‘For all those who are qualified by' ability and attainment ... and who wish to do so’:68 the post-War expansion of higher education

The determination to provide an appropriate higher education for all who were qualified and who wished to pursue it (better known as ‘the Robbins principle’), which set the tone of the major report published in December 1963, provides a useful insight into post-War trends in higher education. The period from 1945 to 1979 saw steady, unremitting growth of the higher education sector, an unprecedented degree of governmental planning and far greater systematization than had previously been the case, and this involved a drift from exclusivity towards the expectation of much wider participation in higher education, as Robbins foresaw. But this all took place within a very' recognizable hierarchical pattern, and the reasons for this are not far to seek.

The War itself had two major implications for the universities. First, conscription meant that from 1941 there were virtually' no males in Arts faculties, and this reinforced the long-term gendering of the departments concerned. Secondly, the waiving of conscription for students studying certain sciences enabled these departments to continue to function almost normally and to remain a largely male domain. After 1941 bursaries covering the full cost of teaching and residence were available to study radio, engineering and chemistry'. Co-operation between Government, manufacturers and a few universities gave the Allies a decisive edge in the

‘The safeguard of social stratification’ 129 fields of radar and nuclear technology'. This was based on the expertise of small research teams around a few individuals, notably John Cockroft at the Cavendish Laboratory', Frederick Lindemann at the Clarendon (appointed as Churchill’s scientific adviser during the War, Lindeman had attracted several leading refugee researchers from Nazi Germany in a bid to enable his Oxford laboratory to rival the Cavendish at Cambridge), Marcus Oliphant and Rudolf Peierls at Birmingham, and James Chadwick and Otto Frisch at Liverpool.69 The extent to which this group facilitated the victory of the Allies is arguable; what is clear is that they offered a model to politicians of how Government might seek to promote technological development through higher education after the War. What followed was an unprecedented degree of control and planning of higher education in Britain.

This process began before the War ended with the appointment of the Percy Committee to report on higher technological education. It called for the establishment of a National Council of Technology and regional advisory' councils, as well as the selection of‘at least one institution ... as a centre for post-graduate study' of industrial administration’.70 It also lamented the performance of the public schools, ‘whose bias is often overwhelmingly against the technical professions, and for most of which the Universities of the industrial Midlands and North hardly' exist as possible places of education for their scholars’.71 The moment Labour returned to power at the end of the War, they showed their own determination to plan the future of higher education with the appointment of the Barlow Committee, which had the effect of underlining the Percy Report’s recommendations, going further and calling for a ‘limited number of Technical Colleges, [offering] full-time technological courses of University' degree standard’,72 as well as ‘the development, preferably in University' Cities, of a few Institutes of Technology' whose aim should be to provide graduate and postgraduate courses and to conduct research of a standard at least equal to that demanded of candidates for doctorate degrees in the Universities’.73 Significantly, neither report considered technological education worthy of full university status.

Further evidence of the elitism that underlay thinking about the development of higher education at this time is provided by the fact that the group of Scottish Christian Socialists (with A. D. Lindsay, John Fulton and Hector Hetherington the key movers) who were planning the development of the university sector, did not have technological education in their sights. The ‘new universities’ that they' foresaw were planned instead in response to what was seen as the unbridled ‘scientism’ of the German universities, which they' believed had been a contributory' factor to the Holocaust. Lindsay chaired the Allied Commission investigating the German universities after the War, and his proposal for a year of ‘studium générale’ became the template for the first new university at Keele (where he became the first Vice-Chancellor) and subsequently' very' influential in shaping the novel curricula of the new universities that were established a few years later.

In this conflicted scene, the expansion of higher education, fuelled by' steadily rising demand for a full-time education after the age of 18, took on a familiar pattern. The new universities and the existing civic universities all grew steadily in size, but the dominance of the Oxbridge collegiate model meant that they allcame to place massive demands on the public purse for an expansion of residential accommodation, and none grew to rival in size the larger North American colleges, which were seen as too large to offer a pastoral function. Initially, the aspirations of the Percy and Barlow Committees were met by the existing technical colleges, many of which developed degree level courses, awarding external degrees of the University of London to facilitate expansion. These LEA funded colleges were more capable of responding quickly to changing student demand, and soon became the main means of expansion, as what was soon to become known as the ‘binary' system’ evolved spontaneously. In 1956 the Government went some way to recognize this in its White Paper on technical education, which painted a dismal picture and proposed the establishment of 25 Colleges of Advanced Technology' in major urban centres, with surrounding ‘satellite colleges’. It was, though, not until the Robbins Committee recommended upgrading several of these to full university status that this sector really' began to take off.

Deeply' influenced by witnesses such as Jean Floud and the Fabian Society, who pointed to a vast pool of ‘untapped ability’, the Robbins Committee, which reported in December 196 3,74 undertook what probably' remains the most ambitious post-War attempt to restructure higher education as a coherent system. Fulfilment of ‘the Robbins principle’ involved making far more places available. The keys to this were to be a new degree-awarding body' (the Council for National Academic Awards), which could validate the expansion of the technical sector, and a single augmented grants commission to replace the UGC and oversee all ftill-time higher education.

Newly' in power, Harold Wilson’s Labour Government immediately gave full university status to Aston, Bath, Guilford (Brunel), Loughborough and Salford, all institutions which had only recently been recognized as colleges of advanced technology'. Ironically, they' all quickly' mirrored the way in which the new civic universities at the start of the twentieth century', set up to promote technology, had quickly developed Arts faculties. As they sought to attract students across a wide range of subjects, they' became, in the process, a safety valve for the expansion of more well-established university disciplines. Civil servants such as Toby' Weaver saw these developments as threatening to place an insupportable burden on the public purse, and Anthony' Crosland, the Secretary' of State for Education and Science, was duly despatched to Woolwich, on 25 April 1965, with the press conveniently in attendance, to trumpet the Government’s commitment to a ‘binary' policy’. This sought to control further expansion by' diverting it to the 30 new polytechnics that were designated a few months later, and which began work in 1970. This enabled expansion to continue at a lower per capita rate of funding and at the expense of local taxpayer rather than the national government. Ironically, the first ever edition of the Times Higher Education Supplement, in September 1971, showed that these developments had failed to resolve the chronic crisis of the shortage of scientists and technicians. It reported that, across the United Kingdom, there were only 1,240 applicants for the 1,962 engineering places available, 2,700 applicants for the 3,571 science places on offer, but over 10,000 applicants for the 2,200 arts and social science vacancies. The principals of the new

‘The safeguard of social stratification’ 131 polytechnics read this and licked their lips. Once again, government had succeeded in developing a new status hierarchy, whilst failing almost completely to resolve the long-term problem of the shortage of science and technology' students.

One further attempt to soak up constantly growing demand was the establishment of the Open University (the brainchild of Jenny Lee), which enrolled its first students in 1971. By 1980 it had become one of the most significant degreeawarding bodies, with over 60,000 students. Its appearance coincided with the terminal decline of the Workers’ Education Association, which for most of the century had provided a compensatory' route for those who had been failed by the formal school system, as well as a stamping ground for future leaders of the Labour Party. This was all part of a deep-seated change in which informal educational agencies were running into the sand as the planned ‘system’ assumed greater dominance and eventually became almost ubiquitous.

If this catalogue of unremitting growth might appear to be a reflection of the ‘Butskellism’ that marked policymaking during these years, there was one portent of future developments which bucked the trend. In 1969 Harry' Ferns, of the University of Birmingham, enlisted Max Beloff and the Institute of Economic Affairs to lobby for the creation of a free university. In 1976, after heated debates, 65 students enrolled at the new University of Buckingham, with Beloff as principal designate and a determination to remain completely' independent. Although degree recognition was pointedly refused by Government representatives in 1974, a free university fitted well with Margaret Thatcher’s ideological leanings, and it was duly' awarded recognition as a university college by her Conservative administration in 1982. This alone marked a decisive end to any' widely shared political consensus in the development of higher education.

 
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