The first decade as a unversity
From the Privy Council’s formal announcement approving Teesside Polytechnic becoming the University of Teesside on June 16, 1992 to building a campus fit for the 21st century, it was amazing how much progress was made in the first ten years of university status.
THE mood of the moment was caught when pro-vice-chancellor, Dr Oliver Coulthard, stood up and declared to staff and students assembled on that crisp June day in 1992 that Teesside Polytechnic had been a university in all but name for a number of years.
With balloons being released from King Edward’s Square to carry the news to all parts of North-east England, Dr Coulthard said: “But it’s important that we are recognised for the quality of our work - and changing our name to a university is important. It will help the public’s perception of what we are and what we have achieved.”
He likened the change to a football team being elevated to the Premier League - adding that having a university in the centre of the town would lift spirits, boost confidence and help transform perceptions of Middlesbrough to the outside world.
Coinciding with the Privy Council Office announcement, Dr Michael Longfield, formerly director of Teesside Polytechnic, became the first vice-chancellor of the new university for a few months before his retirement and succession by Professor Derek Fraser.
The most obvious immediate sign of change was repainting the name Teesside Polytechnic with University of Teesside on the top of the ten-storey Middlesbrough Tower - and the 700 tickets for the first formal university ball in the Town Hall being snapped up within hours of going on sale as staff and students took part in the polytechnic’s “last waltz”.
The whirlwind first few months came to a climax with the installation of European commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, as the University’s first chancellor, on April 30, 1993. Teesside’s own regiment, The Green Howards, provided the stirring fanfare at the ceremony and the guard of honour.
Proof, if it was needed, that becoming a university can change perceptions came in the first year when Teesside saw a 39.4% rise in applications to study at the new university.
When the chapter closed on the polytechnic, Teesside had 7,898 students and Dr Longfield, who served as Director of Teesside Polytechnic from 1979 to 1992, declared: “We have achieved much more than many thought possible”.
The new vice-chancellor, Professor Fraser, was quick to set the scene for expansion from his first days at the helm as the 1992-93 began.
In a message that could have been written today, he said: “I want the university to play a strong and proactive role - one that demonstrates commitment to the regeneration of the North-east and widens opportunities for the people of the Teesside area”.
He said he wanted to create what he called “The Opportunity University” and he ensured that Teesside was one of the leading universities in putting widening participation and attracting young and mature students from working-class backgrounds at the heart of its mission.
Today having a commitment to social inclusion is commonplace among most UK institutions of higher education, but back in 1992 Teesside’s wish to “spearhead moves away from an elitist system of higher education” was quite revolutionary in university circles - and had something of an echo of those early pioneering days of Constantine College.
Professor Fraser stated: “The guiding principles of our mission should be Opportunity, Quality and Vocationalism. The change of name should in no way imply that we have abandoned our commitment to access and opening up higher education opportunities to all sections of the community.”
One of the most significant developments for the young university came in April 1995 when the Durham and Teesside College of Health was incorporated into the university and 147 new staff and over 650 full-time students became members of the university community for the first time.
Paul Keane, the college’s then chief executive, became an associate dean and went on to set up and lead the successful School of Health & Social Care which this year topped 10,000 students.
The merger with the College of Health gave a very strong signal that Teesside would return, in part, to the mission of the early pioneers of Constantine College and provide greater opportunities for those in work and to those wishing to study part time.
Today, for example, three-quarters of health students are studying part-time, up-skilling while working in the health sector.
Part-time student numbers were just 2,720 in 1994. Ten years later they were 10,625 – easily topping the 8,603 studying full-time.
Throughout the 1990s and into this century, Teesside gained national and international recognition for its work in widening access and attracting young students from neighbourhoods where few go on to university education.
And one of the more novel approaches was the launch of the Meteor Programme, an award-winning pioneering scheme which set out to show local primary school age children that further and higher education was within their grasp.
Teesside also became the first modern university to gain the “Excellent” teaching grading for computing in 1994 and has continued to be recognised as one of Britain’s leading higher education institutions in fields such as computer games and computer animation ever since.
And it played an important role with the University of Durham in laying the foundations for a new university college at Thornaby.
Over the early university years, its students and staff won many awards, including three National Teaching Fellowships worth £50,000 each. Its research team in the history department were also cock-a-hoop when they achieved an Excellent Grade 5 in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise.
Students returning to the campus, who had last known it during its Polytechnic and Constantine College days, expressed amazement at the transformation that had taken place in its first ten years as a university. One who watched the developments at close hand was John McDougall, a chartered engineer who went on to become deputy chairman of the university governors in this period.
He graduated with an HND in Design Engineering in 1972, after leaving school at 16 to become an engineering apprentice, and went on to become managing director of the Northern business of W S Atkins and National President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
He summed up the feelings of many, saying: “Since my days as a student the place has grown enormously. But what I am really proud about is that the philosophy hasn’t changed. As a university, Teesside still believes in giving opportunities to people like me to reach our full potential.”
“I believe we can look back with pride on our achievements over those first ten years as a university. We saw extraordinary changes, going from just under 8,000 students in 1992 to around 18,000 by the time I retired as Vice-Chancellor in 2003. The campus was transformed and became almost unrecognisable from its polytechnic days, and I thank everyone who was involved in supporting us through that decade of change.
“I’m pleased that in this anniversary year we are not forgetting our origins. We must never forget the contribution made by Joseph Constantine and his family in creating Constantine College in 1930. That college, now Teesside University, was the genesis of higher education on Teesside, and generations of students are in the debt of the Constantine family for their pioneering work.”
- Professor Derek Fraser, Vice-Chancellor, Autumn 1992 – 2003
SOME of the other highlights of Teesside’s first decade as a university included a number of major investments, such as:
Rejuvenation of the campus by opening showpiece new buildings such as the £11m Learning Resource Centre and the £10m Innovation and Virtual Reality Centre
Developing new halls of residence, costing £5m, overlooking Albert Park and on Woodlands Road, both just a few minutes walk from the university lecture theatres and laboratories
Opening the £1.5m state-of-the-art Open Learning Technology Centre, complete with a modern 300-seater lecture theatre. The project was funded by the European Union, hence its change of name to the Europa Building.
Spending £6m to improve the Clarendon Building to create new homes for both the School of Social Sciences & Law and the Business School
Creating the £8m Centuria Building for the rapidly growing School of Health & Social Care, which is by far the largest academic school within the university. Part of the building replicates hospital settings and creates an ideal learning environment. It will be joined by an extension in the autumn of 2010 when Centuria South opens its doors in a few months time.