This week, two vital books for anyone interested in the University of Bradford’s story: The University of Bradford: origins and development and The University of Bradford: the early years. Both were written by Robert McKinlay, Vice-Principal of the Bradford Institute of Technology and later Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University. The books are incredibly useful and authoritative sources, as McKinlay combined huge experience and knowledge and scrupulous archival research.
Origins covers the period up to 1966, when the University received its Charter; Early years takes us through the 1970s, with an epilogue on the 1980s and early 1990s. I draw extensively on both in writing about the Objects. The former is particularly useful on this week’s theme: how Bradford came to have a University (and why it took so long).
Bradford’s University grew out of the 19th century demand for technical education and moral improvement that led to the development of Mechanics’ Institutes and colleges. However, although we can trace the University’s history back to 1882 (founding of the Technical School) and even 1832 (the Bradford Mechanics’ Institute), it did not become a Chartered University until 1966. This contrasts with the experiences of other cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool where the so-called “red-brick” universities were created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Why did it take over 100 years for the city to acquire its own University?
The full story is told in over 100 pages in Origins, which is recommended if you wish to know the twists and turns of the whole tale. Here’s a summary!
Many influential people were committed to the idea of a Bradford University. Harry Richardson, Principal of the College from 1920 to 1956, put huge effort into this cause, supported by Alderman Revis Barber and the local press. Alderman Conway, Lord Mayor of Bradford, argued that University status for the College would offer huge benefits to the region, as he explained in this collection of his articles in the Yorkshire Observer. There were occasional surges of enthusiasm and suggested initiatives involving other universities.
However these did not prosper. The College’s narrow subject base and location in a textile city did not help. We might point to a lack of local civic support (textile owners perhaps tend to trust instinct and to be hostile to sharing specialist knowledge), a mistrust of technological subjects as the proper study of a university, and the perhaps unfortunate narrowing of the College’s curriculum at exactly the time two Yorkshire universities were founded (Leeds and Sheffield). Once other universities were established nearby, it would be harder for Bradford to make its case. McKinlay also suggests that the strategies employed by those in favour were too vague. Were they calling for an institute of technology or a university? Was the debate about the naming of the institution or how it was governed? Different arguments were made by different advocates. All of which gave opponents “room to manoevre”.
The breakthrough came in 1956 with the White Paper on Technical Education, which aimed to increase graduate numbers in technological subjects by founding Colleges of Advanced Technology. Bradford was to be one of these, a fitting retirement gift for Harry Richardson who had worked so hard for a university. This began the process of taking the organisation out of local government control and paved the way for the transformation into a University which would run its own affairs. Between the two books, we have the whole story in digested form: we are very grateful to Robert McKinlay for putting them together.