Perhaps every decade, even every year, of the twentieth century was in some important sense one of transformation for higher education, and a succession of writers described it in this or similar vocabularies of crisis, change or transition. The present study approaches some of these higher education transformations and their interpreters in England, with a time scale that begins with the opening of the twentieth century. This is not simply convenient arithmetic, since the new century demonstrated vital new developments, opportunities, directions and meanings. The particular phases and characteristics of these developments will be considered in the chapters below, but here it may help to set out briefly some of the unfolding changes in attitudes towards and ideas about the patterns of higher education that emerged.
The nineteenth century in England had seen the creation of a university in Durham, in the mould of Oxford and Cambridge, and one in London in the mould of Scottish and continental universities. 'University colleges' had emerged in the penumbra of the University of London, their students taking its degrees. One of them, Mason College, Birmingham, was to become the twentieth century's first new university, in 1900, and others (some science or medical colleges, some growing out of the University Extension Movement from 1892) were to become universities at different points in the twentieth century-in Southampton or Exeter, Reading or Hull. Owens College Manchester, however, was the focus of the creation of the third nineteenth-century university, after London and Durham-the federal Victoria University of Manchester, which incorporated colleges in Liverpool and Leeds. Created in 1888, Victoria University was in 1903 to be dissolved and become three separate universities (in the same year as the nineteenth-century Welsh colleges were grouped within the University of Wales). The ground for development was therefore laid in the nineteenth century, but the first decade of the new century marked the beginning of a new momentum of development.