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Geoff Layer

Hall of Fame Class of 2017

Geoff LayerGeoff Layer has committed his career to forging paths to higher education for under-represented groups of adults. In each of his increasingly senior roles in universities, his commitment to opening opportunities was accompanied by research to ensure that research-informed teaching and learning were central to the adult higher education that he promoted.

The key achievement in his early years as a higher education practitioner was in developing a suite of national support strategies to recruit and support progression and achievement for under-represented groups. He established a leading role in the national movement to create pathways for students to prepare for and succeed in higher education. This involved actively liaising with community-based adult education bodies, colleges, local employers, and curriculum and staff development in higher education.

This experience informed the range of roles he performed as an adviser to the Higher Education Funding Council for England in developing widening participation policies. This work had a significant impact on adults’ opportunities for higher education, primarily in the U.K. but also internationally, and he led the highly successful Action on Access program, designed to improve practical cooperation to enable under-represented groups to participate in higher education.

Wolverhampton University, under his leadership, has the joint highest number of working class students in English universities, high levels of ethnic minority participation, and especially of mature students. It serves an economically depressed region, and he has introduced a wide range of measures to ensure the university serves the communities in which it is located and is currently overseeing plans to create a learning city in partnership with other regional actors.
Layer’s greatest contribution has been the impact he has had as a practitioner, researcher, adviser, and institution leader in shaping policy in higher education. His influence has helped to mainstream the commitment to access and widening participation. He has been determined to promote equality of opportunity, supporting the development of guidance alongside credit recognition for community and further education and credit transfer to higher education, and to secure quality higher education teaching and learning for mature students. His impact on policy in his own institutions and in wider debates has been substantial, and he remains a powerful national advocate for the rights of mature students to equality of opportunity and quality education. He has led transatlantic policy conferences on this theme, edited policy focus research collections, and led national higher education policy development initiatives that have attracted attention elsewhere in Europe.

Layer’s work on Action on Access and his leadership roles in the work of the Higher Education Funding Council for England have given visibility to the field. As a practitioner in Sheffield, he worked nationally on quality development in higher education, championed research-informed teaching and learning across the university sector at Bradford and Wolverhampton, and as Deputy Vice Chancellor at Bradford, he was responsible for the academic development of the University across its Teaching, Research, Knowledge Transfer and High-Level Skills activity.


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