“It’s a great honour to return to my alma mater as Vice-Chancellor. I still remember attending an open day here when I was deciding which university to go to in the ‘80s. We toured the campus and saw the sports field out at Wyncote and the Greenbank residences, where I ended up being a first year Chemistry student. I have such happy memories of that time so it’s special to return and be a part of this vibrant city once more.
Liverpool was then, and many would argue still is, the centre of excellence in surface science, not just in the UK, but internationally as well. We had world leaders in the chemistry department, and a nucleus of really strong academic staff in the surface science area. The head of department was Professor David King, who subsequently became Government Chief Scientist [from 2000 to 2007] and indeed, more recently, the Chancellor of the University of Liverpool. That community brought real excitement into the research environment and stimulated my interest, which is ultimately why I decided to do my PhD in surface science here.
Gradually as I went through my career, I moved from quite fundamental science and chemistry, all the way through to ultimately working with electronic devices and photovoltaics or solar cells. I always retained the intellectual rigour that I had learned as a PhD student, and a determination to follow my instincts and push the boundaries.
It was while I was working at University of Warwick [as Head of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry] that I began to take further steps towards institutional leadership. After 20 years being focused on research and academia, perhaps it was time for a new challenge. As I started doing more institutional roles, I found that I was good at it, I could bring people along with me and inspire them to do things differently. For a while, I tried to juggle this with research but when I moved to Birmingham as Provost, I made the decision to give up academic work to pursue my leadership trajectory.
Leadership isn’t about one person. You set the tone and the culture, but you need others to operate as leaders too. You need to build a good team around you, who you can trust and empower to make decisions. You’ve always got to have your door open to listen to other people’s ideas and learn from them. Most importantly, you need to be able to inspire others to join you on a journey. We’re developing a new strategy at the moment and that’s not my strategy, it’s the University strategy so we need people to buy into it, be proud of it and understand what’s in it for them.” ●
OUR ALUMNI ASK...
If you could implement one new thing to the University, what would it be?
Confidence. I think the University, and the city, still lack the confidence that we should have. We’ve got fantastic things going on, but we don’t shout enough about them. We need to be much more outward-focused and make sure that people around the country, and indeed around the world, know what we’re really good at and what’s important to us.
How do you intend to improve the University’s sustainability policies?
In short, by making it a priority. We have a sustainability strategy which I’m very committed to and sustainability is also an important theme within the new institutional strategy. There’s a lot of work around things like reducing our waste, which we can do quite quickly, but then there are bigger, longer term things, such as making our large campus Net Zero. That will be a big challenge and will cost a lot of money, but we’re putting together the road map so we can embark on that journey.
How are you going to promote innovation?
Innovation is very important to me and will be front and centre of our strategy. We’re building stronger links with industry, and a range of different companies. We’re promoting the science park and increasing its capacity so we can develop more spinouts. I’m also very keen on promoting greater entrepreneurship – we’ve got 27,000 students, many of whom will be entrepreneurial and we need to find ways of allowing them to thrive. I will work with the City region and with the investment community so that we can try and bring in funding to promote the innovation agenda and elevate it.
We’ve got alumni in 171 countries across the world - will you be visiting anyone internationally?
Of course. In fact, I’ve already visited our oldest alumni association in Hong Kong and met with some of our alumni community in the United States. Engaging with our alumni, both in the UK and across the globe, is a very important part of my role and I’d like to make that relationship as strong as it can be.
I have such happy memories … so it’s special to return and be a part of this vibrant city once more.Professor Tim Jones