HL Deb 16 March 1900 vol 80 cc1047-9

My Lords, I beg to ask the Lord President of the Council why, by Section 11 of the Charter of the new Birmingham University, the University is empowered "to admit to affiliation with it, or to any of its privileges, any college or institution or the members or students thereof" without any such limitation of the area within which such colleges or institutions must be situated as is prescribed by the new statutes of the University of London. I have placed this question on the Paper because attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a difference of rather an important kind in the provisions of the charter of the new Birmingham University and the statutes which provide for the reconstructed University of London. I had mentioned the Victoria University, but I find I was misinformed, and that in that university there was no limitation of the area in which they might affiliate schools, colleges, or other institutions. The point is not, I think, without some interest. In the new statutes of London University it is provided that all the schools or institutions admitted to affiliation by the university must be situated within the administrative county of London. There is a further provision, as regards those who may be admitted as teachers of the university, that any person who is approved as a teacher of the university may be admitted if he resides within a radius of thirty miles from the building in which the university is located. In the case of the Birmingham charter, as I read it, there is no limitation of the kind, and the result will be that the Birmingham University will be able to affiliate to itself any school or institution in any part of the country. I think it is possible that if there is no limitation in the case of these new universities some difficulty and conflict may arise; for it is obvious that if there are, as seems very probable, numerous universities established, they will be sometimes tempted to compete with one another, and there may arise a kind of Dutch auction—namely, in order to attract to themselves institutions in different parts of the country, the universities may lower their examination standard. That is a danger which is by no means a visionary one, and it is obvious that it would be a very unfortunate result. I think myself that the limitation that has been imposed on the University of London is a wise and workable one, and I thought, therefore, that I might reasonably ask the Lord President of the Council why the same principle of limiting the area of operations has not been followed in the case of the Birmingham charter. It seems very desirable that there should be some principle upon which these new institutions should be established. I think it is probable that there may be further universities founded in other parts of the country, and it would be unfortunate if there was any clashing between the different universities, and if such a proceeding as I have described for the purpose of attracting schools to a particular university should arise. I do not ask this question with the slightest hostility to the Birmingham University, nor from a belief that there is any particular reason why the Birmingham University should be more aggressive than any other body. I simply wish to elicit from the noble Duke the Lord President of the Council an expression of opinion as to what principle is likely to be adhered to in the constitution of these new and important bodies.


My Lords, the limitation of the area within which schools of the university may be created in connection with the University of London was introduced into the new statutes by direction of the Act; and the noble Lord is aware that such limitation was an essential part of the compromise under which the colleges and teaching institutions of London were induced to accept the arrangements proposed for the creation of a teaching university. In the charter of the Victoria University, the university court is empowered to accept the application of any incorporated college to be admitted as a college in the university on being satisfied as to the completeness of the curriculum, the sufficiency of the staff, the adequacy of the appliances for teaching, and the independent control of the college applying. It appears from section 20 of the statutes of the Birmingham University that the conditions of application, though in more general terms, aim at a similar standard. No objection was raised to the section of the charter, to which Lord Kimberley refers, in the many months during which the draft charter was exposed to public criticism, and it was not for the Privy Council to introduce a limitation that was not suggested by the promoters or called for in other quarters. With regard to the apprehension which was expressed by my noble friend as to the possibility of undue competition between the universities of the future, and a possible lowering of the standard of admission of colleges to such universities, I do not think I have over heard it suggested that there has ever been any such tendency in the case of the Victoria University, and so far as I am aware that university would be very unwilling under present conditions to extend its area of operations. It is scarcely for the Privy Council to propose a limitation which is not desired by the promoters of the charter, and which no representative body appeared to think it necessary to suggest.


My object in bringing the matter before the House was merely to question, to a certain extent, the policy which has been pursued, and not to find fault with the proceedings of the Privy Council in following another precedent. My feeling is that as there will probably be more such universities established in the future, it is very desirable that the whole question of affiliation should be considered, not merely with reference to the wishes of a particular locality, but in the interests of university education throughout the country.