The Start of a New University
Lord James of Rusholme
Read 9th February, 1966
It is, I need scarcely say, a very great pleasure for me to address a society of which I was at one time a member, and to which so many of my friends belong. I could wish, however, that the offering that brought you was a more worthy one. As I warned the secretary when he asked me, I am no statistician. My talk to-night will contain very few figures at all, and I can simply ask your indulgence for what can but be regarded from the point of view of this society as the case history of one enterprise.
It has often been a matter of surprise that the city of York has had to wait so long for a university. One of the oldest and one of the most beautiful cities in England, York has a tradition of learning that goes back to Alcuin. In fact two abortive attempts were made to enlist government support for a university in the 17th century, but after that there were no further stirrings of academic aspiration until 1947. York was too small and too quiet to be involved in the wave of new university foundations that began during the latter part of the 19th century in the industrial cities.
It was not until 1947 that an approach was made to the University Grants Committee, without whose massive support no university foundation, old or new, could hope to be viable, and without whose approval no charter would ever be granted. The inspiration for this approach came from a very small group of prominent local citizens, who associated with them in their attempt representatives of the local governments in the area. At that time there was no general acceptance of the fact that need would arise for a major expansion of university education. The only new foundation of that period (Keele) was, indeed, carried out in the teeth of the opposition of most of the already existing universities. The proposal for a University of York was rejected. But those responsible were encouraged to assess in greater detail the nature and volume of the local support that would be forthcoming if a university came into existence. To do this, York Civic Trust established a committee which later became an independent Academic Trust. York thus differed from some others of the new universities in the sense that initial impetus was supplied by the enthusiasm of a small group, rather than by the intervention of a Local Authority. In the following years this group accomplished a great deal. York is fortunate in being the headquarters of a large chocolate industry, associated for many years with an unusually strong tradition of philanthropy, and some of whose leaders had themselves been pioneers of scientific social investigation. The charitable trusts associated with this industry and with some of the individuals connected with it made extremely generous promises of financial assistance to the new university. A very suitable site of 180 acres as purchased with their help, including a large if decrepit mansion, Heslington Hall, all within 1½ miles of the city of York. The Academic Trust also mobilised the support of Local Authorities, and of the influential local opinion generally, and made preliminary surveys of such matters as availability of lodgings. It did more: it actually founded two academic institutions, the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, which became the repository for valuable archives from the Archdiocese of York and from other sources, and the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, which began to provide (as it still provides) unique short courses for practitioners in architecture and related fields. It must also be said that it appointed as its permanent secretary a man who afterwards became the Registrar of the University and who, quite apart from personal qualities about which it would be inappropriate to speak here, acquired an intimate knowledge of York from many points of view that was afterwards to be invaluable. When the Academic Trust returned to the University Grants Committee in 1960, therefore, it was able to claim that a physical site was available, that there was the certainty of solid financial backing and a fairly general body of local enthusiasm, to point to some solid achievements in the academic field and to feel reasonably certain that, although York is not an easy town for lodgings, at least 500 would be forthcoming. Meanwhile, there had been a change in public policy. The fact that a bulge of prospective students was coming up through the schools, the tendency for more boys and girls to stay on at school and seek higher education, and the pressure of national needs in a world whose complexity makes ever greater demands on the supply of highly educated people, were all factors which were becoming more clearly realised, even if in academic quarters. It was these considerations which led the government to agree not only to the expansion of existing universities, but to the creation of seven new ones, and it is probable that the University Grants Committee had little difficulty in deciding that York must be one of these. Approval for a University of Sussex had been given two years before; approval for York and East Anglia now followed.
The decision to found a university once once taken, a series of definite steps began to follow quite rapidly. A Promotion Committee was established containing representatives of the principal Local Authorities involved, together with others who had been active in the preliminary phases. This committee was the precursor of the governing council which the university established once it had received its Royal Charter. It is clearly necessary that there should be some interim committee to deal with the business of a university in what may be called its pre-natal phase. It is almost inevitable that it should include some members without university experience, however, and in its early days it lacks academic representation. It is vital, therefore, that such a committee should contain some members of strength and experience who realise that the ultimate pattern of the university cannot be laid down until an academic community is established. York was fortunate in that the promotion committee had the support of a number of such people.
Parallel with the Promotion Committee an Academic Planning Board was appointed, representing a broad spectrum of academic experience, though rightly small (seven) in numbers. The creation of the Boards, the composition of which was suggested by the University Grants Committee, for the seven new universities was an innovation. New universities created before the war had been ``university colleges'', denied full university status, and giving the degrees of London University. When Keele was founded a new pattern was tried in which it gave its own degrees, but some control over academic policy was exercised by three sponsoring universities. With the seven new universities yet another method was tried. Full university status is accorded straight away, including the power to give both first and higher degrees, but in their early years the integrity of their academic standards, their senior appointments, and the broad outlines of their studies are under the general supervision of their Academic Planning Boards. The first duty of the Academic Planning Board was obviously to nominate a Vice-Chancellor to the Promotional Committee. This was done in February, 1961, although I did not nominally take up duty until January, 1962, an interval which I now feel to have been too long.
The problem of laying the academic foundations of a new university is clearly a difficult one for the Academic Planning Board. If inadequate plans are made, either the university becomes far too much the expression of the ideas of one man, the first Vice-Chancellor, or there is too long a delay while senior academic staff are recruited in sufficient number to make discussion profitable. On the other hand, if the Academic Planning Board plans in very great detail the Vice-Chancellor and staff will feel themselves circumscribed. In the case of York the Academic Planning Board avoided these dangers by appointing a Vice-Chancellor who was clearly in sympathy with the plan which they had prepared, by leaving the final drafting of the plan until after the Vice-Chancellor was appointed so that modifications were still possible in the light of discussions with him (although, in fact, these modifications were of a very minor kind), and above all by putting forward a scheme both of organisation and of curriculum which although firm enough to indicate what kind of university York was to by, yet was sufficiently flexible for modifications as time went on and as staff were appointed. Since the whole idea of an Academic Planning Board is new, and since it is not difficult to conceive situations in which strains might develop between the staff of a new university and the academic planners, it is worth putting on record one Vice-Chancellor's conviction that this method of exercising a proper control over a new institution is by far the most satisfactory so far devised, provided that the Academic Planning Board is wisely chosen, and prepared to advise rather than to dictate. No account of the University of York would be complete that did not pay a tribute to the work of Lord Robbins (who was chairman of our Board before he took on the work of the better known committee on Higher Education which bears his name) and his colleagues. However long the University exists it will always owe them a great debt.
After the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor a period of very considerable activity followed, for the Promotion Committee, the Academic Planning Board and the staff of all kinds as they were appointed. Although in 1961 the Robbins Committee had only just begun work, it was clear to many of those who had been studying educational trends that its report was bound to be expansionist in tone, and hence there was a feeling of great urgency among those connected with the new university. The first steps to be taken at once were to appoint of number of the key staff, i.e. the Registrar, the Bursar, the Librarian and a very few professors. From the start the University was conscious of a lack of money and ideally more appointments should have been made at this stage. The U.G.C. policy of paying no recurrent grant until students are actually in residence seemed then, and still seems, unrealistic, particularly for a university without any very considerable support from Local Authority grants, for it takes no account of the considerable amount of preliminary work that has to be done. In the case of York we received (and receive) less from Local Authorities than any other new university. We are not only the only new university in which the actual site had to be purchased by donations and was not given by a local authority, but the recurrent amount we receive from this source, £36,500, is less than elsewhere. This arises from the fact that our neighbouring L.E.A.s are either poor, small, or already committed to several existing universities. This factor becomes, of course, far less important as the years pass since contributions from Local Authorities are a very small item in the income of an established university.
The second major decision that had been taken as soon as possible was the selection of architects. This is crucial for any university, but particularly for a new one, since a new university has the chance, that is both an advantage and a responsibility, which no older university has ever had, of designing a university as a whole. No record of the University of York would be adequate that did not record that of all the decisions taken by the Promotion Committee and their advisers none was more fortunate than the choice of architects.
To discuss fully the relationships between a university and its architects would demand an essay in itself, and only a few jejune comments based on experience are possible here. It is very doubtful indeed whether many university administrators and teachers even now realise the way in which the physical form of a university should reflect its academic ideas. Thus the choice of a predominant method of teaching (whether by lecture, seminar or tutorial) will have quite distinctive architectural results. A decision (such as was made at York) to avoid conventional large faculty structures is translated into architectural terms by avoiding large Arts buildings, or whatever they may be. The pattern of social life of the students will be affected by whether a large central Students Union is included in the plans. The relationship between staff and students is affected by arrangements for common rooms and for eating. The position is complicated by the very nature of the client, for in a university we are dealing not with a single individual, with fairly clearly defined needs, but with a variety of clients with quite different tasks, often working through cumbersome committees. In the case of a new university, where in the nature of things the committee structure is not very fully developed, decisions can be taken more quickly than is often the case, and much greater speed of development is possible.
In the case of the University of York, the dominant factors in the minds of the architects and those working with them were these. First, speed of construction was a necessity if the university was to make a significant contribution to the critical years ahead. The idea that slowness in planning or execution meant quite simply denial of opportunity to properly qualified applicants was (and is) always present. It was this that lead the architects to adopt for many of the buildings they are planning, a method of system building, and the university joined a group of Local Education Authorities in adopting the CLASP system. This was related to plans for the ultimate size of the university. For our contribution to be significant a target of 3,000 students by 1970 or 1971 was required, with the possibility of expanding to 5,000 or 6,000 or more in subsequent years, in the light of national policy. Secondly, plans must be flexible, both as regards numbers and as regards type of building. With knowledge expanding as it is, it is impossible to forecast many years ahead what new subjects will have become important, or what new techniques will have developed and all buildings, particularly science buildings, must take account of this. Thirdly, finance would clearly be a dominant factor. Where so much public money is involved, and where the amount of privately contributed money is limited, the architect must be one who is prepared to work within rigid cost limits, while having regard to amenity and aesthetic value.
Such an architectural programme demands above all things the closest collaboration between architects, administrators and academics. Because the buildings have got to express the ways in which teaching, research and social life should co-exist, long hours of discussion must take place. In general such discussion took place between the architects and the particular member of the university most closely concerned, and it was necessary to appoint some members of the staff (e.g. scientists) at least two years before they would take up their appointment so that they could share in the design of the buildings they would ultimately occupy, even although this meant a very heavy burden of unpaid work for them, while they continued with their present appointments. Further elements in the design of a new university are the necessity for it to be a viable university at every stage of development, and for the whole plan to be conceived in such a way that the academic experience of the earlier generations of students should not be unduly impoverished by forcing them to work among the noise and disruption of building going on around them. The result of a process of collaboration between architects and university as close as can be imagined, a process of architectural dialectic, often exhausting, often stimulating, but in the end deeply educative, at any rate for an administrator, was the publication in May, 1962 of a detailed development plan covering the first ten years of the university's life. Not every element in the plan has passed without controversy. In particular the decision to use CLASP construction has met with opposition, since it is the first time that such as system has been used for university building in this country. No one would claim that it was an ideal solution. There is, indeed, in the minds of some of us, the belief that there is a pressing need for a research group to investigate university building in the same way that the Ministry of Education investigated school building after the war. But it is impossible to believe that without some such plan of system-building the universities can expand as they must over the next few years, in competition with other forms of building for a limited labour force. It must be said here that both as regards the adaptation of old buildings and as regards the building of new ones, every building has been finished on time, and within cost limits. This is partly due to the collaboration between architect, contractor and client of which I spoke, but it is doubtful whether it could have been accomplished without industrialised building, involving as it has done a rate of expenditure between January, 1964 and June, 1965 of nearly £2 million.
It has been said that the material form of the university as foreshadowed in the Development Plan reflects its educational ideals. York aims at being a collegiate university. At the end of its first phase of development, i.e. by 1971, it plans to have eight colleges. Each college will be a unit of 300 students, 150 of whom will be resident, the remainder being in lodgings or in student flats, but using the college as their social centre. This organisation is unlike that of Oxford and Cambridge on one hand or the halls of residence at civic universities on the other. The college will differ from ``Oxbridge'' in that they will not be autonomous financially, nor will they be responsible for admission of students or appointment of staff. They will differ from halls of residence in that teaching will be carried on in them. Every teacher will have a room in one or other of the colleges to which he will be attached, and it is here that he will give his tutorial teaching. Other teaching areas in non-science subjects that require no special equipment (i.e. lecture and seminar rooms) will also be associated with the colleges, although their use will be centrally time-tabled to avoid that waste of teaching space so characteristic of many universities. The collegiate idea, thus interpreted, aims at reconciling elements of the two broad traditions of English university education. It seeks to provide the valuable intimacies and loyalties of the life of a smaller community to a degree that is scarcely possible if the unit is a whole large university. On the other hand, by centralising admissions and the organisation of teaching, it recognises the importance of the ``faculty'' or subject as the focus of the intellectual life of a modern university. It aims, moreover, at making closer relationships possible between teacher and taught. Various implications almost inevitably follow from this method of organisation. It will be less effective unless a good deal of the teaching is tutorial in character, based on a weekly or at most fortnightly contact between a teacher and a small group of students (i.e. not more than four), although of course, not all a student's tutorials will be taken in his own college. At York tutorial teaching is thus accepted as a fundamental element in the academic pattern. At the same time, the value of the other methods of teaching are recognised, and both lectures and, still more, seminars of ten or fourteen students are being used. It is often said that tutorial teaching is extravagant. This is not so if the programme of formal lectures is made a good deal lighter than in many universities, and if it is recognised that graduate students can very often give perfectly satisfactory tutorials. At the same time it must be frankly recognised that on the conscientious member of the staff it may impose considerable obligations of time and effort, although in return they have the satisfaction and sometimes the stimulus of a closer and more responsible relationship with the pupils.
The second point about the collegiate structure that provokes criticism is that since it involves a considerable amount of residence it is expensive. This is not really so, since the limitation in the supply of lodgings is in any case forcing all universities to provide increasingly for some kind of residence. What form it should take is a matter for further study. It is sometimes said that the modern student resents the situation, one cannot feel that the most important element in creating an atmosphere of academic freedom and responsibility is the quality of day-to-day relationships, expressed in the character of individual departments. It is the function of the constitution to make it possible for these to create a sense of responsibility in every member of the university. It is naturally far to early to say how well the constitution is working beyond feeling encouraged but the experience of the first 2½ years.
If we turn from these administrative elements in the ideas that lay behind the planning of the University of York to matters of the curriculum, we find a situation which is, as it should be, still reasonably fluid. Only some of the basic ideas can be described here, and those who wish for more detailed information can obtain it from the published prospectus of the university. The first of these ideas is that only a fairly limited range of subjects should be studied. Nothing is more wasteful of staff, the scarcity of which is one of the most critical elements in the whole university scene, than for every university to attempt to offer every subject, and in particular those subjects for which only very few students will apply, or for which there are already sufficient places at other universities. As regards some subjects (e.g. medicine) there are factors which amounts to positive prohibition. In the case of others, in the absence of any co-ordinated policy, only the common sense of individual universities prevents a wasteful duplication of effort. Classics is a case in point. In my own view although no better education than Greats at Oxford has probably ever been devised, the output of potential students of classics from the schools would not justify the teaching of Greek at York, at any rate in any conventional way, although at some stage classical teaching as an adjunct to more general literary studies will probably come. In planning a curriculum, although there should certainly be other more fundamental considerations than the demand for places, and the probably national need for graduates of various kinds, considerations such as the importance of a subject as a medium of education and its place in the nexus of culture, the more mundane factors must be taken into account.
Secondly, and curriculum must attempt to reconcile two diametrically opposed pressures. The first is that the growth of knowledge leads to ever greater specialisation if some students are to reach the point where original work is possible. The second is that the complexity of the modern world makes a greater breadth of knowledge and awareness ever more desirable. These demands have led to the following practical results at York. If the conventional three year course for the first degree is clearly becoming inadequate for the future research worker, arrangements must be made for postgraduate studies which are not simply confined to research but include a considerable amount of course work. Such an arrangement is, of course, a commonplace in the United States and Canada, but is by no means common in England. Apart from this, we tend to view subjects in four ways in constructing our curriculum. There are first principal subjects, e.g. English, History or Chemistry, which can form the essential core of a university course and demand from some students the greater part of their energy and their interest. Secondly, there are subsidiary subjects, which may, of course, be principal subjects for some students, which will occupy about a third of a student's time in a mixed course, e.g. main English with a subsidiary Philosophy, main History with subsidiary Politics, and so on, while with some subjects equal combinations may be possible. Thirdly, there are ``service courses'', for example in languages, so that a historian may be given the chance to learn mediaeval Latin, not as an examination subject, but as a necessary tool. In this context we are developing as strongly as possible modern methods of language teaching and have established with a grant from Nuffield a language centre. Finally, all students, whatever their special interests, have the chance of attending ``open courses'', given either by members of the staff or by visiting lecturers. These are arranged at times kept free from other kinds of teaching, and their content offers almost unlimited scope for experiment. In the first year, for example, we had courses on nineteenth-century thought (lasting throughout the year), on art and society, and on value judgements in ethics and aesthetics. These semi-popular lectures are designed to provide a stimulus to reading, thought and discussion, and one of the problems that needs to be considered further is their relation to the students' main academic studies.
The organisation of the social sciences offers problems of its own, and these are particularly important, since from the start it has been planned that these studies should be particularly prominent at York, so that of our first-year intake nearly half were social scientists. For five terms they follow a broad general course in economics, politics and sociology, economic history and statistics. For their last four terms they are given an opportunity to specialise in economics and statistics, in politics or sociology, while for those intending to be professional social workers, a course will be provided, which starts this year, which offers the choice of a normal professional qualification, or of a two-year course leading to a higher degree, for those who may ultimately aspire to university posts or to senior posts in the field. Our emphasis on the social sciences is also shown by the fact that with a special grant from the Rowntree Memorial Trust we established almost from the start an Institute of Social and Economic Research.
Superficially, the York curriculum may seem more ``conventional'' than that of most new universities, particularly in the possibility that if offers to study a single subject. In fact, it is our belief that breadth is more likely to be achieved through methods of teaching than by actually laying down courses which aim at broad synthesis, interesting and valuable though such attempts may be. One of the temptations one faces in a new university is to feel that at all costs it must be different and that novelty is itself a virtue. In fact various experiments are being carried out at York, of which it is possible to mention only one or two. The education course (to which great importance is attached in view of the national shortage of teachers) is of a new kind. Education is being taught as a subsidiary subject concurrently with an academic principal subject for the three years of an undergraduate course, and taught, moreover, by means which are in some ways unusual. The fourth year will enable the student to spend two terms of practice in a school (perhaps releasing a member of staff for the second term to come to York for a refresher course), the final term providing an opportunity for reflection and discussion.
York has hitherto not planned to have conventional course in foreign language and literature, although it may well develop the study of Russian before long. It is, however, aiming to become a centre of linguistic studies of a more general kind, offering linguistics as a joint subject, and also arranging special courses for those who have to teach in English as a foreign language, and more generally to study the social and cultural effects of contracts between different language groups. It is already clear that there is a considerable and unfilled demand for this kind of work.
We may now turn from these general considerations which arose from the initial planning of the university to say a few words about more immediate practical aspects of the university's early days, although it is only 2½ years since the university took its first students it is certainly not possible to draw any conclusions of great weight. It has already been said that in view of the national situation a feeling of urgency was dominant in the minds of many of those connected with the initial stages. Thus it was quickly decided that the university must open in 1963 rather than delay the start until 1964 as had at one time been contemplated, and that when it opened it must do so with as substantial a number of students as possible. The year before the actual opening in October, 1963 was thus one of considerable activity, and as had been said, it would probably have been wiser, if less economical, to have had more academic staff actually in residence, although the argument from economy is not the only one, since it must be realised that it is not easy for an academic to isolate himself from a large group of colleagues and research students. It would certainly have been wiser to have had more administrative staff, for the burden on the Registrar and Bursar was very heavy indeed. It is not always realised that the actual administrative load is determined in a number of ways by the rate of expansion rather than the actual size of a university. Since the rate of growth at York has been as high as in much larger institutions the administrative load has been heavy, and I should say that we have been somewhat understaffed.
To return to the year before opening, the tasks ranged from the fundamentally trivial (e.g. designing a coat of arms) to the fundamental, e.g. the selection of students and the appointment of staff. In both theses respects it at once became obvious that certain pessimistic forecasts were quite misguided. The quality of those wishing to teach and of those wishing to learn in a yet unstarted university was very high, and it may be said that in the subsequent years the pressure in both respects has increased. The pressure on student numbers varies very greatly from subject to subject of course. Overall figures are approximately as follows :--
|1963||...||1,700 for 200 places|
|1964||...||3,250 for 250 places|
|1965||...||8,000 for 420 places|
|1966||...||9,000 for 500 places|
Although, of course, these figures have to be interpreted in the light of the multiple applications possible under the UCCA scheme, on the other hand it must be remembered that the university does not offer some of the more popular subjects (i.e. geography, modern languages or technology). Students are selected on the basis of school records, including examination results, headmaster's or headmistress's report, and personal interview. The latter has been alleged to be of slight prognostic value. This may be so, although as conducted by some of the York staff, when an interview becomes virtually a tutorial session, one cannot but doubt this finding. What is beyond dispute is that from the point of view of a new university the interview can be justified on quite other grounds, for it removes some of the impersonality from the relation between the prospective student and the unknown institution. In addition, some departments ask candidates to bring examples of their written work, and this in some cases proves very useful with the candidate who is daunted by an interview. It is clearly of vital importance for a new university to establish close relationships with the schools, and in the case of York a personally signed letter from the Vice-Chancellor explaining the plans of the university was sent to every Grammar School in England and Wales as the first step in a programme of securing the co-operation of the schools, a co-operation now being followed up in a variety of ways, including visits by groups of specialist teachers.
It is very difficult to give any very general reasons as to why students should wish to come to a new university. In our experience few seem to be under the delusion that it is easier to gain acceptance to an untried institution. A number are vaguely attracted by the idea of being in at the beginning and the feeling that a new university will be ``less hidebound'', although they are far from sure what they mean by this. A surprisingly large number have studied the prospectus and have formed the impression that the kind of course will be interesting, or are attracted by the collegiate-tutorial system, a factor which clearly weighs heavily with their teachers in advising them. Finally, many wish to live in or near a beautiful city, as they have spent their lives in suburbia or industrial towns, and this is a desire which might well be borne in mind by those who maintain that new academic institutions should be related to the ``real'' life of an urban environment.
As regards the recruitment of staff there can be no doubt that the challenge of a new institution with its opportunities to try new ideals appeals to a large number of very good men, particularly young ones. In some areas (e.g. the social sciences) there is clearly a dangerous over-all national shortage of teachers, and in all subjects it is difficult to recruit suitable women. But however unfair this may seem to established universities, there is little doubt that as regards one of the new English universities, and no doubt this applies to all, we are probably getting more than our share of good students and certainly more of good staff.
In general, staff have been recruited by simple advertisement. With some of the earlier and more senior appointments this was not done. The Academic Planning Board felt that every effort should be made to recruit initially some men and women of such established distinction that they would not have responded to an advertisement, and although this policy (which was not, of course, confined to York) aroused some public criticism, it is difficult to doubt that it was the right one. In all appointments every effort is made to ensure that those chosen are in broad general sympathy with the fundamental ideas behind the university, particularly in the importance of the tutorial system and the idea of colleges.
While staff and students were being selected, the conversion of the Elizabethan-Victorian mansion to form a teaching, social and administrative centre for the university was proceeding with remarkable speed and astonishing success. As the academic staff were appointed and detailed teaching requirements became clearer, it was soon realised that accommodation would in certain ways be insufficient. Thanks to the fact that we were already in association with a consortium of users of a system of industrialised building, it was possible to supplement the accommodation of Heslington Hall with a new block comprising a large lecture theatre and a number of tutorial rooms, the whole being constructed in five months.
Meanwhile a number of other important operations were in progress. The University Grants Committee by a most enlightened gesture gave permission for the major site works to be carried out as one large preliminary operation over the whole area covered by the development plan so as to minimise disturbance at later stages of the university's growth, an operation which involved the construction of a major road and a 14-acre lake, the function of which was to drain the site. Parallel with these actual works the detailed planning of the first buildings to be completed by 1965 began, and as members of the academic staff were appointed they were associated with these plans. A whole series of meetings with the staff were in fact held, whether they were resident in York or not, both to clarify the plans for the university and also to create a basis not simply of professional association but of personal friendship.
One other most important activity of this year before the actual opening must be mentioned, the appeal for lodgings and their inspection, a vital task since the university would be entirely non-residential until 1965. An experienced lodgings officer was appointed and by her efforts in securing the co-operation of appropriate groups in the community (churches, schools and so on), assisted by an unusually helpful local newspaper, a sufficient supply of lodgings was obtained, although York is not an easy city in this respect.
At the beginning of October, 1963, then, the university opened with 216 undergraduates and 12 post-graduates, nearly all of the latter being in the social science field. It is interesting to note that this number of students, small though it seems was actually the largest with which any university in England had ever started. The students were almost equally divided between men and women. No definite steps were taken in the selection procedure to produce this result, although it has always been the hope of the university that the proportion of women would be higher than in most universities. The geographical spread of students was also surprisingly even over the whole of England. There is clearly as yet no tendency whatever for York to be a university drawing mainly from the North.
It was felt by all of us that it was essential that the actual start should be made as smooth as possible by very detailed preliminary planning, both academic and administrative. At all costs an air of improvisation or chaos that might easily arise with a new institution should be avoided. Both before and at the time of their arrival the students received papers giving answers to as many preliminary questions as could be envisaged. For example, as soon as it was certain that he or she was defiantly coming to York, addresses of suitable lodgings were sent. Assignment to tutors and supervisors, times of preliminary interviews to discuss programmes, maps of York and the university buildings, detailed information about the library, and so on, were provided, and the students have since said that feeling that these details gave, though much of it was trivial in itself, of being welcomed, contributed a good deal to the ease of settling in In particular, it was fortunate that the catering arrangements (and York provides meals both at mid-day and in the evening) were in extra-ordinarily capable hands.
Among the most interesting problems that a new university has to face is the organisation of the students' social activities, and the range of decisions on which student participation should be sought. In the event, on the first of these, the students showed a remarkable capacity for self-organisation, and very rapidly an extremely wide variety of societies and teams were created. Games might have been a problem, but steps had been taken to borrow playing fields and to secure the part-time services of a member of the games staff of a neighbouring school.
More difficult was the evolution of a Students' Representative Council, and the student body spent a good deal of time and effort in devising a constitution, once they had set up a ``caretaker'' committee. Some matters which to some universities seem a matter for the staff rather than the students, were left to the students themselves, e.g. whether to wear gowns. Some students have said that they would have preferred more of these things to be settled by ``authority'' before they arrived, but my own view is that the course we took was right. It is certainly clear that from the start a staff-Student committee should be set up, and student representatives on relevant committees, e.g. the catering committee, should be appointed as soon as possible. Because York does not plan to have a central students' union building it is all the more vital for us to make it clear that this does not, in fact, mean less willingness on the part of ``authority'' to collaborate with student opinion. The line between having a proper regard for student welfare and between an unduly ``paternalistic'' attitude is a very difficult one to draw, and the climate of the time makes it increasingly so. If York has erred it has been on the side of libertarianism.
In the second year of its existence (i.e. 1964-65), the university was physically divided. No new buildings were available. The university has, however, rented from the York City Corporation an old building, the King's Manor, in the centre of York. This remarkable building, parts of which date from the 14th century, the major part being of the 17th century, had been allowed to degenerate into a condition of considerable squalor, and was being used as workshops for the blind. It was reconstructed with such taste and imagination on the part of the architect responsible that it must now rank as one of the most beautiful academic buildings in England. A Victorian addition was destroyed and replaced by a modern block of tutorial rooms. In the old building other teaching rooms, a library, a dining hall and common rooms duplicated the accommodation at Heslington. For time-tabling reasons the division of the university was arranged on a subject basis, but although this bifurcation produced some harmful results in loss of cohesion, they were not as great as might have been expected.
In June, 1965, the first permanent buildings were completed, and were fully occupied in October. The two colleges provide residential accommodation for 400 undergraduates, graduates and staff, a variety of teaching accommodation, and common rooms and dining halls used both by residents and by those who are in lodgings or flats. No central union is envisaged. It is far to early yet to make any valid assessment at all of how the system will work, particularly as at present the colleges are having to cater for a larger number of non-resident students than will be the case.
As regards future building plans, the main library will be finished in June of this year. Work has begun on two more colleges and another science building for October, 1967. The six months pause has delayed the start of the main university hall, but otherwise we have been unaffected. Our future plans depend entirely on the supply of government money, but we are still more or less in step with the development plan. Our actual student numbers are actually in excess of those envisaged in the plan, but by adjustment of the intake we shall probably be approximately at the estimated figure by 1971.
The uncertainty that colours our future development beyond 1967 reflects what in my view is a serious weakness in university finance. As everyone here will know, running expenditure is fixed by the U.G.C. for 5-year periods. Capital allocations are, however, known by individual universities only for one or at most two years ahead. How, it may be asked, is it possible to make rational estimates of the money one needs for running costs when one has no firm estimates of the number of students one can accommodate? How is it possible to plan the ordered development which we require over five, six or seven years when all one has is faith and guesswork to go on? Surely we need a much bolder and more long-term approach, and a greater use of such devices as negotiated contracts, devices which in my view would actually lead to an actual saving of money.
Secondly, I believe that the method of calculating grants for current expenditure must be more closely related to student numbers. A simple per capita formula will manifestly not do in view of the variations in cost between students reading different subjects, and the necessity for making special provision for graduates and above all for research. But it is surely possible and desirable to devise a more sophisticated arrangement by which a university will have firm assurance that expansion will bring with it the means to support it, so that it can develop without the fear that one will actually be penalised by increasing poverty if one responds to manifest social needs by expanding rather faster than at one time seemed possible, or fear to develop and encourage strong research schools because one knows one may be unable to support them.
It may seem from the foregoing paragraphs that we are envisaging our problems to exclusively in material terms. It would be most unfortunate if this impression persisted, and still more if the problems of finance, of buildings and even of numbers became the major preoccupation of the universities themselves. The continuous dialectic which should be characteristic of all universities, not least of new ones, should be devoted to deeper questions. The first of these concerns the stimulation of research. Hitherto that word has barely been mentioned in this paper. Yet one knows that there is no more pressing question facing the universities today than to find the appropriate balance between their teaching and research functions. It may well be that put in this way is to make too crude an antithesis. It may be that with some subjects what we should really be concerned with is not so much research as normally understood, but the process of reflection on material that is already known. Whether this be so or not is important for diverse reasons that from the start new universities should be concerned with original ideas and the discovery of new knowledge. I have said that on the whole teachers are anxious to come to the new universities, but sometimes it is necessary to reassure them as to the opportunities they will have for research. Various practical results follow from this anxiety. In the design, say, of laboratories ample provision for research must be made, and teachers, whatever their subject, must be encouraged to bring research students with them. The flow of research grants to new universities must not be less than to others. Above all the library is fundamental. Actually some ill-informed criticisms have been made concerning the potentialities of new universities on the grounds of their necessarily limited library facilities. It is easy to over-estimate this. It is essential to appoint the librarian very early so that he has at least two years to assemble the basis of a library, and it is essential that he should be a man of courage and vision. It is still a curious feature of English academic finance that few people realise the necessity to spend money on a library on a scale comparable to that which is devoted to equipping a laboratory. Given this limitation, the University Grants Committee has actually been generous to new university libraries. At York we have been fortunate that the University of Leeds, which is less than an hour away, has most generously given to our staff and research students exactly equivalent to those given to its own. Further the National Science Lending Library is a mere 14 fourteen miles away. Apart from library facilities, we have been fortunate in securing private money for research and as I have said an Institute for Social and Economic Research has already been established, and is now at work. But it is a fact which cannot ever be forgotten that unless new universities from the start are enabled to show their capacity for original work, they will become second-class institutions.
It is no less important that continuous thought and discussion should be going on concerning the development of the curriculum. It has already been said in another context that we must be flexible in thinking of the lines along which the development of knowledge should proceed. The danger is that in the desire for breadth we may unduly diffuse our efforts, or duplicate work already being well done elsewhere. The response to this danger lies in creating an atmosphere in the academic community in which certain lines become clearly the most profitable because they involve a synthesis between the special interests of different departments in which the university, new though it is, is strong. At York, for example, the particular interests of economists, statisticians, educationalists, linguists and others indicate that we should show a special interest in the problems of tropical Africa and some other undeveloped areas, and teaching and research are already uniting to make a joint contribution here.
Perhaps the most difficult and important problem, however, facing a new university is this. Those who were concerned with the foundation and with the early years of the university had certain fairly definite views as to what ideals this particular university should embody. They believed in particular in a tutorial system and a collegiate organisation. What will occur if, as the years pass, new recruits to the academic staff disagree with these ideas in fundamental ways? The reconciliation of the idea of a body of academics responsible for policy with that of an underlying conception of the idea of a university will clearly provide problems for the future.
But if it provides problems it also provides opportunities. Sometimes one feels that the whole idea of ``new universities'' as being separate from the old is regrettable. Sometimes one could excuse resentment in more venerable institutions who have borne the lean years of comparative public indifference, at the publicity received by the new, and at all costs new institutions must avoid giving the impression that they have a monopoly of new or good ideas. Yet the fact remains that their very newness, the very fact that they are growing fast, their very absence of tradition, imposes a particular obligation on them to discuss with fresh minds what the function of a university should be in the 20th century. That is has a duty to train professionals, whether they be teachers, or chemists or social workers is clear, though it is by no means so clear as to which particular professionals, are the concern of universities and which are more appropriately educated elsewhere, and there is an immensely important area of discussion concerning relationships with other kinds of higher education. That the university has a duty to transmit the tradition of culture is equally obvious. To many of those who teach, the obligation to discover, and to reinterpret is still more fundamental. But parallel with these are other pressures. The university must be aware of its obligation to provide places in various disciplines with some regard to the demand from the schools, and in view of the circumstances of their foundation this must be very clearly in the minds of those who work in new universities. Yet it must not let this demand dictate its policy, since it must study many things which the schools cannot introduce to their pupils. On the other hand it must be aware of the kinds of professionals which society demands. If the social or economic needs of the community are for more physicists or social workers, the university cannot ignore them, not only for financial reasons but for those of social responsibility. Yet a university has a duty to respond to a higher obligation than what its potential students desire, or what society needs at any particular time. It must consider that its duty is not merely one of response, but of creation; that at its highest the academic community, the clerisy as Coleridge called it, must not merely give society what it needs, but show it what it ought to need. Because new universities are expanding so fast, because they are inevitably preoccupied with problems of finance, of buildings and of administrations, they may become oblivious to their deeper obligations. But also because they are new, the very fact that creation forces them to ask questions, gives them an opportunity and an obligation to see the deeper aims behind the preoccupations and the frustrations, the excitement and the visions inseparable from their early years.
|Non Science Intake||200||200||150||235||330||460||510||510||510|
|Total Undergraduate Numbers||200||400||700||950||1,350||1,850||2,250||2,500||2,550|
|Non Science Intake||216||286||301||345 (?)|
|Science Intake||122||165 (?)|
|Total Undergraduate Numbers||216||491||889||1,215|
The University Development Plan