History of UK Higher Education
‘Superscience’: discoveries and inventions in UK universities
UK higher education is world-famous for its achievements in scientific research. Click the graphic below to look at some of the amazing discoveries and inventions that UK universities have been involved in.
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UK universities through the ages
Although they come in many shapes and sizes they generally fit into the following categories, which reflect the educational needs of period in which they were formed.
Ancient universities (founded before 1800)
|It is widely agreed that higher education in the British Isles dates back to 1096 at Oxford, the first of the so-called seven ‘ancient universities’ located in the UK and Ireland. These prestigious institutions are among the oldest universities in the world and were the only ones to exist in Britain until the 19th century. The full list of ancient universities is:
Universities chartered in the 19th century
- The University of Durham – England, founded 1832
- The University of London (initially comprising University College London and King’s College London) – England, founded 1836
- The University of Wales (initially comprising University College Wales, University College North Wales and University College South Wales and Monmouthshire) – Wales, founded 1893
Red brick universities – mainly formed in the early 20th century
|A ‘red brick‘ university is one of a small group of civic institutions that has its origins in the early 20th century (before the First World War). Originally these institutions specialised in science and engineering. The term ‘red brick’ was inspired by the vivid appearance of The Victoria Building at the University of Liverpool, which was made from red pressed brick. The full list of red brick universities is:
Plate glass universities – formed in 1960s
The term ‘plate glass university‘ was coined by Michael Beloff, a prominent barrister, and refers to the steel and glass architecture of modern universities, in contrast to the more traditional style of the red brick and ancient universities. Belof classified the following institutions as plateglass universities:
- University of East Anglia – England, founded 1963
- University of Essex – England, founded 1964/5
- University of Kent – England, founded 1965
- Lancaster University – England, founded 1964
- University of Sussex – England, founded 1961
- University of Warwick – England, founded 1965
- University of York – England, founded 1963
1992: The rise of the new universities
|‘New universities‘ are UK academic institutions that gained their university status in 1992 or later. The Further and Higher Education Act passed in this year by John Major’s Conservative government saw a wide range of former polytechnics, central institutions or colleges become universities. These were initially termed ‘post-1992 universities‘ or ‘modern universities‘. A selection of new universities that were previously polytechnics include:
The growth of distance learning
|Distance learning is the delivery of education to students who are not based in a physical classroom or campus. The student is separated from the teacher by time and / or distance. Although distance learning has been enhanced massively by the rise of the internet, its roots in the UK date back to 1858, when the University of London established its External Programme. The foremost distance learning institution in the UK is the Open University (OU). Founded in 1969, it is one of the world’s largest universities by total number of enrolled students and runs off-campus undergraduate and postgraduate courses for students based both in the UK and overseas. While the OU’s administration is based in Milton Keynes, it also has centres in 13 regions of the UK.|
Throughout the history of UK education alumni have made major contributions to science, politics, the arts and many other fields of human achievement.
Take a look at some of the famous alumni to graduate from the UK’s top ten universities, including Isaac Newton, Mahatma Ghandi and Charles Darwin!