was about broadening the nature of university education and gaining recognition for the particularly successful brand the polytechnics had delivered.

In his view, university education is as much about the quality of teaching as research. He is bullish about his vision of delivering mass higher education, and although The John - as the former poly is known locally - takes part in applied research, it is primarily a teaching institution.

He has a reputation among staff for being single-minded. Under his directorship, student numbers grew from nearly 7,000 in 1986-87 to nearly 20,000 this year, without any significant increase in staff.

To deliver his vision he believes academics have to be mobilised differently: 'We cannot go back to the old student-staff ratios of the Sixties, so we have to be more imaginative.'

An pounds 8m learning resources centre is going up directly across the street from the vice-chancellor's office. He observes progress keenly from his window. Courses there will be backed up by multi-media learning packages. 'All of this will free academics for what they should really be there for - supporting students on a personal basis,' he says.

He believes people should be able to leave at any stage with certificates and diplomas on the road to a degree: 'Mass higher education doesn't have to mean greater dropout rates. Dropout is a pejorative term. I challenge the assumption that British higher education is so marvellous because the degree is so marvellous. Think of the talent out there that has been wasted. People should be accredited for the maximum they can achieve at any one point.'

Professor Toyne enjoys his status as vice-chancellor and is a vice-chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals; his innate pragmatism is also coloured by a certain amount of optimism. Despite diversity in style and institution, he believes vice-chancellors can still unite and become tough negotiators on the issue of funding.

(Photograph omitted)

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