A plate glass university or plateglass university is one of a group of universities in the United Kingdom established or promoted to university status in the 1960s. The original plate glass universities were established following decisions by the University Grants Committee (UGC) in the late 1950s and early 1960s, prior to the Robbins Report in 1963. However, the term has since expanded to encompass the institutions that became universities as a result of Robbins' recommendations.
The term plateglass was coined by Michael Beloff for a book he wrote about these universities, to reflect their modern architectural design which often contains wide expanses of plate glass in steel or concrete frames. This contrasted with the (largely Victorian) red brick universities and the very much older ancient universities.
I had at the start to decide upon a generic term for the new universities – they will not be new for ever. None of the various caps so far tried have fitted. "Greenfields" describes only a transient phase. "Whitebrick", "Whitestone", and "Pinktile" hardly conjure up the grey or biscuit concrete massiveness of most of their buildings, and certainly not the black towers of Essex. "Newbridge" is fine as far as the novelty goes, but where on earth are the bridges? Sir Edward Boyle more felicitously suggested "Shakespeare". But I have chosen to call them the Plateglass Universities. It is architecturally evocative; but more important, it is metaphorically accurate.
Beloff applied the term specifically to the new creations of the 1960s, not including the institutions promoted from university colleges or colleges of advanced technology, or created by division of existing universities "as Durham shed Newcastle". All of the original plateglass universities were created de novo as universities.
Beloff listed seven universities in his book. These were the seven universities approved by the UGC prior to the Robbins Report.
Unlike previous universities in the United Kingdom which were usually named after the city they were located in (for example the University of Cambridge in Cambridge), several of the new universities were named after the county or wider area they served. The universities founded in Colchester and Brighton were named after the counties they are located in (Essex and Sussex respectively), the university founded in Canterbury initially use a name that combined the county name (Kent) with the city and the university in Coventry, Warwickshire was named after the county town of Warwick. The university in Norwich, which is in the county of Norfolk, was instead named for the wider area of East Anglia which also includes Suffolk and Essex. The universities built in Lancashire and Yorkshire were located in the county towns of Lancaster and York respectively. There were already universities within those counties (Manchester and Liverpool in Lancashire; Sheffield, Leeds and Hull in Yorkshire).
Since the passage of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 several new universities and university colleges have been created within the same city as a plate-glass university and have been named after the city: Brighton, Canterbury Christ Church, Coventry, Norwich University of the Arts, Writtle and York St John.
Certain aspects of the design of these universities acknowledges the formation of the group; for example, at Sussex the first batches of student residences to be built were named after some of the other new universities, i.e. "Essex House", "Kent House", "Lancaster House", "Norwich House" (for UEA), and "York House".
Research at the Department for Education in 2016 categorised universities into four age groups: ancient (pre-1800), red brick (1800–1960), plate glass (1960–1992), and post-1992.
The institutions that gained university status in the 1960–1992 plate glass period are listed below. Almost all of these were promoted to university status, rather than created as universities like the institutions in Beloff's original list; ten were previously colleges of advanced technology (CATs).
(Dates refer to the granting of university status, not to founding of the institution.)
The DfE study classified higher education institutions (HEIs) according to "the length of time an HEI had been established", without a detailed definition of how this was determined Keele might thus be considered "Red Brick" under this classification as it entered the university sector (as a university college) prior to 1960), as might Newcastle and Dundee, which were colleges of the universities of Durham and St Andrews respectively. The definition might also include institutions and colleges of the University of London that became part of the university sector in that period but did not receive university status:
The Scottish universities from the 1960s (Heriot-Watt, Stirling, Strathclyde, Dundee and the Open University in Scotland) are also known as "chartered universities" as they were established, and are governed, by their royal charters.
Malcolm Bradbury's 1975 campus novel The History Man is set in the fictional plate glass University of Watermouth. External scenes of the TV series were filmed at Lancaster University.
Despite the expansion that had been achieved in the existing universities it became evident by 1958 that more universities were going to be needed. In that year the government, on the advice of the University Grants Committee, approved the establishment of the University of Sussex and, in the following years, of six more universities at Norwich, York, Canterbury, Colchester, Coventry and Lancaster.
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