UK higher education since Robbins – A timeline

On the eve of the Robbins Report, half a century ago, Britain’s universities were small in number and in size, élitist and predominantly male.

The system had barely changed for 40 years while society, framed by World War II and the creation of the welfare state, had altered out of all recognition. Robbins argued that undergraduate places should be available “to all who were qualified for them by ability and attainment".

Oxford, Cambridge and the four ancient Scottish universities were the heart of the system, acting as a finishing school for public schools and the foundation stone for the country’s political, financial and social leadership.

In a largely supporting role, the great civic universities, the product often of Victorian philanthropy, educated the sons – mainly of the middle classes – for their destiny in the professions and industry.

Under the 1962 Education Act, tuition fees for most students who secured a university place were paid by the state while relatively generous maintenance grants meant that student loans, bank overdrafts and credit card debts were largely unknown.

Universities in 1960
Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, London, Durham, Newcastle, the colleges of the University of Wales, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Dundee, Exeter, Hull, Leicester, Nottingham, Reading, Queen’s Belfast and Southampton.

1963 – The faltering Conservative government of Sir Alec Douglas-Home accepted the report’s recommendations for an immediate expansion of universities on 24 October 1063.

Contrary to the popular view, most of the universities opening in the 1960s did not originate from Robbins but had been approved and in some cases instituted before the report was published.

New universities that opened in the 1960s
Sussex (1961), Keele (1962), East Anglia (1963), York (1963), Lancaster (1964), Essex (1964-65), Strathclyde (1964), Kent (1965), Warwick (1965), Heriot-Watt (1966), Salford (1967), Stirling (1967) and Ulster (1968).

1965 – Anthony Crosland delivered his definitive Woolwich speech on the future of the polytechnics, which led to the eventual creation of more than 30 non-university, degree-level institutions, mainly out of pre-existing technical institutes.

1965 – Foundation of the Council for National Academic Awards, or CNAA, to award degrees across the non-university sector.

1966 – Implementation of the Robbins recommendation that the 10 colleges of advanced technology, originally founded in 1956, should become universities.

Universities created from colleges of advanced technology
Aston, Loughborough, City University London, Chelsea College of Science and Technology (originally part of the University of London then later subsumed into King's College), Surrey, Brunel, Bath, Cardiff (initially part of the University of Wales), Salford and Bradford.

1967 – Full-time student numbers reached 197,000.

1968 – Global student unrest spread to the UK but the majority of students continued their studies regardless.

1973 – Full-time student numbers reached 217,000.

1983 – The private University of Buckingham received a royal charter.

1990 – Maintenance grants were capped and the Student Loans Company was created to make possible a transfer of liability for the costs of higher education from the state to the individual.

1992 – The Conservative government’s Education Act paved the way for polytechnics and colleges of higher education to become universities.

Universities formed from polytechnics
Anglia Ruskin, Birmingham City, Brighton, Bournemouth, Central Lancashire, Coventry, De Montfort, East London, Edinburgh Napier, Glamorgan, Glasgow Caledonian, Greenwich, Hertfordshire, Huddersfield, Kingston, Leeds Metropolitan, Lincoln, Liverpool John Moores, London Metropolitan, London South Bank, Manchester Metropolitan, Middlesex, Northumbria, Nottingham Trent, Oxford Brookes, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Sheffield Hallam, Staffordshire, Sunderland, Teesside, West of England, Westminster and Wolverhampton.

Universities formed from other institutions
Abertay Dundee, University of the Arts London, The Arts University Bournemouth, Bath Spa, Bedfordshire, Bishop Grosseteste, Bolton, BPP, Buckinghamshire New, Canterbury Christ Church, Chester, Chichester, Cranfield, Cumbria, Edge Hill, Falmouth, Gloucestershire, Glyndwr, Harper Adams, Highlands and Islands, Leeds Trinity, Liverpool Hope, Newman, Newport, Northampton, Norwich University of the Arts, Queen Margaret, Robert Gordon, Roehampton, Royal Agricultural, Southampton Solent, Swansea Metropolitan, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, West of Scotland, West London, Winchester, Worcester and York St John.

1993 – The CNAA was abolished as 'new' universities received degree-awarding powers.

1994 – The number of female undergraduate enrolments overtook male enrolments for first time.

1997 – The Dearing report recommended the introduction of tuition fees. Maintenance awards were to be replaced by loans for all but the poorest students.

1998 – The Labour government introduced tuition fees of £1,000 (US$1,600) a year and abolished the remaining student grant.

2000 – Undergraduate student numbers reached 1.15 million.

2006 – The Labour government raises fees to up to £3,000 a year, supported by a tuition fee loan.

2006 – Undergraduate student numbers exceeded 1.8 million.

2011 – Undergraduate student numbers reached 1.92 million.

2012 – The Conservative government raised the fees cap to £9,000 per annum.