This is the second part of a series giving the General Election treatment to Wikipedia's Third Oldest University in England Debate. The first part covers the Build-up to the debate, this second part shows the Debate itself, while the third part covers the Highlights and Analysis.
Chair: Good evening, and welcome to the Third Oldest University in England Debate. Our contenders, in alphabetical order, are Dunelmensis, representing Durham University, Londiniensis representing the University of London, Regis, representing King's College London, and Universitatis representing University College London. We'll start with opening statements, where I am asking each of the contenders to give a brief history of their institution and its claim to be the third oldest university. Dunelmensis, if you don't mind…
Thank you. There has been a connection between Durham and education since the founding of the cathedral over a thousand years ago. The Venerable Bede, known as "the greatest of all the Anglo-Saxon scholars" and "the father of English history", is buried in the cathedral. Two of Oxford's oldest colleges, University and Balliol, were founded from Durham, and a third college – known as Durham College – was founded by the Priory of Durham Cathedral. At the Reformation the endowments of this college were passed to the Chapter of Durham Cathedral (which was the successor of the priory), with the plan of founding a university at Durham. This came to nothing, but was revived during the Commonwealth when Oliver Cromwell issued a charter to found a college at Durham in 1657. The plan to raise this to university status was derailed by Cromwell's death in 1658 and a petition to Richard Cromwell for degree granting powers was successfully opposed by Oxford and Cambridge. The Restoration the following year meant the end of that project.
So, third time lucky: Durham University was finally founded successfully by the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral via an Act of Chapter on 28th September 1831. It was granted university status by an Act of Parliament that received royal assent on 4th July 1832 after passing both houses of parliament with cross-party support. The university opened on 28th October 1833, taking in the first BA students to study anywhere in England other than Oxford or Cambridge. On 20th July 1835, the Dean and Chapter passed a fundamental statute that stated degrees could be conferred "in the various faculties", predating any statute or regulation elsewhere that allowed degrees to be granted. On 1st June 1837 a royal charter was granted incorporating the university and confirming its constitution as being in keeping with the powers granted by the 1832 act. A week later, on the 8th of June, it conferred the first degrees granted by any university in England other than Oxford or Cambridge.
In short, Durham was the first of the contenders to be granted university status, the first to teach students on a degree course, the first to have the power of conferring degrees, and the first to actually use that power to grant degrees. It is clearly the third oldest university in England!
Chair: Thank you Dunelmensis. Londiniensis?
Thank you. Compared to the complex history presented by Dunelmensis, the case for London is simple: we were the first institute here chartered as a university, The idea for the University of London grew out of the attempts of UCL to gain a charter as a university. These attempts, made in 1830 to 31 and in 1834 to 35 failed, and when UCL did receive its charter it was as a college – not a university. King's, in contrast, never sought recognition as a university and so possessed a charter – again as a college, not a university – from an earlier date. Durham's charter, and thank you for admitting this, was not issued until 1837. London's charter was issued on 28th November 1836, six months before Durham's, and included the specific right to confer degrees, granted by royal charter not by a cathedral chapter, making London the third oldest university in England!
Chair: Yes. Thank you for that. Regis?
Thank you. King's College London was founded at a public meeting on the 21st June 1828 by a number of eminent figures, led by the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister. We were received our charter on the 14th August 1829 and opened on 8 October 1831. Our charter is older than any other English university's except Oxford and Cambridge, thus King's is the third oldest university in England.
Chair: Quite. Universitatis?
Thank you. UCL was founded to meet a great need, not just for a third university but for a university that did not discriminate on the basis of religion. Oxford and Cambridge were closed to non-Anglican: Oxford not letting any but Anglicans sign up as students, Cambridge barring them from graduating and insisting on their attendance at Church of England services while students. Non-Anglican Protestants could go to Scottish universities for their education, or attend "dissenting academies", but there was nowhere they could get a university education in England.
There was also the scandal that London was (besides Istanbul) the only European capital without a university. While Scotland had five universities, England had but two – and those were expensive seminaries who put most of their graduates into the Church! Thomas Campbell was a man who saw this had to change. On the 9th February, 1825, he wrote an open letter, published in The Times, to Henry Brougham, the liberal MP for Winchelsea, suggesting the foundation of "a great London university". To put this on its historical context, that was the same year Cambridge stopped giving away degrees to sons of lords just for turning up!
Brougham got together with his friends, including the lawyer William Tooke, and they set about founding London University, for that was the name under which UCL was established. It was formally founded on 11 February 1826 and, after raising money by public subscription, the foundation stone was laid by HRH the Duke of Sussex on 30th April 1827. London University opened on 1 October 1828.
For its temerity in trying to do away with discrimination, it was denied a charter until after the establishment's response, King's College, had been granted one, but that is of little consequence. If we look around the university scene of the time, we see that Edinburgh had no charter of incorporation – only a charter granting the town permission to found a college, while the University of Marischal College in Aberdeen, later merged with the University of King's College to form the University of Aberdeen but an independent university at that time, had no royal charter at all. Indeed, if we start dating by age of charter rather than when teaching started, we find that Cambridge is older than Oxford in defiance of all histories that say Cambridge was founded by scholars fleeing Oxford.
Clearly we should date the third university in the same manner as the first and second – from the start of teaching. Having admitted its first students while King's was but an idea, and Durham and London not even twinkles in their founders' eyes, UCL is obviously the third oldest university in England!
Chair: Thank you. Well, we've heard the opening statements, we're now going to move on to the debate proper. Each representative will give two speeches in turn, with other contenders allowed to interrupt with points and questions. For the first round of speeches we will start with Londiniensis.
The basic marks of a university is its power to grant degrees. This was not so at time Universitatis refers to, the time of the foundation of Oxford and Cambridge, for the concept of degrees was then yet to take shape. But, if I may make so bold as to quote one of UCL's own professors, Henry Malden, in his Origin of Universities and Academical Degrees, "In later times, the name university came to have a technical meaning when applied to a place of education. It was given to those bodies only which had the power of conferring degrees. This power was held to be an essential element of a university."
This is backed up by the Standard Library Encyclopedia, which stated in 1848 that "According to modern usage, the term university is properly applied to corporate bodies which confer degrees; and this is the title by which the University of London, which is empowered to confer degrees in arts, law, and medicine, is incorporated. It is convenient at present to distinguish colleges as places of learning which do not confer degrees, from universities which do." It is clear from this that neither University College nor Kings College were considered at that time to be universities. Indeed, we read on the same page that "Neither University College nor King's College confers degrees; but the students of both colleges may take degrees in the University of London, subject to certain regulations." And in the 1853 edition of the Standard Library Cyclopedia "The universities of Great Britain are Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, London, St. Andrew's, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Dublin." – no mention of either UCL or King's. Similarly other lists of universities from that time omit the two colleges.
The argument that teaching is what defines a university was simply not true in the early 19th century, the period under discussion, nor had it been true for hundreds of years. The claims of UCL and King's must therefore fall. But just in case there is any doubt, here are the words of William Tooke – Lawyer, MP, member of UCL's senate, and sometime chair of their executive committee – in his Statement of Facts on their charter. Tooke says that the charter has the effect of "reducing [UCL's] style to that of College, and thereby precluding it granting degrees", and later calls it "a barren collegiate Charter, not worth the parchment on which it should be engrossed" and "a Charter which could have been had as a matter of course, like that of King's College, at any time since 1826".
Then in the London Medical Gazette in 1828, on the opening of UCL as 'the London University', says: "A few words about the name of this institution. Why will [the founders], some of the best judges of good taste in writing and designation in the kingdom, permit it to be called an University? Taking 'established custom' for our guide about the meaning of the word, it implies a royal charter, and the power of conferring degrees, neither of which is possessed by the London University."
Again, from the London Review in 1859, another supporter of UCL writes: "About five-and-twenty years ago a sharp controversy arose, when the splendid educational establishment in Gower Street" – that is, UCL – "assumed the title of 'the London University,' and petitioned for a Charter by which it should be empowered to grant degrees in arts, laws, and medicine. It had long been understood that the privilege of conferring such honours was the distinguishing feature of a University; and the question so keenly discussed was, what kind of institution was entitled to bear the name and become invested with the prerogative."
But,as we know, neither the name nor the prerogative went to UCL, but were granted instead to the University of London. Whether UCL was wronged by this is not what we are debating here – it is a historical fact that the decision was so made. It is clear that, in the 19th century, UCL and its backers knew full well that it had failed in its bid to become a university; that it should now claim to be the third oldest is nothing short of a rewriting of history.
If I may be permitted to make an instant response, Londoniensis is quoting selectively the definitions that back up what he wants to prove and ignoring others. Johnson's famous dictionary, for example, defines a university as "a school, where all the arts and faculties are taught and studied", a definition also used by other writers including Newman. This, of course, comes from the exploded etymology of university being derived from a place of universal teaching, but bears witness to the idea that it is teaching that is fundamental to the popular conception of a university, not some abstract legal power.
If we are to take teaching as the defining point of a university, how do we measure it? Some teaching hospitals in London date their classes back to before the foundation of Cambridge, are they then to claim the title not of third but of second oldest university? And what of those other universities and London colleges that predate UCL? Birkbeck, Heythrop, Leeds Beckett, Liverpool John Moores and Manchester all had formalised teaching before UCL.
If degree granting powers are taken as the defining factor of a university, it is clear that neither UCL nor King's, who gained their powers in 2005 and 2006 respectively, can be the third oldest university in England. But what of Durham's claim to have possessed them before London?
During the debate on the 1832 act that led to Durham's foundation, Bishop Van Mildert, the sponsor of the bill and founder of the university, made a critical statement. He said "nor ought the privilege of conferring degrees, if hereafter committed to the University by charter, to be thrown open indiscriminately to non-conformists of every description, in common with members of the Established Church." Leaving aside his attitude to non-conformists, which is not the subject of debate here, he states quite clearly that the bill – his bill – did not grant the privilege of granting degrees.
Similarly Durham's lawyer Mr Walters wrote after the passing of the bill that there was "nothing they want from the Crown by a Charter except the power to grant degrees". Again, it is clear that the charter was believed necessary for degree-granting powers – in this case by the lawyer who had drawn up the bill! Durham, therefore, also fails the test of this "essential element" until the granting of its charter in 1837. I do not believe that the statutes passed by the cathedral chapter in 1835 could have granted the power – that is simply absurd, power to grant degrees comes from the crown not from Cathedral chapters! The power simply cannot have existed prior to the ratification of those statutes by the royal charter.
London, on the other hand, was granted its charter in 1836, which stated "the said Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, and Fellows shall have power, after examination, to confer the several Degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, Bachelor of Laws, Doctor of Laws, Bachelor of Medicine, Doctor of Medicine". That is, in black and white, a grant of the power to confer degrees. None of the others can produce an earlier grant and therefore, the conferring of degrees being essential to a university, none of the others was a university before London.
There seems to be some confusion about the basis on which Durham gained the right to grant degrees. I most certainly do not claim that the cathedral chapter simply granted the right to the university – as Londoniensis says, that would be absurd. The right to make such statutes was, however, granted to the chapter by the 1832 Act of Parliament, and it is explicit in the royal charter that it is not ratifying the statutes but acknowledging and confirming that they were made under the powers granted by the act.
It certainly appears that both Van Mildert and Walters, the lawyer advising him, thought in 1832 that a royal charter would be necessary for awarding degrees. But Van Mildert was a bishop and Walters a provincial lawyer, neither was an expert on the law of universities, and their opinion was to prove mistaken. The first notice of this was given by William Tooke, who as already mentioned by Universitatis was one if UCL's founders. He was a member of their senate and sometime chair of their executive committee, as well as a noted lawyer and MP for Truro from 1832 to 1837, when he spent much of his time pushing UCL's cause.
Tooke said, in a debate in the House of Commons in 1833 on the petition to grant UCL a charter under the name of the University of London: "It is not generally known, that no university whatever is entitled to confer degrees, by grant of any Charter whatever, the claim so to do being considered as incident to the name and title of University, and, therefore, King's College, although it has a Charter, can at present claim no such right; the name is consequently the sole matter in dispute, the University of London praying to be incorporated as such."
Indeed, this was not generally known, for it had escaped Van Mildert and Walters. But now it was, and the theme was taken up again when UCL's application for a charter as a university was debated in the Privy Council in 1834, this time by those opposed to the charter. To quote the account in the Penny Cyclopaedia: "All the opposing parties" – that is, Oxford, Cambridge and the medical schools of the London hospitals – "All the opposing parties agreed in one objection to the granting of this charter. It was considered that the conferring on the new institution the title of University would invest it with the privilege of granting degrees, as incidental to that title, and against its possessing this privilege they all protested, but the grounds on which their opposition was based differed."
Oxford's counsel, the former Attorney General Sir Charles Wetherell, published his arguments before the Privy Council. He cited the opinion of a previous Attorney General, Philip Yorke, from 1723, saying: "In this proposition of Mr. Yorke, two principles are laid down. The first is, that the 'granting degrees flows from the Crown;' and the second is, that if 'a University be erected, the power of granting degrees is incidental to the grant.' … The subject-matter granted, is the power of conferring degrees; an emanation, as Mr. Yorke expresses it, from the Crown. It is the concession of this power that constitutes the direct purpose and the essential character of a University."
Here then we have some of the most eminent lawyers in the land, including two attorney generals from different eras, representing between them the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, UCL, and the medical schools, all agreeing that a grant of university title includes the award of the power to confer degrees. Based on these opinions, Durham's royal charter contains no grant of degree awarding powers. It did not need to, for the act of 1832 that established the university also, by the fact that it made it a university, granted the power to award degrees.
Indeed, we see notice in the press in 1834 that Durham was believed then to have this power. Eneas Mackenzie and Marvin Ross's "An Historical, Topographical, and Descriptive View of the County Palatine of Durham", published in 1834, reports that "Nine Terms, or 3 years of residence, are necessary to the B. A. degree, which will only be conferred after examination by the Officers or Fellows, in presence of the Dean and Chapter, at the usual Academical period Twelve Terms, or 4 years, must precede the examination which closes the Academical Course. The degree of M. A. will be conferred at the usual Academical standing."
That it was still believed later in the century that university title included the right to award degrees is borne witness by John Robson, the Secretary of UCL, in giving evidence to a royal commission on behalf of UCL in 1871: "the original title of University was unauthorised; it was a title which the founders of the institution had assumed, and did not confer the privileges of a University, that is to say, the Power of granting degrees". This actually demonstrates two things: firstly that the title of university, properly authorised, conferred the power of granting degrees, as already shown above; and secondly, that UCL acknowledged at that time that it was not a university.
But this is not just abstract legal opinion; there are concrete examples besides Durham to show this is the case. First in historical order are the medieval studium generale. Here we have the evidence of the noted historian Hastings Rashdall in his Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages. He tells us that "gradually the special privilege of the jus ubique docendi" – that is the right to teach everywhere, the precursor of the modern degree – "came to be regarded as the principal object of Papal or Imperial creation. It was usually, but not quite invariably, conferred in express terms by the original foundation-bulls; and was apparently understood to be involved in the mere act of erection even in the rare cases where it is not expressly conceded." Let me just reiterate that last: for studium generale the right to grant degrees was "understood to be involved in the mere act of erection". The concept that creating a university grants it degree awarding powers predates even the general use of the term university!
Next let us look at Edinburgh. There, as with Durham, permission was given to an existing corporation – the town in Edinburgh's case, the cathedral in Durham's – to found a university. Again like Durham, Edinburgh was founded by royal permission – via a royal charter to the town for Edinburgh, by act of parliament for Durham. Still like Durham, Edinburgh received no powers explicitly in its charter. But Edinburgh went ahead, without any explicit grant of degree awarding powers. Just as Durham had its powers confirmed by royal charter, Edinburgh was confirmed by an act of the Scottish parliament: but in Edinburgh's case this didn't happen until 1621, over 30 years after it started conferring degrees – solid evidence that this confirmation was just that and not a ratification.
The last example is London University itself. It was reformed in 1900 under powers given to a commission by an 1898 act of parliament. As part of this reformation we find that "[a]ll the provisions of the Charter … except the provisions whereby the University of London was incorporated … [were] repealed". This, of course, means that the only provision in its charter that has allowed the University of London to confer degrees became its creation as a university – if Durham did not have the right to grant degrees from 1832, then London's right was abolished in 1900!
The statutes framed under the 1898 act include the explicit right to grant degrees.
As do the statutes framed for Durham under the 1832 act.
The 1900 statutes had explicit approval, which Durham's did not receive until 1837.
That London's statutes needed approval before going into force was specified in the 1898 act, no such need for approval was included in the 1832 act, the power was simply devolved to the cathedral chapter – as confirmed by the charter. Indeed the chapter continued to make and revise statutes for Durham without any need for approval until the 1908 Durham University act, which removed the governance of the university from them.
The final point is that of logic, which underpins the historical precedents and the legal opinions. Londiniensis argues that degree awarding powers are an essential element of a university – and I agree with them. But founding a university, or anything else, must include endowing it with all its essential elements, otherwise you're not actually doing what you say. If you say you're building a house, but leave off the roof, you haven't built a house – so it is here. When the king and parliament gave permission to found a university, it is only logical that they gave permission to do everything necessary to a university – including granting degrees.
It follows logically that if degree awarding powers are essential to being a university then Durham gained them in 1832 when it was made a university, before London. The only way that Durham could have not been granted degree awarding powers in 1832 is if they were not essential to being a university – in which case Durham's foundation as a university in 1832 is still earlier than London's.
Chair: Thank you. I think we had better move on. Regis?
The word "university" comes from the Latin "universitas" meaning "corporation", its use for an academical institute is as a contraction of "universitas magistrorum", meaning "corporation of teachers". If we look at the deeds of incorporation for the universities, we see teaching and education as being their defining feature. Oxford and Cambridge in the 1571 Act that incorporated them are described as being "for the better increase of learning and the further suppressing of vice", Dublin is "for the education, training and instruction of youths and students in arts and faculties", and Durham is "for the advancement of Religion and Learning".
It is clear from these that the fundamental mark of a university is not granting degrees, it is education. Yet it is easy to see why Londiniensis should make this mistake – London was founded as a government-run examining board and given the title of university, but was not truly a university – it had no teaching role – until it was reconstituted as a federal body in 1900. That is why it was described by Matthew Arnold as."a mere collegium, or board, of examiners" and more bluntly by Henry Wace as "not a University". Karl Pearson went on at greater length: "To term the body which examines at Burlington House a University is a perversion of language, to which no charter or Act of Parliament can give a real sanction".
Yet even if degree granting powers were to be taken as the sole marker of university status, London would not be the third oldest university in England. That honour would fall to the Archbishops of Canterbury, who gained their degree awarding powers in 1533. Now I'm not seriously suggesting the Archbishop is a contender for that title, but this is the route down which Londiniensis's argument must lead us, and thus demonstrates its falseness. Universities are defined by their teaching, not their degree awarding powers. King's College was incorporated for a similar purpose to the other universities: "for the general education of youth … in which College the various branches of literature and science are to be taught". It was the third institution in England to be incorporated for such a purpose, making it the third oldest university in the country.
Regis misses that many institutions, not just universities,have similar statements in their charters. From Durham's charter, as cited above, we find that the cathedral there has as one of its objectives "ut bonorum morum disciplina observetur, juventus in literis liberalibus instituatur", which means pretty much the same as the charge to Oxford and Cambridge. Clearly incorporation for the purpose of education is not the defining factor – it is the actual educating that counts.
I do not miss that at all. Both the incorporation and the teaching are necessary. Durham Cathedral could be seen as belatedly fulfilling its charge when it opened the university in 1833. That university opened without being incorporated itself, but under a body whose was incorporated for, among other things, instructing the youth in liberal arts. That is quite different from the situation with UCL, which was unincorporated, and thus lacked legal existence, until 1836
Regis also appears to miss that the Archbishop was never granted university title, so – just like UCL and King's – was not considered a university.
That UCL and King's are both regarded as universities seems to indicate that university title is separate from being recognised as a university.
That may be the position now, but it says nothing about whether UCL and King's were recognised at the time.
As I showed, the situation at the time was that universities were defined by teaching, once they had legal existence.
It is also worth looking further at Johnson's definition of a university as "a school, where all the arts and faculties are taught and studied". As Universitatis notes, this was taken as true by many others, including Newman. While we now recognise that this comes from a false etymology, at the time it was believed to be correct by educated people – and thus is deserving of attention.
It is ironic that Universitatis raised this, for Newman spends the entirety of his second discourse in "The Idea of a University" explaining why UCL's lack of theology teaching disqualifies it from being a university. Indeed, the first institution to teach "all the arts and faculties" was King's, which included teaching in theology from the start. By this definition, which was believed correct by many educated people at the time, King's is the third oldest university.
It would be wrong to base our definition of a university upon something known to be wrong.
We now know it to be wrong, but at the time people such as Newman and Johnson clearly thought it correct.
Chair: Thank you. If we could move on to Universitatis's speech…
Regis points out correctly that a university is defined by its teaching rather than any degree awarding powers, but is mistaken when it comes to incorporation, as can be easily seen from a look at the documents they cite. The 1571 act that incorporated Oxford and Cambridge clearly did not create the universities, it merely formed legal corporations of their members. Similarly Durham's 1837 charter explicitly incorporates the members of a university that already exists – formed by the act of 1832. We see something similar in the charters of both Trinity College, Dublin and King's College, London: in both cases the charters explicitly found a college – "the college of the Holy and undivided Trinity near Dublin founded by the most serene queen Elizabeth" and "King's College, London" respectively – and set up corporations of the members of those colleges – "the Provost, Fellows and Scholars of the College of the Holy and undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin" and "The Governors and Proprietors of King's College, London". While in these two cases the same charter establishes and incorporates the universities, the two actions are explicitly separate and it is thus quite possible, as with Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and indeed UCL, for establishment and incorporation to be separate actions at separate times.
But, you will ask, was it possible at the time in question for an institution to have a true existence as a university without it being incorporated? Oxford and Cambridge did, but that was in the middle ages, and does not show conclusively that it was still possible in the first half of the 19th century. Durham's status has been questioned, so it cannot be used as a definitive example.
But we have before us the example of the University of Edinburgh. This was founded by royal charter, but not a charter of incorporation: it was granted to the town of Edinburgh, and gave permission to found a college. This college was duly founded, and became known – and recognized in the acts of union – as the University of Edinburgh. But that was the 16th century, you will say. Not so! For the University of Edinburgh was not incorporated until 1858, almost three hundred years after its founding and after the time when all four contenders here were established and themselves incorporated.
Nobody thought Edinburgh was any less a university for its not being incorporated, demonstrating conclusively that incorporation is not necessary to be considered a university and that to establish priority we must look either the date of foundation, or the date on which an institution began operating as a university by teaching students. By either of these measures, UCL predates King's by three years and should thus be considered the third oldest university in England.
While the University of Edinburgh was not itself incorporated, it was established by the auspices of the town corporation, which had received royal permission for its foundation. Clearly if the monarch – King James VI of Scotland, later James I of England, in this instance – gives a corporation the right to set up a university as a trust that is very different from a group of private citizens forming an unincorporated association and calling it a university!
If UCL had been simply an ad hoc association of teachers, Regis might have a point. But that was not the case. UCL was founded with legally recognised deeds of association, in a manner authorised under acts of parliament. That it was unincorporated was a peculiarity of the semi-developed corporate law in that period of history; by 1844 the law had changed and UCL's form of association would have been legally incorporated. As it stands, UCL was at least as incorporated as Edinburgh or Durham.
UCL's association lacked the royal approval that is necessary for the founding of a university. In the cases of both Durham and Edinburgh, royal.approval is explicit in the formation of the university. That is quite distinct from incorporation, and distinct again from a privately-established joint stock company.
I contend that it is the establishment of university teaching that is the vital factor, not royal approval, or royal grants of powers, or anything else that depended on the undemocratic system of government that we had in Britain at that time.
As I asked before, if teaching is to be your measure, how do you define university teaching? There are at least three universities and two London colleges – not counting the medical schools – that predate UCL by this measure.
Their teaching at the time was not of the same level, or covering as broad a range of subjects, as UCL's. Rashdal, in the book already cited by Dunelmensis, identifies three characteristics of a studium generale:
"(i) That the School attracted or at least invited students from all parts, not merely those of a particular country or district, (ii) That it was a place of higher education; that is to say, that one at least of the higher Faculties—Theology, Law, Medicine—was taught there, (iii) That such subjects were taught by a considerable number—at least by a plurality—of Masters"
I think it is clear that most of the earlier institutions did not meet these criteria. In fact, it is also clear that the University of London also did not meet them, until its reformation as a federal university in 1900.
Even if the Working Men's Institutes in Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester are denied on the grounds of not teaching the higher faculties, the Jesuits at Stonyhurst – now Heythrop College – had education in both arts, as demonstrated by the BAs gained alongside UCL students from the University of London, and the higher faculty of theology. If you define a university by teaching rather than by degree granting powers, surely this at least meets Rashdall's criteria, and from an earlier date than UCL!
Heythrop does indeed appear to have the characteristics of a university, but it is clear from their website that there was a period of at least 70 years when the institution split into two – the theology college not even being in England. It is hard to regard the college as a single institution prior to 1926.
Chair: Thank you. Let's move on to Dunelmensis.
There are, historically speaking, two ways of being recognized as a university in England, besides being one of the two ancient universities, who could be said to have been grandfathered into the system. Clearly none of the contenders here are of ancient origin, so I'll skip over that.
The first way is by being granted the title of university explicitly by the crown. There are a few ways this can be done. These days university title can be granted by the Privy Council or by Companies House, historically it has been granted by either royal charter or act of parliament. In 1908 James Bryce, the British Ambassador to the United States, confirmed this in a speech, saying "it is now understood that nothing less than some public authority, such as either a royal grant or a statute, can create a university. It is thus that the eight new universities recently established … in England, viz., London, Durham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Bristol, have been constituted."
According to HEFCE's Register of HE Providers, there are 103 universities in England. This includes Durham and London, but not UCL or King's, neither of whom have ever attained the official status of a university, either today or a hundred years ago on the list of 'modern English universities' provided by the Ambassador.
So, when did Durham and London receive this status? For Durham the answer is simple – it was made a university by the 1832 act of parliament. This is implicit in Bryce's statement – all the other universities were created by royal charter, so the reference to creation by statute must be to Durham. This is also borne out by the text of the royal charter, which refers to "the said University of Durham, so established under our Royal sanction, and the authority of our Parliament".
In the case of London, however, the date of creation is less clear cut. That London was created by royal charter is not doubted, but was it the charter of 1836 or that of 1837?
The question arises because the charter of 1836 was written in such a way as to expire with the death of King William IV, putting a question mark over whether it was ever valid. As the Penny Cyclopaedia puts it: "The original charter creating a University of London … was made during 'Royal Will and Pleasure;' and, in consequence, if at all legal (which is very doubtful), it would by law have expired six months after the demise of King William the Fourth". This was admitted even by London's supporters: in his argument for parliamentary representation for the University of London in 1851, Charles Foster, professor of jurisprudence at UCL, describes the university as having been created by a charter "dated the 5th day of December, 1837, granted by her present Majesty".
In the Victorian era, it seems 1837 was widely accepted as the true date of London's foundation. Joshua Fitch, writing in 1900, titled his history of London University "The University of London: A Sketch of Its Work and History from Its Foundation in 1837 to the Present Time". Charles Dickens, Jr. (son of the famous author) referred to it as "Originally incorporated by Royal Charter in the first year of the reign of her present Majesty" in “Dickens' Dictionary of London”. Peter Cunningham called it "A government institution, established 1837, for conferring degrees" in his 1850 “Modern London”. Even the university’s own charters use this date, with the charters of 1858 and 1863 tracing the university's creation back only to the charter of 1837.
Here, then, is the clear legal position. Durham was the third university to be recognised in England, created by act of parliament in 1832 and further recognised under statute law in the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, in an Act for amending the several Acts for the Regulation of Attornies and Solicitors in 1837, and many subsequent acts.
London was next, either, as noted above, in 1836 or 1837…
How can there be a doubt over London University's recognition in 1836 when it too is mentioned in the Attornies & Solicitors Act, which was passed in July 1837, almost five months prior to London's second charter?
At the time the act was passed, the problems with London's original charter had not yet come to light. The act was passed on the mistaken premise that the first charter was valid, in ignorance of the true situation. The same most certainly cannot be said of the recognition afforded Durham either in 1832, 1835, or 1837. There were no problems waiting to be revealed that might have made the legislature think twice had they been in full possession of the facts.
As I was saying, London was next, either in 1836 or 1837. It matters little, for it is the fourth oldest by either measure. UCL and King's do not figure at all – not actually being recognised as universities.
But King's and UCL are both popularly recognised as universities, are they not?
Yes, indeed they are – now. And that brings me to the second method of being recognised as a university – being "what an educated person, someone who knew what a university was or who had received their education at a university, would call a university". This was the test used by Mr Justice Vaisey in 1951 in the case of St David's College, Lampeter versus the Ministry of Education. His judgement in this case formed a legal definition of what constitutes a de jure university that has since been used as a precedent in a number of countries.
Vaisey defined six essential characteristics of a university. It "must be incorporated by the highest authority, i.e. by the sovereign power”, "must be open to receive students from any part of the world”, "must [have] a plurality of masters”, “must be an institution in which at least one of the higher faculties is taught” (i.e. theology; law or medicine), "cannot be a university without residents either in its own buildings or near at hand” and "must have the power to grant its own degrees”. This last – the power to grant degrees – Vaisey called "the most obvious and most essential quality of a university".
You will note that this definition essentially takes all the elements that have been argued to be necessary and folds them together, saying all are necessary. This should be unsurprising: Rashdall says essentially the same thing, less explicitly, in presenting the three criteria cited by Universitatis and the necessity of the jus ubique docendi as the marks of a studium generale.
From Universitatis and Regis's disputation, we have heard that the precedent of the University of Edinburgh weighs against the idea that incorporation in the strictest legal sense is necessary, but incorporation was often used in a more liberal sense that this, meaning something along the lines of 'given legal existence'. A relevant example is that William Hamilton, writing in the Edinburgh Review in 1834, refers to Durham University as having been "incorporated under that title" to refer to it being set up as a trust "by the highest authority" under the 1832 act.
Would you then consider UCL to have been incorporated from 1826?
I would, although I don't believe it could claim "incorporation by the highest authority" under its deeds of settlement. However, given the other criteria this is not particularly important.
The next three qualities are taken from Rashdall and, along with the fourth, essentially refer to teaching. Not a problem for UCL, King's or Durham, but, as Universitatis noted, something London did not do until 1900.
The final – and most important – quality is that the institution must have degree awarding powers. As noted by Londoniensis, this is a problem for UCL and King's who did not receive such powers until the early 21st century. Let me quote you the views on this of Malcolm Grant, Provost of UCL, in a discussion paper on the future of the University of London, written in March 2005, a few months before UCL gained its degree awarding powers: "Degrees awarded by the Colleges are formally degrees of the University of London, though this is also now changing: Imperial College has been awarded its own degree-awarding powers, and LSE, UCL and other Colleges are currently going through the approvals process. The last formal constitutional barrier to their being recognised as full universities in their own right will then have been cleared."
It is clear that Grant is referring to formal recognition as a university – which under current regulations requires the prior award of degree awarding powers – rather than the popular perception of whether UCL is a university.
That is one possible interpretation. It is certainly an acknowledgement from its own provost that UCL was not a "full university" prior to the grant of degree awarding powers.
I will admit that the situation with respect to degree awarding powers for the London colleges is confused by the way responsibility for the award of London degrees was transferred to the colleges in the 1990s, making it hard to tell exactly when UCL and King's gained what might generally be considered degree awarding powers. However, it is clear that, even under a generous interpretation, it was in the late 20ty century, well after the period under discussion, and it is certain that neither was recognised as an independent university while actually legally incorporated into the University of London: between 1907 and 1976 for UCL and between 1910 and 1980 for King's.
So the one remaining question is whether both degree awarding powers and teaching were considered necessary in the 1820s and 30s. Historical sources make it clear that the answer is yes. As Londiniensis's quotes show, an institute that taught but did not confer degrees was considered a college, while Regis's quotes show that an institute that conferred degrees but did not teach was considered an examining board – or an Archbishop.
As a couple of examples of how a university was defined at the time, the definition from Chambers's Dictionary in 1867 is "a corporation of teachers or assemblage of colleges for teaching the higher branches of learning, and having power to confer degrees", while that of the Encyclopedia Britannica was quoted in 1826 as "the name of a Corporation, formed for the education of youth in the liberal arts and sciences, and authorized to admit such as have studied in it to certain degrees in different faculties" – the same words, copyright not being then what it is now, appear in a number of other encyclopedias from the early 19th century. Here, as shown earlier, "corporation" should be interpreted as an associated body of people rather than in its strictest legal sense, but there is no reason to suppose "teaching the higher branches of learning" or "the education of youth in the liberal arts and sciences" means anything other than that a university must teach, nor is there any reason to believe "power to confer degrees" or "authorized to admit such as have studied in it to certain degrees in different faculties" can possibly mean anything other than that a university must have degree awarding powers.
Let us also look at other works from the period. The North British Review wrote in 1861 that "A university is not, on the one hand, a merely educating body … nor is it, on the other hand, a mere board of examiners for degrees". In 1867, Macmillan's Magazine published an editorial saying of London: "In this great city, if in any city or capital in the world, there ought surely to be a fully-equipped university". There was none, for although there were institutions providing university level teaching, they did not award degrees; and though London University awarded degrees it did not teach.
In the debate before the Privy Council in 1834 regarding UCL's charter, Lord Brougham asked "Pray, Mr. Bickersteth, what is to prevent the London University granting degrees now?" he received the reply: "The universal scorn and contempt of mankind." But no legal objection was made. It seems there was no bar on anyone granting degrees, right up to the late 20th century. How then can there exist a special right of granting degrees, if anyone could actually do so? Does this not mean that this whole 'right' is actually a red herring?
Not at all. Let me illustrate this with a quote from another meeting of the Privy Council, discussing the Scottish universities in 1861. John Rolt, later attorney general, appearing as counsel for the Senatus Academicus of the University of Edinburgh, explained: "In a mere voluntary Association there would, for its own purposes, be a necessity of having degrees there, but that would be of no value outside the institution itself; but if the Communitas or Universitas be established by competent authority, then the consequence will be that the status or degree will have a sanction outside the University."
This official sanction of the power to grant degrees distinguishes an academic degree such as a BA from privately awarded qualifications, even well respected ones such as the AKC. It gives them the quality of being universally recognised as a university degree.
But Bickersteth was, of course, not speaking purely theoretically: UCL had attempted to introduce the "Diploma of Master of Medicine and Surgery in the University of London", which abbreviated to the unwieldy M. Med. et Chir. U. L., a few years earlier. This was met by "universal scorn and contempt" from at least the medical establishment if not "all mankind", with the Lancet calling it "empty, unauthorized, and presuming" and a letter to the London Medical Gazette described it as "savour[ing] strongly of quackery". Even if it called itself a diploma, the attempt to pass itself off as a master's degree was too obvious. The experiment was not repeated.
So as we see, no single element can define a university, unless that element is the recognition of the state. By official recognition, there can be no dispute that Durham is the third oldest university in England.
By the combination of the qualities that have been taken historically to define a university, Durham is again the third oldest university. Even if all the arguments put forward by the other contenders are true, which I by no means accept, but even assuming they are, Durham possessed all the qualities of a university by 1837. London University did not teach until 1900, the London colleges not before, at the earliest, the late 20th century. Durham is clearly the third oldest university in England.
Chair: Thank you all for that. For the next round we start with Regis.
Dunelmensis has quoted us the Encyclopedia Britannica from the early 19th century, I would like to respond with a quote from the 1842 edition: "University, in its proper and original meaning, denotes the whole members of an incorporated body of persons, teaching and learning one or more departments of knowledge." In this proper meaning of the word, there is no mention of degrees, only of incorporation and of teaching.
Let us also look at what William Hamilton, writing in the Edinburgh Review, said in 1834. He makes some important points, based on an examination of the charters of universities from across Europe. The first is that "University, in its proper and original meaning, denotes simply the whole members of a body (generally, incorporated body) of persons teaching and learning one or more departments of knowledge; and not an institution privileged to teach a determinate circle of sciences, and to grant certificates of proficiency (degrees) in certain fixed departments of that circle (faculties)." This supports the Encyclopedia Britannica's definition, and makes explicit that the granting of degrees is not a requirement.
Hamilton also found that "there is not to be found, throughout Europe, one example of a University erected without the grant of determinate privileges—far less of a University, thus erected, enjoying, through this omission, privileges of any—least of all, of every other. In particular, the right of granting degrees, and that in how many faculties, must (in either way we have mentioned) be expressly conferred."
Based on this, we see, yet again, that there is no necessity for a university to have degree granting powers. We also see that a university is erected by a "grant of determinate privileges" – which sometimes expressly include degrees, but the lack of degree awarding powers does not preclude an institution from being a university.
This strongly supports King's claim – founded on having been established with a grant of privileges from King George IV, even if these did not include degree awarding powers.
Firstly, the Encyclopedia Britannica is explicitly talking about the original, that is to say mediæval, meaning of "university". Whether that is indeed proper is highly debatable, as words change their meaning in English, but that they felt the need to emphasise this only demonstrates that the meaning had already shifted to its modern sense, even if they regard that as 'improper'. It is also notable that there are marked similarities in wording between the encyclopedia definition and Hamilton's: I would suggest that these are not independent works.
The second point relies entirely on the accuracy of Hamilton's assertions. We don't need to step very far from where his piece was published to judge that accuracy:
The University of Edinburgh was founded, just like Durham, by a corporation – the town in Edinburgh's case, the cathedral in Durham's. Again like Durham, Edinburgh was founded by royal permission – via a royal charter to the town for Edinburgh, by act of parliament for Durham. Still like Durham, Edinburgh received no powers explicitly in its charter. But Edinburgh went ahead, without any explicit grant of degree awarding powers. As, indeed, did Durham, a few years after Hamilton's article appeared.
And not only these, for another Scottish university, Marischal College in Aberdeen, was granted the power in its charter to award degrees only in arts. Yet despite this it awarded degrees in divinity, laws and medicine, and won a case before the Law Lords confirming this right.
And we have the evidence, quoted earlier, of the historian Rashdall, who tells us the exact opposite of the philosopher Hamilton – that the right to grant degrees "was apparently understood to be involved in the mere act of erection even in the rare cases where it is not expressly conceded".
It can be clearly seen that Hamilton's claims simply do not match the historical facts.
Both Edinburgh and Marischal College were granted the privileges of other colleges in the kingdom by acts of parliament. As Malden points out, "In 1621 an act of parliament was passed, ratifying the royal endowments and the erection of the college as a college for the profession of theology, philosophy, and humanity, and granting 'in favour of the burgh of Edinburgh, patron of the said college, and of the regents and students in the same, all liberties and privileges pertaining to any college within the realm.' It is probably on this authority that it confers degrees." That somewhat demolishes the claim that degrees are so intrinsic that the mere erection of a university grants the right to confer them. Edinburgh's right comes from an act of the Scottish parliament.
Similarly for Marischal College: "The founder, William Earl Marischal, directed the principal to confer the degree of master of arts upon students who deserved it; and as the deed of foundation has been confirmed by more than one act of parliament, the college is an authorised university. It now confers degrees in all the faculties—by what authority is not stated: probably the clause in the first act of confirmation, which grants to it all liberties which are known to pertain to any college within the realm, was supposed to warrant this practice."
In the same vein, Durham's royal charter grants it "all the property, rights, and privileges which are assured by the said Act to the University therein contemplated and authorised; or are incident to a University established by our Royal Charter".
It is also notable that the two Scottish universities are thus considered on the grounds of their creation as colleges. This adds yet more to the claim of King's to be considered the third oldest university in England.
Edinburgh granted degrees from its earliest days, with the first class graduating in 1587 – 34 years before the act was passed, so the act cannot be the source of its degree awarding powers. Marischal College may well have gained its powers from the act, but as this was its first government recognition – its charter being, as noted, a private one from the Earl – this would not be surprising.
As for Durham's charter, the idea that it conferred degree awarding powers admits there is no "grant of determinate privileges" – indeed that the privilege of granting degrees is supposed to be incident upon a university's foundation, or at least on the royal recognition of that foundation.
It is nothing of the sort, it is making a grant of determinate privileges by referring to the earlier grants given to the other universities and colleges. In all of these cases, the privileges are determined to be the same as those of earlier bodies. As Hamilton says: "every liberty conferred was conferred not as an incident through implication, but by explicit and articulate concession; and this in two ways,—either by a grant of certain enumerated rights, or by bestowing in the slump the known privileges enjoyed by certain other pattern Universities." For Edinburgh and Marischal, the pattern was the other Scottish colleges; for Durham, the other universities founded by royal charter.
But the only university in England "founded by royal charter" prior to the issue of Durham's own charter was London, and its privileges did not extend to granting degrees in theology or to the granting of honorary or ad eundem degrees. Durham did all of these things, and that it would grant degrees in theology was implicit in the royal charter, which states that "the Convocation shall in future consist, besides the original Members, of all persons regularly admitted to the Degrees of Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Civil Law, Doctor of Medicine, and Master of Arts in the University of Durham".
Now Doctor of Divinity is a degree London could not grant by any determinate privilege and thus, by your argument, Durham could also not grant. Yet the royal charter refers to Durham admitting people to that degree!
Furthermore, the charter talks about privileges being "incident to a University established by our Royal Charter". This is explicitly not granting any determinate rights, only confirming that Durham "shall have and enjoy" any rights that are incidental to being a university. If this clause granted degree awarding powers, it would be stating that these powers were incident upon being a university – and thus were implicit in Durham's foundation as a university by the act of parliament.
It is also notable that the "property, rights and privileges" from the act of parliament are mentioned in the same clause, despite that these were obviously granted by the act. Clearly this clause is confirming what is already the case.
As with the act confirming Edinburgh's powers after more than three decades of use, where Malden is demonstrably wrong, Durham's charter confirmed rights that already existed rather than granting new rights.
One thing Malden does get right, however, in talking of Marischal College, is that "It is likely that college was taken at that time as synonymous with university". This was certainly the historical usage in Scotland, and spread from there to America, but it has never been the usage in England. Thus attempting to use this to justify either King's or UCL being a university is mistaken.
It seems that you are drawing a distinction between England and Scotland that you are happy to ignore at other times. You can call upon Edinburgh as an example to support the idea that degrees do not depend on incorporation, but I can't use Scotland to argue colleges were considered the same as universities?
Those are entirely different. One demonstrates a principle, the other a difference of language. In Edinburgh's foundation documents "college" meant university, while this was not the case with King's. That Edinburgh was accepted as having degree awarding powers based on its status while King's was not serves to illustrate this difference.
You are begging the question, assuming that Edinburgh must be a university because it had degree awarding powers while trying to show that a university must have degree awarding powers!
Not at all. Edinburgh was recognized explicitly as a university by the Acts of Union, but it was only ever given the status of a college in its foundational documents. Yet that status of being a college appears to have been enough, in late 16th century Scotland, for it to award degrees and be recognised as a university by the English parliament.
Had the same applied in early 19th century England, we can be sure that UCL at least would have tried to award its own degrees, rather than railing against its "barren collegiate charter". That it did not is strong evidence that "college" in England in the 19th century meant the same as it did when Cromwell founded the college at Durham in the 17th, the same as it did in the charters of the Oxbridge colleges, and the same as it did in the charters of the public schools: an educational institute without degree awarding powers, quite distinct from a university.
That Edinburgh is recognised as a university from its foundation as a college seems to me good evidence that being established a college by royal consent, with the purpose of education in the liberal arts and the higher faculties, and putting that purpose into practice, is sufficient for an institution to be recognised as a university.
Chair: Thank you. Lets move on.
Something missing from Regis's analysis is that Hamilton said a university was "generally incorporated". Thus incorporation was common, but not universal – and not necessary. What forms a university is the coming together of the different teachers to teach as a group, not a piece of paper – or even parchment – incorporating that group.
Not at all! Edinburgh makes that clear, but was made a university by royal foundation.
UCL may not have been the first place in England outside of Oxford and Cambridge where professors gathered to teach, and in so doing formed a university, but it is the oldest to have survived in continuous operation.
It is hard to justify "continuous operation" when UCL – and King's – were subsumed into the University of London for many years. The dissenting academies were once independent colleges preparing students for London degrees, just like UCL. Now three are converted into colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Were they to become independent, would you then consider them to have been universities from their original establishment? Nobody would credit such an argument. Yet that is what you ask for UCL!
Oxford and Cambridge colleges are bound far more tightly to the university than those of London ever were; particularly since the resumption of centralised professorial teaching in the ancient universities in the mid 19th century. There is simply no comparison between an Oxbridge college and a London one; that is why the London colleges are generally regarded as universities in their own right.
That may be the case now, with the central university vastly weakened, but that was hardly the vision when the acts subsuming UCL and King's into London were passed in.1905 and 1908 respectively. If I may quote you part of the preamble if the UCL Act:
"Whereas the Council of University College London with the consent of the members of the College have agreed with the University of London that the College … shall be transferred to the University with the intent that the College may be continued under the direct control of the University"
Similarly the King's Act makes provision for the "direct control of the university" over everything other than the department of theology. This placing of UCL and King's under the direct control of the university bound them far more closely than any Oxbridge college. UCL and King's were integral parts of London, not independent bodies.
Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that both UCL and King's retained sufficient independence to emerge from this incorporation, take control of their own degrees, and gain their own degree awarding powers, something no Oxbridge college has ever done. The evidence shows that the bonds were looser, no matter what form of words was used that might imply otherwise.
Of these two universities, one founded in 1826 but not incorporated until 1836, the other both founded and incorporated in 1829, the question is – which is the older? Which is the third oldest in England, and which the fourth? The answer can be found on the King's College website: "King's is … the fourth oldest university in England".
Not everything on websites is accurate, for example UCL's claim that "In 1878, it became the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms with men." This despite continuing to bar women from courses in engineering and medicine! Sad to say, webpage writers don't always check their facts very well.
This must be the first example in history, then, of under-claiming rather than over-claiming! Can anyone really believe that they wouldn't put "third oldest university" on their website instead of 'fourth" if they thought they had even the faintest claim?
But it's not just the website. In the 2016 prospectus, Professor Edward Byrne, President and Principal of King's, says "Since it was established in 1829, England's fourth oldest university has established a world-class reputation." This cannot be read as anything other than an endorsement of the claim of the only university established before 1829: UCL.
In my first speech, I examined the definition of a university. Here I will look in more detail at the specific claims of the other contenders.
To.assess the claims of the London colleges, it is worth looking at other colleges that have gone on to achieve university status. There are quite a few – most of England's civic universities started out as college preparing students for London University examinations.
There were 9 institutions in England funded by the grants to university colleges in 1896, besides UCL and King's. Three of these were part of the Victoria University, one was part of Durham, and the others prepared students for London exams. Let us look at how these other institutions advertise their history:
Mason College, Birmingham, now Birmingham University: "The University of Birmingham was established by Queen Victoria by Royal Charter in 1900 and was the UK’s first civic or 'redbrick' university".
University College, Bristol, now Bristol University: "The University has had a reputation for innovation since its founding in 1909".
Yorkshire College, Leeds, now Leeds University: "The University of Leeds was founded in 1904".
University College, Liverpool, now Liverpool University: "In 1903, following a Royal Charter and Act of Parliament, University College Liverpool became an independent university with the right to confer its own degrees and became known as the University of Liverpool."
Bedford College, London, now merged into Royal Holloway, University of London: "the first college in Great Britain for the higher education of women"
Owens College, Manchester, now Manchester University: "In 1880 Owens College became the first constituent part of the federal Victoria University, England’s first civic university … and in 1903 Owens College was reconstituted as the Victoria University of Manchester"
Durham Science College, Newcastle upon Tyne, now Newcastle University: "In 1963, when the federal University was dissolved, King's College became the University of Newcastle upon Tyne".
University College, Nottingham, now Nottingham University "In 1948, the college was awarded the Royal Charter and became The University of Nottingham, now able to award degrees in its own name."
Firth College, Sheffield, now Sheffield University: "At the time of the University's foundation in 1905…"
It's pretty clear – all of the university colleges that have gone on to become universities, even those who possessed all the qualities of a university except degree awarding powers, even Newcastle, which examined and awarded Durham degrees rather than submitting to a federal examining board – all date their status as a university from when they actually acquired the title and their own degree awarding powers. Similarly, Royal Holloway claims to be a university these days – and has its own degree awarding powers – but , makes no claim to have been a university from its foundation.
Only UCL and King's try to make the case, against all precedent, that they should be regarded as universities from their dates of foundation. Yes, both are effectively universities now. But they were never universities in the 19th century. The name of the grant is accurate – all of the institutions receiving grants in 1896 were university colleges.
What of the colleges of the University of Wales, which were also in receipt of the grant. I see on their websites "Founded in 1883, Cardiff is established as one of Britain's leading universities", "Founded in 1884, Bangor University has a long tradition of excellence", "Aberystwyth University has a proud history dating back to 1872 – when it was established by the people of Wales as the first Welsh University". That looks to like they are staking their claim to be universities!
There is obviously a desire on the part of members and former members of federal universities not to appear younger than the "post-1992" universities. This affects how they present themselves, but their history pages give a full description. To take these in the same order as Regis presented them:
"In December 2004 the Privy Council approved a new Supplemental Charter granting us university status. Our legal name changed to Cardiff University."
"The University was founded as the University College of North Wales." "The institution’s new title, ‘Bangor University’, was formally approved by the Privy Council in 1997."
"In 2007, all the colleges of the University of Wales entered a new phase of existence as independent universities … Newly independent, Aberystwyth University reflects with pride on the heritage of its past, and faces the future with the confidence."
I think it is clear that all three acknowledge that they were not universities from their foundation.
All of those institutions were founded as colleges, as was King's College, but UCL was founded in 1826 as London University to be a university, not a college. That is a major difference, so major as to make your comparison meaningless in the case of UCL.
Let us look, then, at how UCL's claim to be a university was received. We have already heard the opinion of their own secretary that this was a title assumed without authorization and which did not confer the powers or status of a university, but what did people think at the time of UCL calling itself "London University'
A "high sounding but, nevertheless, delusive appellation" according to the Lancet. To the Quarterly Review it was "as egregiously improper as it is presumptuous". For the London Medical Gazette it was "a name that was marked by deception in its very origin". The claim to be a university was clearly far from being accepted generally, indeed it was seen as false advertising.
What of the 1831 prospectus advertising the University of Durham, well before the passage of the act of parliament gave any sanction to that name? Was that not also "false advertising" by your lights?
No, the prospectus advertised that a university would be opening, and a university did open. There is nothing false in setting out an intention, it was in actually operating under the name of "London University" when the institution was nothing more than a private college that drew opprobrium on UCL.
A little later we find that the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1842, referenced by Regis, lists four universities in England. The Penny Cyclopaedia from the following year lists the same four universities. These were Oxford and Cambridge, founded in antiquity; Durham, which was founded in 1831, a university from 1832, opened in 1833, and awarded its first degrees in 1837; and London, founded 1836 or 37, an examining board that carried out its first exams in 1838 and awarded its first degrees in 1839. By the end of the century, the Victoria University, a federal university established in Manchester in 1880, which awarded its first degrees in 1882, had been added. It really isn't hard to tell which of these is the third oldest university.
A more debatable question is which was the fourth – for the federal Victoria University, now the University of Manchester following mergers with Owen's College in 1903 and with UMIST in 2004, had teaching through the colleges of the federation twenty years before London became anything other than an examining board. It may sound foolish to claim Manchester predates London, but in truth Manchester has a better claim to be the fourth university in England than London has to be the third, for Manchester's claim to fourth would rest on meeting all of the qualities of a university while London's claim to third relies on meeting certain cherry-picked qualities while failing on others.
And even then, even after selecting the qualities to make their strongest case, London can still not prove that they had degree awarding powers before Durham or that they were incorporated before Durham, and still has problems with the logical contradiction of saying they are an essential part when defining a university but optional when establishing one!
The 1842 Encyclopedia Britannica article that you reference gives Durham's foundation as 1837 and London's as 1836, placing Durham's degree awarding powers firmly from the date of the charter.
I have already noted the similarity between this article and Hamilton's article in the Edinburgh Review, which was demonstrated to be factually wrong. When we take into account that Hamilton is listed among the encyclopedia's principal writers, it is not surprising to find the same errors repeated. However, the text of the article actually states that Durham was incorporated in 1837, not that it was founded then. It is only the side heading that refers to this as its "foundation".
The article goes on to admit that parliament "empowered [the dean and chapter] to establish a university" in 1832 and that "the university opened in October 1833". Nowhere does it explain how this opening of a university that had been established as such by permission of crown and parliament could have happened if the university was yet to be founded!
Fortunately the situation has been clarified in the current online version, which dates the creation of the university unambiguously to 1832.
The explanation is obvious: it was not a university because it had no permission to grant degrees.
But there was no such permission in the 1837 charter either.
As the encyclopedia says, the royal charter "authorizes the body corporate to have perpetual succession, and a common seal, and to enjoy all the rights and privileges which 'are incident to a university established by royal charter.' It consequently possesses and exercises the right of granting degrees in all the faculties."
We have already discussed this. If degree granting powers are incident, they were granted with the permission to establish a university given in 1832.
The plain reading appears to be that they are incident only on a university established by royal charter, not one established by permission of parliament.
That idea, that a royal charter – a form of secondary legislation – can bestow more rights than an act of parliament, which is primary legislation, is somewhat bizarre. It has always been held that acts of parliament have more power than royal charters, as illustrated by this quote from the 1848 Standard Library Cyclopedia:
"The crown has ever exercised, and still retains, the prerogative of incorporating universities, colleges, companies, and other public bodies, and of granting them, by charter, powers and privileges not inconsistent with the law of the land. But as the most considerable bodies ordinarily require powers which no authority but that of parliament is able to confer, such corporations as the East India Company and the Bank of England, which were originally established by royal charter, have long since derived their extraordinary privileges from acts of parliament"
Indeed, the reason for Durham being established by act of parliament was the desire to transfer property owned by the Cathedral to form its initial endowment. As stated in the preamble to the act "the same cannot be effected without the authority of parliament". It was the need for this authority of parliament that meant Durham was established by act of parliament rather than by the less powerful instrument of a royal charter.
If an act of parliament is so powerful, why the need for a royal charter at all?
As the Thorp correspondence shows, it was by no means certain that there was such a need. The effect of the charter was to incorporate the university, but as has been demonstrated by the example of Edinburgh this did not, at the time, affect its character or powers as a university. As there was no need for an act, a royal charter was used.
It also had the secondary function of confirming that the 1835 statutes – which, it will be remembered, included the power to confer degrees "in the various faculties" – were made under the authority of the 1832 act, something that had apparently been questionable before but was obviously not debatable once the royal charter clarified that the act had indeed given the cathedral chapter the necessary authority.
You will forgive me if I am sceptical. It seems you are claiming that that clause is meaningless. Why would it be included in that case?
A good question indeed. But then, why would it be included anyway? If the royal charter was establishing Durham as a university, then it would obviously possess all the rights and privileges "incident to university established by royal charter" without this needing to be stated explicitly.
The best explanation seems to be that it is a mirror of the language used in mediæval bulls, such as that given to the University of Cambridge in 1318, saying "that they enjoy all rights which any lawfully instituted university might and should enjoy".
Cambridge graduates had already been granted the right to teach anywhere by an earlier bull in 1233, and it had also been previously named a studium generale, so clearly this clause is merely confirming rights rather than conferring them. Like Cambridge's bull, Durham's charter confirms its status but does not confer it.
Given the way in which Durham's constitution followed the ancient universities, it should not be surprising to find, despite the centuries in between, echoes of their bulls in Durham's charter.
Chair: Thank you. We had better move on to our final speech.
When they created the University of London they changed the rules. They created a university that did not teach. There was no precedent. But that didn't stop London being a university whose degrees were respected across the world. That didn't stop the London model being copied by the universities of India and the Royal University of Ireland, not to mention the federal Victoria University in northern England and the University of Wales! As Masters says in his Manual on Universities in 1862, "the distinctive character of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge is, that they are corporations of Teachers in Arts, having the power to grant Degrees. This is Huber’s idea; and it would appear to be his opinion that this is the essential character of a University : but … of the three elements here commingled, only two are common to all Universities of modern date." He is talking, of course, of the change in the definition of a university forced by London.
The university was also recognised by numerous acts of parliament, and even granted its own MP. To suggest that despite this wide recognition as a university it should be regarded otherwise due to not meeting an earlier idea of a university is as ludicrous as the suggestion, made by some at the time, that a university has to be formed out of individually chartered colleges to be a true university.
But how revolutionary really was London? At the time it was formed, neither Oxford nor Cambridge were in any real sense teaching universities – until the reforms of the 1850s the teaching was confined, as in London, to the colleges. The ancient universities, as much as London, were essentially examining boards. The two functions of teaching and examination were kept sensibly separate, preventing corruption. Now we are to be told this makes London – and presumably also Oxford and Cambridge – not a true university?
London was a true university from its foundation in 1836, the third institute in England to hold the right of examining and awarding its own degrees and thus the county's third university.
Firstly, let me point out that in Oxford and Cambridge the colleges are intimately linked with the universities. They form the university, and the examiners were drawn from the college tutors. The Victoria University and the University of Wales were less strongly linked, but the colleges were still definitely colleges of the universities with a say in their governance. This was a federal structure, in contrast to the examining board with no link to the teaching colleges that was the University of London.
Secondly, in 1900 London was rearranged as a federal university similar to the Victoria University – just as that institution broke up! UCL, King's, and other institutions become colleges and schools of the university rather than separate institutes that happened to prepare students for London exams. Over the next couple of decades the Indian universities also took on teaching roles, while the Royal University of Ireland was dissolved in 1909.
The 'new idea' of a university as an examining board failed to convince people of its validity; by the time the Council for National Academic Awards was formed in the 1960s there was no pretense that it was a university despite its marked similarity to the 19th century University of London.
The idea failed because everyone knew that however high the standard of London degrees, it wasn't a true university. We have already heard quotes from contemporary writers, let me give you some modern ones from the writers of London's own histories:
Negley Harte, in The University of London: An Illustrated History: "Having been 'that august negation of the very idea of a university', as Arnold Bennett called it, the University of London after 1900 became a new body".
F.M.G. Wilson, in The University of London 1858-1900: "it had the trappings of a university, but not its most obvious function – it did not teach".
F.M.L. Thompson, in The University of London and the World of Learning: "until 1901 it retained the status of what would today be called a quango".
Thirdly, I agree that London, as discussed before, was recognized in acts of parliament and other official documents from 1837 onwards, and I am quite happy to recognise London as a university from that time. But by this measure, Durham's recognition on the same basis from 1832 makes it, not London, the third oldest university.
I fully admit that people had trouble accepting that the definition of a university had changed. But that does not invalidate the change. With London, a new sort of university was created, and it reached its finished state in 1836. With Durham the university as created in 1832 was unfinished, and it did not fully achieve its status until 1837. With London, there was no intent on the part of the creators to include teaching; with Durham the intent always existed to gain incorporation and degree powers via a royal charter. For that reason, London predates Durham as the third oldest university in England.
But that simply means that what the creators intended to create was never a true university!
It is quite clear that it was made a university by royal charter in.1836, and is therefore a university from that date. It is for the crown to determine the exact form that is needed to be a university, as demonstrated in recent years with the various changes in requirements for university title.
But, again, by that measure Durham was a university from the passage of the 1832 act!
The act gave permission to found a university, yes, but the process of that foundation was not completed until the grant of the royal charter in 1837.
As already pointed out, the charter is one of incorporation, not of establishment, indeed it explicitly states that the university had already been "established under our Royal sanction, and the authority of our Parliament".
I have already quoted legal opinions making it quite clear that establishment as a university was regarded by Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and the London medical schools as granting degree awarding powers. A statute had been passed in 1835 giving the university the clear authority to confer degrees. The charter confirmed this statute was made under the powers granted by the 1832 act, placing it beyond any doubt that Durham could confer degrees at the absolute latest from the passing of the statute and that it had the authority to make that statute any time from 1832 onwards. In other words, permission from the crown to confer degrees was granted by the 1832 act.
It is also clear from the example of Edinburgh that incorporation was not necessary to be a university. There is therefore nothing granted by the royal charter that was necessary for Durham to be a full university. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the charter itself confirms that the powers were already in place.
Reference works of the time bear witness to London's precedence. For example, Charles Dodd's "Manual of Dignities, Privilege, and Precedence" puts London, founded 1836, before Durham, founded 1837.
It is notable that Dodd, in his description of Durham's founding, makes no mention of the act of parliament. That he appears to believe Durham to have been founded in 1832 entirely on the authority of the dean and chapter explains why he dates its foundation from 1837 – if this were true, he would be correct. But it is not true, and so he is mistaken.
That he was indeed mistaken is confirmed by the proceedings at the quatercentenary of the University of Aberdeen. This lists the British universities explicitly in order of seniority – placing Durham before London. Other similar celebrations list universities alphabetically or haphazardly, or did not have representatives from both London and Durham present; although it is notable that Aberdeen and Edinburgh both list UCL and King's separately from universities, placing them with "Colleges and Learned Societies" and "Other Learned Bodies".
Chair: Thank you all. To finish, we will hear summary statements from the contenders.
University College London is the oldest institute here. That is not disputed. It was founded as a England's third university under the name of London University. That is an historical fact. We have to prove nothing – The burden of proof lies with our opponents to show that there is a flaw in our claim.
You have heard a number of claims from Dunelmensis and Londiniensis saying that degree-granting powers are necessary to be a university. This was certainly what some people thought, but I submit that they have failed to prove that this was a universally accepted definition and that there is evidence that alternative views were held by some.
There is also some evidence, from the Privy Council no less, that there was no actual legal limitation on degree awarding powers at the time, only a kind of moral control. Legal recognition of degrees came not through the power to grant them but through separate acts of parliament, such as the Attornies and Solicitors Act in 1837.
If, then, there was no such thing as degree awarding powers, this can clearly not be part of what defines a university.
You have also heard it claimed that a university must be incorporated, but the precedent of the University of Edinburgh proves that false. The only thing that truly defines a university is teaching, making UCL the third oldest university.
There are two key points I want to emphasise.
Firstly: there were only four recognised universities in England in the mid 19th century – the two ancient universities, Durham and London. UCL and King's were simply not regarded as universities.
Secondly, London's claim to be older is a logical impossibility. If being a university requires degree-awarding powers, then when King and Parliament establish a university these powers must obviously be included, otherwise they aren't actually establishing a university. In this scenario, Durham had its powers in 1832, before London, and is therefore the older.
Alternatively, degree awarding powers are not necessary to be a university and it is possible, therefore, that Durham did not possess them at its foundation and London may have had them first. But then these powers don't matter in terms of defining a university, and Durham is still the older.
It is not logically possible for degree awarding powers to be both necessary and not implicit in Durham's establishment. King and Parliament made Durham a university in 1832, the third one established in England. It was the third university to teach degree courses and the third to award degrees.
The conclusion is inescapable: Durham is the third oldest university in England.
King's college mirrors UCL in many respects, yet is the younger institution both in terms of foundation and teaching. How, then, can we make a claim to be older as a university?
You have heard that the example of Edinburgh demonstrates that incorporation is not required – this is true, but incomplete. Edinburgh dates its foundation as a university to its establishment – as a college – by royal permission.
That is what UCL lacks – official recognition. King's had that from 1829, Durham from 1832, but UCL not until 1836. King's was established as a college by royal permission in 1829. With the example of the University of Edinburgh before us, we claim our establishment as a university from that date, making us the third oldest university in England.
In the final analysis, there were only two universities founded in the first half of the 19th century in England: London and Durham. UCL and King's were simply not recognised as being universities, even by the UCL-linked Penny Cyclopaedia.
The question then is which was founded first: Durham or London. This is complicated by Durham's foundation taking place over many years. In 1832, Parliament gave Durham Cathedral's chapter permission to found a university. This was not the founding, this was permission to carry out that founding. As I have shown, it was give more years before they completed their task by obtaining a royal charter to incorporate the university, grant them degree awarding powers along with the other rights and privileges of a university, and confirm what they had done.
By the time they had this royal charter, in June 1837, London had already been chartered as a university for over six months. That is the truth if the matter, and it leads to the conclusion that London is England's third oldest university.
Chair: Thank you to all of our contenders.