The History of England

from Celts through 20th century


Category: Education

The principal post-school institutions of higher education are the 47 universities (including the Open University), of which 36 are in England, 8 in Scotland, 2 in Northern Ireland and 1 in Wales.

The English universities are: Aston (Birmingham), Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Brunei (London), Cambridge, City (London), Durham, East Anglia, Essex, Exeter, Hull, Keele, Kent at Canterbury, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Loughborough, Manchester, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Oxford, Reading, Salford, Sheffield; Southampton, Surrey, Sussex, Warwick, York and the independent University of Buckingham. The Royal College of Art, the Cranfield Institute of Technology, the London Graduate School of Business Studies and the Manchester Business School also have university status. The federated University of Wales comprises six constituent institutions. The Scottish universities are: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt (Edinburgh), St Andrews, Stirling and Strathclyde (Glasgow). In Northern Ireland there are the Queen’s University of Belfast and the University of Ulster.

Apart from the universities there are the 30 polytechnics is England and Wales, the 14 Scottish central institutions which provide similar studies and the Ulster Polytechnic in Northern Ireland.

British universities are independent, autonomous, self-governing institutions. Although they all receive financial support from the state (about 79 per cent of their incomes is now provided by government grants), the Department of Education and Science has no control over their regulations, curriculum, examinations, appointment of staff, or the way in which money is spent.

Under the Education Reform Act 1988, changes are to be introduced in the structure and funding of higher education to help institutions improve their management and planning, and become more flexible and responsive to the economic and social needs of the country. The system of university funding is to be reformed: the University Grants Committee will be replaced by the new Universities Funding Council with executive powers to allocate finances to individual universities. Polytechnics and other major higher education colleges will be removed from local authority control, and incorporated as independent charitable institutions with boards of governors, half of whose members are to be drawn from industry, commerce and the professions. Their work will be planned and financed by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council with parallel responsibilities to those of the Universities Funding Council. Those further and higher education colleges remaining under local authority control will take on greater responsibility for their annual budgets and will include employer representation on their governing bodies.

Of the 316,000 full-time university students (1989), 56,000 were postgraduate. About half lived in colleges, halls of residence and other accommodation owned by universities. There are 31,400 full-time university teachers paid wholly from university funds. The ratio of full-time staff to full-time students is about 1 to 10.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the most usual titles for a first degree are Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) and for a second degree Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD or DPhil); in Scotland Master is sometimes used for a first degree. Uniformity of standards is promoted by the practice of employing external examiners for final university examinations.

Universities are centres of research as well as teaching and many postgraduates are engaged in research for higher degrees, usually Doctorates.

Admission to universities is by examination or selection (interviews). Applications for places from prospective undergraduate candidates for admission to nearly all the universities (except for the Open University) are submitted initially to the Universities Central Council on Admissions (UCCA). In the application a candidate can list up to five universities or colleges in order of preference. Applications must be sent to the UCCA in the autumn term of the academic year preceding that in which the candidate, hopes to be admitted. The UCCA sends a copy to each of the universities or colleges named. Each university selects its own students.

British universities can be roughly divided into three groups: 1) Oxford and Cambridge and the older Scottish universities, 2) the redbrick universities, and 3) the new universities.

1. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge date from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the older Scottish universities of St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. All the others were founded in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries.

Oxford and Cambridge have dominated British education for seven hundred years. In the second half of the twentieth century they have preserved an antique way of life.

Oxford and Cambridge each consist of a number of residential colleges founded at different times, most of them for men, but a few (of later foundation) for women. Oxford has five women’s colleges, Cambridge three. Each college has its own building, its own internal organization, its own staff and students. In order to enter the university, one must first apply to a college and become a member of the university through the college. The colleges are not connected with any particular study and are governed by twenty to thirty ‘Fellows’. Fellows of a college are ‘tutors’ (teachers, often called dons). They teach their own subject to those students in the college who are studying it, and they are responsible for their progress.

The university is like a federation of colleges. It arranges the courses, the lectures and the examinations, and awards the degrees. Today some of the men’s colleges are coeducational. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge each have over 10,000 full-time students. Oxford is older than Cambridge, more philosophical, classical and theological. Cambridge, on the other hand, is more scientifically biased. But in many respects (especially their prestige and wealth) they look very alike, therefore they are often referred to collectively for convenience as Oxbridge. Admission to the universities is based on the old tribal patterns which guide boys from traditional schools to traditional universities. Candidates to Oxford and Cambridge are largely self-selected, much influenced by parents, schoolfriends and family backgrounds.

The older Scottish universities were founded before Scotland was joined to England, and to a great measure they take their traditions from the continental universities.

2. The universities, which were founded between 1850 and 1930, including London University, are known as redbrick universities. They were called so because that was the favourable building material of the time, though they are rarely referred to as ‘redbrick’ today.

The University of London is by far the largest conventional university, with about 39,000 full-time students. It was established by the union of two colleges: University College (1827) and King’s College (1831). Later many other colleges, schools and institutes were added, and it also could be called a kind of federation of colleges, but the system is entirely different. The largest of the London colleges are like universities in themselves, having many different faculties and departments. Others specialize in certain subjects, like the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Imperial College of Science and Technology, the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, the School of Oriental and African Studies, the School of Architecture.

There are also institutes attached to London University as well as to other universities. Whereas colleges within a university teach all subjects, and schools a group of subjects, these institutes specialize more narrowly, and are often more occupied with research than with teaching undergraduates. In London University, for example, there are the Institute of Archeology, the Courtauld Institute (specializing in the history of art) and some others.

Most of the redbrick universities founded in the nineteenth century are scattered throughout the country and are to be found in Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Hull, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Sheffield, Southampton and some other cities.

The redbrick universities organize their academic work in a variety of ways. Subjects are taught in individual departments which are in turn grouped into faculties covering the main subject grouping, like arts, science, engineering, social science. For example, these are the faculties at Manchester: Arts, Science, Technology, Medicine, Law, Economic and Social Studies, Business Administration, Theology, Music, Education.

3. The new universities were all founded after the Second World War. Some of them quickly became popular because of their modern approach to university courses. The first of this group was Keele University (in Staffordshire), founded in 1948. In 1961 seven new universities were approved: the universities of East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Lancaster, Sussex, Warwick, York. The traditional faculty structure in these universities has been avoided in an attempt to prevent overspecialization. One form of organization (at Sussex) is school, which embraces a range of related subjects. Some of the technological universities have boards of studies. York and Warwick have structures which are closer to the older universities.

Polytechnics. They are products of modern times and somehow stand apart from traditional universities. The first ‘polytechnic’ was set up in 1838 in Regent Street, London, and was revived and enlarged in 1881. But the term now usually refers to those, the plans for which were announced by the Labour Government in 1966. These plans were to turn sixty colleges of technology, commerce and art into thirty new polytechnics, which have become centres for advanced courses in a wide range of subjects. Many of the thirty polytechnics today take part-time students and serve as comprehensives of further education. But some of them take full-time students, their work is of university level and thus is officially described as the higher education sector within further education, where students are able to take on a full-time degree course.

The Open University. The Open University was founded in 1969 by the Labour Government to cater for those people who, for some reason, had not had a chance to enter any of the other universities, especially those above normal student age. It takes both men and women at the age of 21 and over. The University provides part-time degree and other courses. No formal academic qualifications are required for entry to these courses, but the standards of its degrees are the same as those of other universities.

The first courses began in 1971, and in a decade the number of undergraduates reached 65,000. It is a non-residential university. In teaching the Open University uses a combination of television and radio broadcasts, correspondence courses and summer schools, together with a network of viewing and listening centres. Written work is corrected by part-time tutors who meet their students once a month to discuss their work with them.

Degrees are awarded on the basis of credits gained by success at each stage of the course. Six credits are required for a BA degree and eight credits for a BA Honours degree. The time of staying on at the Open University is unlimited.

At the beginning of the 1990s some 150,000 students followed the Open University courses.

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