The Meanings of Mass Higher Education

By Peter Scott | Go to book overview

2
Structure and Institutions

Universities are thoroughly modern institutions. Two hundred years ago there were only six in Britain — Oxford, Cambridge and the four ancient Scottish universities — Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrew's and Aberdeen (really two, King's College and Marischall College, until the 1850s). Together they enrolled fewer than 5,000 students. In no sense did they form a 'system'. Not until the mid-nineteenth century were there any public policy interventions to shape, or reform, what today would be regarded as higher education. Even a century ago the number of universities had barely doubled, to 14, although the number of students had risen fourfold, to 20,000. There was still no national system, despite the chartering of new universities in the North and Midlands and the first tentative state subsidies for technical education.

When the Robbins report was published in 1963 there were still only 24 universities, with a further six, the first wave of 'new' universities, in the process of formation. But a national system had begun to emerge as a result of the activities of the University Grants Committee, and this system was about to be extended to embrace the non-university sector. The university student population then stood at just under 120,000 (with a similar number in teacher training colleges and on 'advanced' courses in further education). But old patterns persisted. Three out of every 20 still attended Oxford and Cambridge. In other words, almost three-quarters of Britain's universities have been established during the past three decades, less than the span of an academic working life. Even if anterior institutions are taken into account, few universities can trace their origins back beyond the midnineteenth century. Student numbers have increased ten times over during the same period. Almost everything about higher education — system, institutions, students — is new.

This chronology is important in two senses. First, it demonstrates that the ancient pedigree of the universities is largely a myth. The universities themselves are recent foundations. Although it can be argued that the survival of the 'university' as an institutional ideal suggests that present universities, however young, are heirs to a deeply rooted tradition, it is just as plausible to argue that the persistence of the label proves how adaptable an institution

-11-

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The Meanings of Mass Higher Education
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Srhe and Open University Press Imprint ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • 2: Structure and Institutions 11
  • 3: State and Society 71
  • 4: Science and Culture 118
  • 5: Understanding Mass Higher Education 168
  • Notes 180
  • Index 190
  • The Society for Research into Higher Education 197
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