The History of Lancaster University

In 1947 a public meeting in Lancaster endorsed a proposal that there might be a university college established in the city. Although the idea lapsed for lack of government funding, in early 1961 it was revived by Lancashire County Council, and a Promotion Committee for a University in North-West Lancashire, chaired by Lord Derby, presented a proposal to the University Grants Committee for Lancaster to be chosen.

On 23 November 1961 an announcement was made in the House of Commons to that effect, and two bodies were set up to bring the new institution to life: an Academic Planning Board, chaired by Sir Noel Hall of Brasenose College, Oxford, and an Executive Council for the Establishment of a University at Lancaster, chaired by Sir Alfred Bates.

The founding vice-chancellor, Charles Carter, came into post on 1 April 1963, on 14 September 1964 HM the Queen approved the Charter and Statutes, and the first students were admitted in October 1964 to study for degrees that were from the outset to be conferred by the university. Teaching took place at St Leonard's House, and students were accommodated in lodgings in Morecambe or Lancaster. HRH Princess Alexandra was installed as Chancellor in November 1964 and remained in post until December 2004. The transfer of departments from Lancaster to Bailrigg took place between 1966 and 1970, at the same time as the first four colleges were being established, enabling students to come into residence from 1968 onwards.

The founding subjects were in the natural sciences, business subjects, and the humanities, including an emphasis on modern languages, while the second generation of subjects focused particularly on social sciences and technology. Four colleges were initially set up: Bowland and Lonsdale, Cartmel and County, and another five followed by 1990; Furness and Fylde, Pendle and Grizedale, and the Graduate College. Much time and effort was expended in building up the physical form and infrastructure of the university, including an increasing amount of space for research, and in the first decade of the new millennium a major expansion of residential accommodation took place at Alexandra Park, enabling all new students to have a room of their own, and most of other years who wished to be in residence to do so.

From the outset the university was committed to undertaking research as well as teaching, and many successful teams built on early initiatives; for example, on the environment, low temperature physics, or the study of the creative arts.

The seven research assessment exercises between 1986 and 2014 saw Lancaster rising steadily in the ascendant, especially in 1992 when the institution appeared in the top ten overall for the first time. Furthermore, Lancaster is highly ranked in each of the UK's major university league tables, including The Guardian (10th) the Complete University Guide (9th) and the Times (11th). The University has maintained its outstanding research reputation, and continuously seeks ways in which its research can be applied for the good of society. This work includes the development of three knowledge business centres, based on InfoLab21, the Management School, and the Lancaster Environment Centre.

The University now has about twelve thousand full-time students studying at Lancaster for first and higher degrees, and about seven hundred academic staff out of a total staff complement of over two thousand. In addition, the university confers the degrees of two colleges at Blackburn and Blackpool and has partnerships with higher education establishments overseas, including Sunway University College in Kuala Lumpur, GD Goenka World Institute in India and the Federal University of Lavras in Brazil.

There are now over one hundred thousand Lancaster alumni across the world.

Marion McClintock MBE, Honorary Archivist and Honorary Fellow, Lancaster University

July 2011

Marion's latest book, Shaping the Future: a history of the University of Lancaster, 1961-2011, has now been published and is available to order online.