Friday, 28 July 2023 14:01

The ‘muddy boots biologist’ who is the new Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool’s Catholic university

Professor Claire Ozanne VC Liverpool Hope University webLiverpool Hope is one of four Catholic universities in England, and on 13 July held an inauguration ceremony at the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral for its new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Claire Ozanne.

With just over 5,000 students, the university is the only such foundation in Europe and the USA where Catholic and Anglican colleges have joined together, and takes its name from Hope Street, which links both of Liverpool’s cathedrals.

Anglican St Katharine’s College was founded in 1844, and Catholic Notre Dame College in 1956, both institutions being created by the Churches in response to the need to train people to educate the poor and disadvantaged. They were joined by Christ’s College of Education, established in 1964 as a centre for Catholic reflection and education.

Professor Ozanne gained her DPhil from Oxford University and her work has focused on habitats influenced by human activities, leading multidisciplinary projects in the UK, Australia, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Guyana.

Formerly the Deputy Director and Provost at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, and in 2017 seconded to be Principal at Heythrop College, she was also Vice Provost at the University of Roehampton.

Liverpool Hope’s fourth Vice-Chancellor and Rector is a Professor of Ecology, an early interest born out of walks in the countryside with her family, who encouraged her to explore and ask questions about the natural world, as well as an inspirational school biology teacher and university tutor.

Professor Ozanne said: “I was fortunate to be able to bring together my love of trying to understand how systems work and that of the outdoors – I often describe myself as a ‘muddy boots’ biologist.”

Campus environment

She believes Catholic higher education institutions can play a role in implementing Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home in several ways.

This includes integrating two of the Laudato Si’ goals, Cry of the Earth and Cry of the Poor, through teaching and research; providing opportunities for students to engage in practical ways of living in harmony with the Laudato Si’ goals and skills to advocate for them when they graduate; and for universities to minimise their footprint on the planet.

“As a field ecologist I am always aware of the interactions between ecosystems and people in terms of resource needs and conservation,” Professor Ozanne said. “We need to provide solutions to the complex problems of stewarding our planet, and championing climate justice.”

Common ground

The university’s ecumenical ethos is manifested in a connection to qualifications that serve the common good. This is reflected in recognition of the importance of education studies, teaching, health and social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities and their contributions to human flourishing.

Professor Ozanne said: “As vital as STEM subjects are, we need to acknowledge the significance and contribution of theologians, historians, philosophers, writers, composers and many other scholars from the broad range of the arts and humanities subjects.

“We want to enable our students to be ready for the work of the world, as well as the world of work.”

Adapting to challenges

The move to virtual learning during lockdown periods enabled thinking about offering education in different ways, particularly in terms of international, postgraduate education or professional development where there are opportunities for more flexible, hybrid and on-line learning.

There have also been longer-term effects on how research is conducted, with opportunities for new methodologies and international partnerships.

Professor Ozanne said: “All universities are challenged by the increased marketisation of higher education, our Catholic universities in England are relatively small and so not able to take advantage of the economies of scale of large universities.

“Catholic universities in the UK have also to rise to the challenges of increasing secularisation, and a diminishing knowledge base and points of reference related to faith and church in our communities.”

Local support

Liverpool Hope is one of three universities within the world-famous city, and its areas of research strength in the humanities, environmental sustainability, Artificial Intelligence and future technologies complement neighbouring institutions John Moores and the University of Liverpool.

Local and regional Catholic primary, secondary schools and colleges are partners with Liverpool Hope’s School of Education. They support trainee teachers on the university's initial teacher training programmes, providing high quality mentors and rich, formative learning experiences.

The university also works to support the Archbishop’s and Bishops' vision for multi-academy trusts, with representation on director and governing boards, and with research supporting Diaconal training, liturgical and children’s music. It also facilitates a local choir, gardening groups and works with residents’ associations and churches to support community activities, as well as businesses and charities for the improvement of the Liverpool City Region.

Undergraduate and postgraduate international students come for full degrees or a semester abroad experience, some because of its Catholic roots and ecumenical ethos. They also come to the university from global partner institutions with Christian foundations and similar commitments to student-centred education and support.

Professor Ozanne said: “I believe that many choose Liverpool Hope because of its true sense of community.

“We are a university that knows its students by name. We are a smaller university than our fellow higher education institutions and this, combined with our ethos of educating students in the round means that we offer students a personalised educational experience that includes any academic or pastoral support that they need to get the most out of their time at university.”

Equitable future

Ultimately, the new Vice-Chancellor's vision for the university is of a transformational education for students, continuing its excellent research into providing solutions to local and global challenges. It is also as an anchor institution in the North West, contributing to the development of a skilled, future-ready workforce, and for partnerships nationally and internationally to realise a more equitable society.

She said: “At Liverpool Hope I also want to ensure that our values of faith, hope and charity, our strong sense of community and our ethos of educating and developing the whole person are embedded in what we do.”

Find out more about Liverpool Hope University

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