Salient. Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 5. Monday, April 29, 1963
Sir,—I agree with the writer of the article "English Colleges Differ" that England's "other" Universities are in some ways far from ideal institutions. My dissatisfaction with the "redbrlcks," however, is grounded on different criticisms than those your correspondent makes. The chief objects of my dislike are the rigid and very highly specialised degree structures generally characteristic of them, and their tendency to breed "attache-case students" who march in through the University doors a few minutes before their lectures, and straight out again afterwards, and who take away from University nothing save a scrap of parchment with some letters on it, and the minimum of "crammed" information necessary to earn it.
Your readers should, however, know that these shortcomings of the older civic Universities have not gone unnoticed in England itself; indeed, the determination to avoid repeating them is precisely what informs the philosophy of the several new institutions—the "fibre-glass" Universities, as they are coming to be called, no doubt from their distinctive architectural appearance—which are intended to provide a large part of the rapid increase in the number of University places foreseen for the coming decades. The "fibre-glass" Universities have or will have in common much more flexible and broadly-based first degree structures—in this resembling New Zealand Universities—and will attempt, by such measures as providing for the residence in University Halls of a far larger percentage of the student population than is usual in the newer Universities, to ensure that their students enjoy a richer and more varied experience of University life than the attache-case student.
I would therefore argue that your contributor is wrong in asserting that "there are two kinds of universities in England." There are at least three: Oxbridge, "redbrick" and "fibre-glass." I would myself prefer to say four, for London has, in my view, to be considered in a class of its own, by virtue of its unique and highly complicated administrative structure, the standing of its degrees, and not least, its sheer size.
Your contributor should note that two of his list of "redbricks" are in fact "fibre-glass" universities—Keele and Sussex—and that another. King's Newcastle, is not strictly a University at all, but a geographically-separate College of Durham University (though this is likely to change in the near future).
I will comment on only two of the criticisms your contributor offers. First, his assertion that "The students are conservative, not just politically though that goes almost without saying . . ." is difficult to reconcile with my vivid recollection of the passionate demonstrations and protests of redbrick students—and staff—against the conservative Government at the time of the Suez operation in 1956.
Secondly, your contributor's implied view that the reputation of Oxbridge, as compared with that of redbrick universities, stands higher today than ever before, is, I think, plainly wrong: there has been a marked narrowing of the gap in public esteem during the post-war years. Not least eloquent testimony to this is the growing tendency for even the ablest school-leavers to make a "redbrick" or, more recently, "fibre-glass" university their first choice, rather than Oxford or Cambridge.
In any event, the rapid growth in the number of well-qualified school-leavers seeking entrance to a university, combined with the fact that Oxford and Cambridge have made clear that they do not intend to expand their student intakes at all substantially, implies that many more able students will have to accept places in universities other than Oxford or Cambridge, whether they want to or not. As these students graduate and move out into the world, the reputation of redbrick (and fibre-glass) degrees seems certain to rise further.
J. D. Gould.