He graduated from Newcastle Polytechnic with a LLB (Hons) and entered a teaching and research career initially in Manchester and then in Luton. He joined the Sheffield Business School in 1983 as a Lecturer in Law. Whilst at Sheffield Hallam University he established a suite of access and student support initiatives leading to the establishment of a national reputation for inclusive learning. He was an adviser to a range of national quality assurance and educational development initiatives and became Professor of Lifelong Learning in 1996.
In 1999 he joined the University of Bradford as Director of the Centre for Continuing Education. He was the founding Dean of the School of Lifelong Education and Development in 2001, and became Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) in 2004 before taking up his current post.
As Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) he was responsible for the academic development of the University across its Teaching, Research, Knowledge Transfer and High Level Skills activity. He was also the champion of the University’s Ecoversity initiative.
Between 2000 and 2006 he was the Director of Action on Access, an agency established to advise HEFCE on its Widening Participation Strategy. In this role the team contributed to 10 HEFCE policy documents, produced 50 publications, provided 52 seminars and 7 conferences. He has been a consultant to Universities UK, Higher Education Quality Council and many universities in Widening Participation and Learning and Teaching strategies.
He was also Director of the HEFCE Innovations Co-ordination Team from 2000-2002. He was involved in the background work to the ESRC Research initiative in widening participation.
He has served in the region as a member of the West Yorkshire Learning and Skills Council, Careers Bradford Board member, member of Bradford Employment and Skills Board, and nationally as a Director of Higher Education Research Opportunities Ltd and a Trustee of the National Open College Network.
Professor Layer is also the Chair of the Steering Group of the HEFCE Funded Centre for Sustainable Procurement. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was awarded the OBE for services to Higher Education in 2003.
He was educated in the North East of England and in Soham,Cambridgeshire. He is a Sunderland supporter and plays cricket for Sheffield Collegiate Cricket Club.