Issue date: 20 June 2002

“The new university sector in the UK 1992 –2002: whatever happened to the polytechnics?” by Professor Sir David Watson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton

Historian and university Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir David Watson will pose the question ‘Whatever did happen to the polytechnics?’ at the annual Bolland Lecture on Tuesday 25 June at the Glendinning Lecture Theatre, Frenchay Campus, University of the West of England.

Towards the end of the first decade of the so-called ‘new new’ universities, created by the Further and Higher Education Act of 1992, David Watson examines their origins, performance and significance. Going back to the creation of a ‘binary’ policy for UK higher education after the Robbins report, he analyses the highlights of the history of the ‘public sector’ of higher education and the Council for National Academic Awards before their demise in the Education Reform Act of1998.

Challenging John Pratt’s view of the university title as ‘an expensive vanity’ the bulk of his lecture is about how the new sector has performed in terms of its historical mission and meeting new challenges. He counters arguments about ‘academic drift’ and the re-emergence of a binary divide based upon resources. He concludes with key questions facing the sector as it enters the twenty-first century: on the meaning of diversity, the impact of funding systems, the prospects for genuine life-long learning; and the leadership and governance of the new universities.

Professor Watson said, “The Polytechnics performed a very special trick: of bringing the values associated with subjects and disciplines together with those associated with professions and vocation. Turning the polytechnics into universities represented a huge bet. This bet was against ‘academic drift’ of the type that accompanied the Robbins reforms, and has been amply rewarded.”

Enquiries: e-mail or telephone 0117 344 2770


Editor’s notes

The Bolland Lecture was established in 1976 as an annual event to commemorate Dr Robert Bolland who held the post of Director from the formation of Bristol Polytechnic in 1969 until his death in 1974.

Professor Sir David Watson is an historian, and has been Vice Chancellor of the University of Brighton since 1990. His academic interests are in the history of ideas and in higher education policy. His most recent books are ‘Lifelong learning and the university (1998), ‘Managing Strategy’ (2000) and ‘New Directions in Professional Higher Education’ (2000).

David Watson was a member of the CNAA, the PCFC, the HEFCE, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s National Commission on Education and the Dearing Committee of Inquiry into higher education. He has been a member of the HEFCE Learning and Teaching Committee since 1998. He was chair of the Universities Association for Continuing Education (UACE) between 1994 and 1998, and currently chairs the Steering Committee for the ERSC’s research programme into teaching and learning as well as UUK’s Longer Term Strategy Group. He was knighted in 1998 for services to higher education.

Back to top