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Robbins Committee and Open University

The Robbins Committee

In 1961 the Robbins Committee was appointed to evaluate the need for expansion and develop a coherent plan for universities. It recommended:

  • The creation of a single Department of Education and Science
  • The incorporation of the Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs) into the university sector
  • A new university in Scotland at Stirling
  • The creation of two new business schools

The Robbins Committee's report advanced the principle that higher education courses should be available to all those who were qualified and wished to study. It was estimated this would entail the provision of facilities for 390,000 higher education students by 1973/74, a target the Cabinet accepted.

After Labour's election victory in 1964, new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, promised to utilise the 'white heat of the technological revolution' which sustained the impetus of the Robbins recommendations. Anthony Crosland, the Secretary of State for Science and Education, noted that because ten of the Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs) were about to acquire university status, no new universities need be established over the next ten years. High-level technological education would be developed at Imperial College, the Manchester College of Science and Technology, and Strathclyde University. The Cabinet confirmed the commitment to increasing student numbers, which had been made by the previous government.

Open University

A major innovation under Labour was the University of the Air project, managed by Arts Minister Jennie Lee, which led to the creation of the Open University. The concept of a correspondence university reaching out to those who had been denied the opportunity had great appeal, and it fitted closely with Wilson's ideas. Lee produced a White Paper in 1966 outlining university plans, which would rely largely on correspondence and broadcasting as teaching media. Applications opened in 1970 and the first students began work in 1971. Edward Heath's Cabinet, which followed that of Wilson, briefly considered cancelling the project or reducing the number of places, but concluded that the political costs would be too great.

The economic and financial difficulties of the late 1960s and 1970s produced a less favourable situation for universities. In 1975 the system of five-year grants was ended, making long-term planning difficult. During the 1970s, government reduced funding and the targets for student numbers, temporarily slowing the growth of higher education.


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