Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Civic University

While it is not easy to separate the concepts behind the civic university movement from a discussion on the British Red Brick universities I shall begin by looking at the lineage of the civic universities in order to situate the Red Bricks within that movement. I will take a separate look at the Red Bricks in the following section.

The term 'civic' is tied in with the ideas of good citizenship; processes for citizen engagement with policy; a healthy democracy; community participation; knowledge transfer and skills education. In the foreword to Richard Pratte's book, The Civic Imperative: Examining the Need for Civic Education (1988), Jonas F. Soltis defines American civic education as “the conveying of unique meaning, obligations, and virtues of citizenship” which means that “the younger generation will be able to join their elders in a meaningful form of unique group life that is permeated by a particular set of binding and guiding values.” (1988: vii). A contemporary definition of British civic education is provided by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2005: “educational, learning or promotional activities carried out in a local context by or on behalf of local councils, to enable people to become more involved in democratic processes.” (Andrews and Cowell 2005: preface).

The definitions of what a civic university is are broad and clearly tied in with the notion of what civic education stands for. Also, definitions differ slightly in the time period they represent and in regards to the particular appeals for engagement that reflect the policy of that moment. For example, in 'English Civic Universities and the Myth of Decline' (1992) Elizabeth J. Morse provides an example of a specific post World War I request for civic support based on a forward-looking university model that is also considerate of the catastrophic events of the previous war: “the idea of a civic university, situated in the heart of a great city, oriented toward the practical and the modern, is enunciated, together with a reassurance that the modern university can combine modernity with a respectful sense of the past.” (1992: 189). In his published thesis The Origins of Civic Universities: Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool (1983) David Robert Jones uses a definition that orients the civic universities in the preceding civic colleges: a refocusing of curriculum based on the demands of society that move away from the more traditional subjects like classics and mathematics offered by Oxford and Cambridge (1983: 4).

W. H. G. Armytage's Civic Universities: Aspects of a British Tradition (1955) provides a detailed history of the universities going back to what he calls the “Monastic Matrix”, thus situating their origins within the faith tradition. Armytage is considered by many to be an authority on the civic universities, although some academics do not agree with everything he writes. Texts by other historians look to Ancient Greece as a starting point due the notion of 'civic' being attached to ideas of a 'good society'. For the purposes of this thesis I shall briefly highlight the lineage provided by Armytage up to the point he discusses the rise of corporate patronage (1731-1810) and will look in more detail at the history of the civic universities from that point onwards, incorporating other texts, in order to lay the foundations for the Victorian period and its focus on British industry and the rise of the Red Bricks.

What Armytage describes as the “Monastic Matrix” (596-1154) focused on the attempts of clerics to save culture and education from the legacy of the Roman Empire. However, during this period efforts were also made by the crown to 'civilise' the titled enforcers of the laws of England, in order to instruct them to preserve the culture of the country. The latter part of this period involved the world travel of monks wherein they would both be educating themselves and also engaging others in English culture. (Armytage 1955: 15-30).

“Close and College: Premature Regional Universities in England” covers the period from 1154 to 1334. Armytage explains how secularism (a separation of government from religious policy-making) encourages variety in the forms of education available to scholars and the administrators of public office. Formalised schools sprung up in these secular cathedrals in some English cities that were comparable to universities, such as Lincoln and Exeter. This period also involved the emergence of Oxford and Cambridge universities along with a legal declaration that no more universities would be permitted. (Armytage 1955: 31-47).

Armytage calls the period from 1334 to 1546 “Laicisation1 of the Professions and the Concentration of the Collegiate Effort”. During this time many local colleges emerged around the country and Oxford and Cambridge were permitted additional colleges in their respective cities. University teachers were given more freedom to move about geographically. Also, schools dedicated to law, Inns of Court, opened up in London. During this period the number of hospitals increased exponentially, highlighting the need for improved medical skills and professional training for medics in a number of areas, such as the arts. It was thought that this would enable surgeons to become more eloquent and also improve their status in relation to other professions, such as the clergy. (Armytage 1955: 48-65).

“The Emergence of Scientific Spirit: 1546-1600” spawned a focus on humans and their environment which resulted in a new approach to education. Armytage explains how this enabled subjects like literature and science to be studied in specially designated royal colleges run by the most highly regarded academics. Medicine became a singular subject at Oxford and Cambridge and anatomy became an important focus. The study of mental life also became popular. Scientific classification became the bon mot and heralded the Age of Enlightenment to come: categorisation in the area of natural history was being developed and would become apparent in the following era with works such as those by Immanuel Kant and RenĂ© Descartes. According to Armytage, mathematics now became a “cultural force” (1955: 73) helped by translations of some of the ancient Greek texts. University reform was also carried out during this period with a rationalisation of subjects by creating specialist colleges. The mercantilist aims to efficiently extract and process raw materials also meant that new technologies were required and the need for educated users of those tools. This meant that learning a trade became vital for the country's workers and resulted in apprenticeships. With the dissolution of the monasteries that had preceded this period, it became the responsibility of newly formed secular organisations to respond to the changing needs of a fast-evolving society. (Armytage 1955: 66-93).

“The Baconian Blueprint” covers 1600 to 1660. Armytage cites Sir Francis Bacon's Novum Organum (1620) as representing the philosophical break with the past that required a new revolution in thinking about knowledge. Bacon challenged the very foundation of current educational practices, the educators and often the scientific texts themselves. During this period the first discussions of a Northern University began, however these were scuppered at this time. A university in London was also considered. Neither of these came about at this time for political reasons oriented in regional power. The new philosophical outlook of the Enlightenment enabled a more democratic ideology to emerge around the concepts of education for all, the liberalist view of education. It was also the case that some believed that the traditional arts subjects led to idleness whereas technological training did not. Cromwell believed that the poor, who he had little cultural regard for, would benefit from an education. Following the dissolution of the cathedrals and their related colleges in Durham, the city demanded their own college, which was eventually granted in 1657. However, during this same period Oxford and Cambridge were fighting for their life due to a movement in Parliament to dissolve them due to a dislike of the make up of the faculties at both sites. Cromwell put a stop to this dissent. (Armytage 1955: 93-116).

The final period that I will provide in this summary of Armytage's timeline is what he calls “The Royal Society and its Influence” (1660-1731). This time-frame looks at the impact of the Royal Society, which grew out of the need for both university reform, research and the sharing of knowledge, and was comprised of academics from around the country. During the Restoration both students and academics were required to take religious tests and lost their jobs or educational places if they did not. This resulted in many significant academics losing their posts and a decline in the eduction and administration of the universities and colleges (these rejected academics later set up 'academies' for those members of the gentry who did not want to send their sons to these failing universities). The Royal Society had a big task ahead and did not always find co-operation in the various agencies they worked with. It appears that Charles II did not give the Royal Society the power they needed to carry through the change they hoped for. Despite these difficulties, the Society survived and with it the understanding that these types of bodies were important, if not essential. The academies became successful and began to become official institutions with established specialisms. (Armytage 1955: 117-142).

The politics that followed set the scene for the major developments in industrialisation that came about during the Victorian period. Mercantilism dominated Europe up until the 18th century, creating a particular class of citizen: relatively wealthy merchants who traded commodities nationally and internationally. As an economic model mercantilism focused governments and their merchants on systems of international exchange that often appeared to cancel each other out. However, it became apparent that skills were required to enable raw materials to be finished to such a standard that they could then be sold on, with good profits coming out of this process. Trade bodies and manufacturing associations, along with craft and professional bodies came into their own.

In 1773 the Medical Society of London was formed and following this provincial hospitals appeared around the country, for example, in Leeds in 1767. The Leeds School of Medicine was established in 1831. The civic universities that followed this period all grew out of the existing medical schools (attached to hospitals), and technological colleges that were situated, in particular, in the industrial cities of England. The technical schools were essential for the continuing economic growth of colonial Victorian Britain. Jones explains: “Mid-Victorian society was rearranging its institutions and creating new ones to serve a changing and growing variety of needs and people.” (1983: 34). While the new Education Act of 1870 concentrated on the education of the young, it was driven by the need to keep Britain competitive in the international arena. This followed the poorly received British exhibits at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 (Armytage 1955: 219), especially those of Yorkshire industry (Sanderson 1988: 94).

M. Sanderson deals specifically with this period of industrialisation. In 'The English Civic Universities and the “Industrial Spirit”, 1870-1914' (1988) he analyses the civic universities in the context of the ideology of the time. Sanderson discusses the creation of various colleges by eminent industrialists and the successes and failures of these: “Those civic universities located in industrial regions, gaining the support of the business classes and reflecting their interests and spirit flourished. Those that did not, did not.” (1988: 93).

The Yorkshire College of Science was set up in Leeds as a response to the damning Paris Exhibition response:
"It was hoped that such a college would raise the level of science and education and thereby heighten the competitive capacity of the textile industry in particular. As the college said, its purpose 'is intended to supply an urgent and recognized want, viz, instruction in the sciences which are applicable to the Industrial Arts'" (Sanderson 1988: 94).

Armytage discusses the influence of Matthew Arnold in promoting provincial colleges. Arnold considered it vital to have local centres, in the form of faculties, in key areas of the country, enabling people to gain a local education outside of Oxford and Cambridge (Armytage 1955: 220). As well as the new Yorkshire College of Science, The Leeds Art and Science Institution was established in 1867. Many local industrialists were behind the project, including Edward Baines, the radical newspaper editor2 - who was also a benefactor of the new Leeds college, the Yorkshire College of Science (Armytage 1955: 221).

According to Sanderson, the notion of 'industrial spirit' continued well into the the early 20th century, with a positive focus on vocation and a de-emphasis of the model of liberal education of the past. Sanderson provides an example of the fictional text by George Gissing - Born in Exile3 - (1892) - that he believes sums up the Zeitgeist of the period. Sanderson says: “Here was the true civic university ethos – rooted in its region, supported by and regarded with pride by its business community, academic values linked with, and not divorced from, those of capitalism, science and the economy.” (1988: 96). While the the word 'exile' in the title of Gissing's novel deals with social exile rather than being exiled from one's own country, it is not quite so clear-cut as this, because the protagonist migrates South away from his Yorkshire homeland.

The notion of migration could be considered in regards to the Humboldtian influence of the German university model of Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). While Armytage makes no reference to Humboldt in his book, many consider Humboldt to be influential in European universities in general, at least up until the end of World War I when many traditional views about society, politics and the lived experience had to be reconsidered. However, other critics consider that some of the Humboldtian influences did not filter through to the British universities until later in the 20th century, influencing the promotion of league tables (for example, Robert Anderson). The Humboldtian model, based on that originating at the University of Berlin, focused on research; an integrated community spirit between both students and scholars; and professionalism and contributions to industrial advancement. The Humboldt model will be revisited in discussions on the Red Brick universities and their relation to the industrial cities in which they evolved.

As Jones explains, the civic universities did not show the “anti-commercial bias” that the ancient universities did, or those modelled on them, such as Oxford and Cambridge (1983: 71). Victorian Britain lay the foundations for the civic universities to arise out of the technical provincial colleges. In the next section I will be looking at the Red Brick universities within the context of the civic university model, in particular the northern universities and specifically the birth of the University of Leeds out of the Yorkshire College of Science and the Leeds School of Medicine.

Andrew, Rhys and Richard Cowell. 2005. Civic Education and Local Government: A Literature Review (London: ODPM Publications).

Armytage, W. H. G. 1955. Civic Universities: Aspects of a British Tradition (London: Ernest Benn Ltd).

Morse, Elizabeth, J. 'English Civic Universities and the Myth of Decline', History of Universities, 11 (1992), 177-204.

Pratt, Richard. 1988. The Civic Imperative: Examining the Need for Civic Education (London and New York: The Teachers Press).

Sanderson, V. 'The English Civic Universities and the Industrial Spirit 1870-1914', Historical Research, 61, 144 (1988), 90-104.

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