The Learning City: Charter to Meet Needs of Changing World; with Three Universities and More Than 35,000 Students, Birmingham Has Secured Its Reputation for Being One of the Largest and Best Higher Education Centres in Britain. Education Correspondent Richard Warburton Investigates the History of the City's Varied Seats of Learning

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Aston University

Aston University began as the Birmingham Municipal Technical School in Suffolk Street, Birmingham in 1895. Dr W E Sumpner was appointed principal that same year and remained in office until December 1929.

The school offered evening classes in subjects such as chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics and mechanics.

Nearly 2,000 students enrolled at the school itself, or at branches around the city and five years later it had grown into an independent commercial college. Commercial classes were added in 1911 and by 1916 these classes were taught in a separate School of Commerce.

A name change in the 1930s, to Birmingham Central Technical College, preceded city council approval for a move to the Gosta Green site (now known as Aston Triangle). By 1947, student numbers had peaked at 10,000.

In the early 1950s the college again changed its name, becoming the College of Technology, Birmingham. Princess Margaret laid the foundation stone for the new main building at Gosta Green in 1951 and four years later, the Queen inaugurated the first section of the building.

A review of technical education in 1956 introduced a four-tier system headed by colleges of advanced technology (CATs). The College of Technology, Birmingham, became the first CAT in the country the following year.

Aston's move to university status was first proposed in 1963 when the Robbins Committee on Higher Education recommended that CATs should become technological universities.

Aston's charter was formally sealed on April 22, 1966, and the first chancellor of the University, Lord Nelson of Stafford, took office.

The end of the 1970s brought two changes at the helm of Aston University. Sir Adrian Cadbury became chancellor, and, in 1980 Professor (later Sir) Frederick Crawford became vice-chancellor.

In 1996, Professor Michael Wright was appointed vice-chancellor. Under his guidance, Aston is constantly responding to the changing demands of industry, commerce and the public sector. Aston's mission is to be an international centre of excellence in teaching, research and consultancy.

With more than 5,000 students now part of its four schools, Aston is geared to meet the real world needs of industry, commerce and the public sector in the 21st century.

Aston University, main building

Factfile

Aston University is Birmingham's smallest with 4,780 undergraduates and 490 postgraduates

It has a teaching staff of 260

Average A-level points 21.5

Aston University has seven subjects rated as 'excellent'

The university is ranked 35th in the country by the The Sunday Times University Guide 2001

Following the red brick road to the top

Birmingham University

The University of Birmingham was founded at the turn of the century to educate the people of the vastly expanding city.

With a boom in business and industry across the West Midlands it opened in 1900 to create managers and professionals to serve the local community.

As the region was at the forefront of Britain's industrial success it was inevitable that the university should concentrate heavily on science and engineering and it became the country's first higher education institute to establish a Faculty of Commerce and incorporate a medical school.

The original buildings on the campus at Edgbaston are believed to have been the source of the expression 'red brick university' and it is famous for its central Chancellors Court and Chamberlain clock tower.

The 100-metre-high tower was named after the university's first Chancellor, Joseph Chamberlain.

As the university population and number of subjects grew so did the campus and new buildings are continually under construction with a smaller campus being improved at the site of the old Westhill College, Selly Oak. …