As we get closer to the Highfield centenary we cover the last two ‘roller coaster’ decades of the twentieth century.
The main issue confronting John Roberts, the new Vice-Chancellor when he arrived in the Autumn of 1979, was the anticipated reduction in Government funding for higher education. With this in view, he set up a Working Party on Academic Goals, which concluded that the Theology Department should be closed, Italian reviewed and Russian reduced as quickly as possible.When the Government cuts were announced in 1981, Southampton’s funding was reduced by 3.2% for 1981/2, followed by reductions of 8.7% in 1982/3 and 6.2% in 1983/4 – cuts less severe than those imposed on many other universities.
Measures to avoid creating a deficit included cutting 200 jobs, with funding for the Arts, Education and Social Science faculties being reduced by three times as much as that for Science, Engineering and Medicine. This proved deeply unpopular and amidst accusations that the funding crisis was being used as an excuse to restructure the University, a group of Social Sciences staff, led by Professor Ken Hilton proposed an alternative strategy. Debates on the proposals filled many issues of the staff newsletter, Viewpoint, and eventually the original plan was rejected by Senate. A second plan, which spread the cuts more evenly, looked for other forms of savings and replaced compulsory redundancies with voluntary retirements, passed Senate in 1982.Although John Roberts was criticised by some for his handling of the situation, by 1985 when he returned to Oxford, the University’s finances had achieved stability. Looking to other sources of income it became increasingly successful in attracting research funding, grants and contracts, with earned income increasing from £5.4 million in 1980/1 to £11.4 million in 1983/4.
Despite the difficult financial situation, the early 1980s saw a number of positive developments and initiatives. In 1983 the Institute of Maritime Law was established, the following year Oceanography was selected by the University Grants Commitee to expand, the Department of Computer Studies and the Centre for Mathematics Education were set up, whilst the go ahead was given for the Chilworth Centre for Advanced Technology. There were also commitments to new buildings for Music and Electronics. A campaign to bring the papers of the First Duke of Wellington to the University Library, following their acceptance by the Treasury in lieu of death duties, was successful and the Leverhulme Trust granted £95,000 for work on the collection. At the same time, the UGC Committee agreed to provide £2 million for a Library extension.
In terms of Arts, the John Hansard Gallery opened in September 1980, bringing together the Photographic Gallery and the University Art Gallery with the aim of providing a catalyst for ideas and generating a network of activities. In 1983 the Nuffield Theatre Trust was formed by the University, Southampton City Council, Hampshire County Council and Southern Arts, which put the theatre on a more sound financial footing.The direction of travel begun under John Roberts continued under his successor Sir Gordon Higginson. There were further reductions in the block grant but the UGC did approve the University’s plan for expansion which set a target of 10,000 students by 2000. A new focus and efficiency was brought to fundraising by the creation of the post of Director of Industrial Affairs and the establishment of the Southampton University Development Trust. By 1987/8 income from research and contracts had grown to £20 million.
The later years of the 1980s saw the first nurses graduating from the School of Nursing Studies, the creation of the School of Biological Sciences, the doubling in size of Geology and plans for expanding Archaeology and Philosophy.Chilworth Research Centre was officially opened in 1986 and in 1987 the eagerly anticipated new computer, an IBM 3090-150, with 32 megabytes of memory and a filestore of 20 gigabytes arrived. Its importance was demonstrated by the fact that the new service was officially opened by Kenneth Baker, the Secretary of State for Education. The project to extend and refurbish the Library was completed in the same year, and in March 1988 it was officially renamed as the Hartley Library by Countess Mountbatten of Burma. Expansion on all fronts was the key feature of the 1990s. There were new buildings, new campuses and a growing number of students – developments which had often begun under Gordon Higginson and which came to fruition under Sir Howard Newby, Vice-Chancellor 1994-2001. Finding a solution to the overcrowded Highfield site was the issue which dominated the late 1980s and early 1990s. Proposals included further development at Chilworth and even the creation of a new campus for 7,000 students at Lords Wood, but ultimately neither proposal was supported by the City Council. Instead, it facilitated the acquisition of sites closer to Highfield – Richard Taunton College and Hampton Park School, the former being redeveloped as Avenue Campus. 1996 was a bumper year for the University, bringing the opening of the National Oceanographic Centre at Southampton Docks – a joint initiative with Natural Environment Research Council’s Institute of Oceanographic Sciences, the amalgamation with Winchester School of Art and the move of the Arts Faculty, with the exception of Music, to Avenue Campus. The following year another campus was added, when the University took on responsibility for La Sainte Union College, which it transformed into New College. This became the home for the Department of Adult Continuing Education an initiative very much in tune with the 1997 Dearing Report, which proposed that universities should provide more opportunity for lifelong learning, engage more effectively with the local community and widen participation. At Highfield, the 1990s brought the Mountbatten Building for Electronics and Computer Science, completed in 1991, the School of Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy in 1994 and the Synthetic Chemistry Building in 1998. Behind the scenes there were plans for further development. Urban design consultants were employed to impose a unity on the site – one result being the reinvention of University Road as a tree-lined boulevard. A new approach to funding capital projects through loans brought a flurry of activity towards the end of the decade, resulting in the Gower and Zepler Buildings as well as the Social Sciences Graduate Centre. Other aspects of University life which had their beginnings in the 1990s include the introduction of semesters which were intended to provide students with greater flexibility in their choice of options, the development of the first strategic plan and mission statement, the creation of the Alumni Office and establishment of the University of Southampton Society, the campus network and the introduction of the uni-link bus service. One 1990s initiative no longer so much in evidence is the Dolphin logo chosen by the Visual Identity Project of 1990 to embody the spirit of the University because of its perceived intelligence, friendliness and links to the sea. It was also at this time that the University first identified itself as a research-led institution. In Howard Newby’s view, this was the only way in which its status could be enhanced – something of growing importance given the introduction of league tables and the larger number of universities resulting from the change in status of polytechnics in 1992/3. Here the strategic plan began to show immediate results with much improved Research Assessment Exercise results for 1996, which placed Southampton ahead of its comparator institutions. In 1997 the School of Medicine’s research capabilities were greatly enhanced by a £3 million Wellcome Trust Millennial Clinical Research Facility Award. Whilst teaching now came second to research, that of the five departments which submitted for the Teaching Quality Assessment in 1995 was judged excellent, suggesting that good research and teaching could be compatible.
Over the course of the two decades, the number of students grew from around 6,000 in 1980 to just over 14,000 in 1998/9. That there were 21,840 applications for 2,020 places in 1991, suggests that Southampton was a popular place to study.
Students had supported staff in their opposition to the University’s plan to deal with the cuts of 1981, suggesting that savings elsewhere might alleviate the need for such a drastic cut in jobs. As far as their own funding was concerned, the President of the Students Union for 1981/2, Jon Sopel, calculated that their grant had been cut by 13.4% since 1979, writing in the Student Union Handbook that ‘this must be one of the worst times for becoming a student’.When the Union block grant was reduced in 1984/5, protests against the cuts included occupying the offices of the local Conservative Association and the more traditional method of writing to the local M.P.
The main threat of direct action against the University itself during this period occurred when it was proposed to use one floor of the Students Union for teaching, and there were calls to occupy the Administration Building in protest, fortunately the proposal was abandoned before the occupation could take place.
During the later years of the 1980s the issue of student loans was coming to the fore and in 1988 the Union passed a motion which described top-up loans, as ‘merely the thin end of the wedge … eventually leading to a full loans system’. This proved correct with top-up loans for living costs introduced in 1990/1 and in 1998/9 tuition fees of £1,000 per annum.Another pressing concern for students at this time was lack of accommodation as despite the doubling of student numbers, there had been no expansion of the halls of residence. The situation was addressed in the 1990s when 604 additional apartment style units were created at Montefiore in 1994, with 200 more at Glen Eyre in 1996 and 400 at Hartley Grove, Glen Eyre in 1998.
Students continued to achieve success in sporting activities, with Student National Champion teams including Men’s Volleyball in 1981, Women’s Fencing in 1982 and in 1992, both Indoor and Outdoor Archery. Engagement with the local community continued through the annual Rag and also the Community Interaction Department which offered opportunities to volunteer at playschemes, the local psychiatric hospital and Winchester Prison Remand Centre, amongst others.As the new century approached, nine of the University’s inventions, including the PolyAna plastics identification machine, were awarded the Design Council’s ‘Millennium Product’ status for showing imagination, ingenuity and inspiration, forming part of a display adjacent to the Millennium Dome. To find out how the University fared at the opening of the 21st century look out for next month’s Highfield 100 blog post.