How an £80,000 gift was the seed of Teesside University
IT was described as the greatest gift ever to the town of Middlesbrough. An £80,000 donation by the family of Joseph Constantine towards the building of a new technical college provided the impetus needed to get the project off the ground.
From that donation - a fortune in its day - came Constantine College, which evolved into Teesside Polytechnic and then Teesside University, which in 2009 was declared University of the Year by the Times Higher Education magazine.
THE grand Royal opening of Constantine College took place almost 80 years ago today, while Britain was gripped by an economic recession that was to last almost up to the start of the SecondWorld War.
However, the foundations for the college were laid before the First World War.
Then, like today, leading industrialists and other public figures saw Teesside’s potential being held back by a skills deficit among the region’s workforce.
Educational inspectors said the first step should be a technical school and a site on Borough Road in the town was identified. But the necessary funding could not be provided because of the economic pressures caused by the First World War.
However the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 merely served to emphasise the need as Teesside’s industry strained to meet the insatiable appetite of a war economy.
The defining moment came at a meeting of the Cleveland Institution of Engineers on June 5, 1916, when local shipowner, Joseph Constantine, offered £40,000, a fortune in those days, to help build a technical college.
Joseph Constantine understood more than most the need for a workforce educated to good technical standards.
He was also committed to maintaining Teesside’s national prominence as an industrial powerhouse. And so the town, so vividly described by Gladstone as ‘an infant Hercules’ in the late 19th century, gained one of its most generous supporters.
Following the astonishing offer, a provisional governing committee was formed, and a further £33,700 was raised for the college equipment.
By October 1922 plans were being laid to develop and co-ordinate the college’s education programme and the embryonic college was quickly taking shape. The founding fathers said their aim was “The encouragement and advancement of technical knowledge and research in metallurgy, engineering, chemistry and such other branches of the pure and applied sciences as may be necessary”.
But by 1924, the college still had not been built, largely due to massive post-war inflation. Once again the Constantine family, through Mrs Constantine and Mr William Constantine senior, came to the rescue and offered to double the original gift of £40,000 to £80,000.
The construction of the college finally began in 1927 and was completed in the autumn of 1929, when the first students arrived through the door.
There was no fanfare of trumpets, no fuss - as the local press reported “there will be no speeches, no ceremony of any kind, to mark the event”.
That was put right, however, when the College was officially opened on July 2, 1930, by the then Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII, when he visited Middlesbrough.
He clearly understood the need for the college because during a dinner held in his honour at the Town Hall he noted Middlesbrough’s enviable position in industry and stressed that up-to-date and modern technical instruction was essential if the town was to continue growing and thriving.
The Prince said: “I don’t doubt for one moment that the college will play a great part in the future development of the great industries on which the prosperity of Middlesbrough and this district depends”.
The generous contribution of the Constantine family was also acknowledged. During speeches given by the Mayor and town clerk, the £80,000 donation from the family was described as the greatest gift ever made to the town of Middlesbrough.
And so was born the ancestor to today’s Teesside University. Who could have imagined back then the campus would be transformed from that one building on Borough Road, which still stands proudly today, to the modern bustling campus of over 28,000 full- and part-time students today.
But, as academics like to point out, history has a tendency to repeat itself. Today Middlesbrough and its surrounding districts find themselves in the middle of another recession, which among other things has dealt a possibly fatal blow to steelmaking with the mothballing of the giant Redcar blast furnace.
Once again, many are saying that skills shortages could hold Teesside back from seizing the opportunity in a future economic prosperity when the upturn comes.
That’s why, despite the cutbacks to government funding of higher education, Teesside University intends to keep alive the spirit of Joseph Constantine and is pressing on with its vital role of providing people in this region, and beyond, with access to opportunities to gain new skills, knowledge and expertise.
And the university is seeking private philanthropic support for this by launching an appeal to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the official opening of Constantine College to encourage alumni, friends and stakeholders to make private donations to the university. Under a government-backed initiative to encourage donations to universities, the Higher Education Funding Council for England will match every £1 donated with a further £1 for monies donated before the end of July 2011.
It may have started with a gift, laying such firm foundations for Constantine College. And 80 years after opening there were celebrations again with the institution being named the Times Higher Education University of the Year. It’s a success story that Teesside University is determined to build on in the years to come.