Despite belonging to one of the oldest cities in England and its renown as a prestige university, York University is only 40 years old. Its history does, however, go back somewhat further. Plans for the founding of a university in the City of York can be traced back to the C17th, when, in 1641, the first of many petitions to Parliament was drawn up, stating:

As wee the inhabitants of the Northerne parts of the Kingdome (..) have beene looked upon as rude & almost barbarous people (..) it will be a speciall meanes of washing from us the staine of Rudeness, & Incivility.

That particular petition failed due to its unfortunate timing, coinciding with the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1647 the city fathers drafted a new petition which was rejected, though debate continued intermittently for two centuries. When the University of Durham was founded in 1832, York felt it might never achieve its aims. Several more applications were made and many illustrious names, for instance the Archbishop of York, are connected with the fight for the right to found a university in the city. Finally, in 1960, permission was granted and in 1963 the University of York opened its doors to 200 students of Economics, Education, English, History, Mathematics and Politics.

Academic and research credentials

The University of York ranks among the top ten English universities along with Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, LSE, Durham etc. (according to The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the Research Assessment Exercise annual reports over the past several years). The university aspired to imitate England's finest seats of learning, perhaps in a bid to make up for its youth by clinging to tradition, and to this end York University's first Vice-Chancellor insisted that teaching be done through the seminar and tutorial method for which Oxbridge was famous. And so it continues today. Research has always been top of the list, too, and the university has received many accolades in various fields. The latest award was won by a team of five Biology graduates who created an environmentally friendly product for bird shit removal. Such achievements are undoubtedly helped by the numerous 'partnerships' and 'sponsors' the university has set up, particularly in the university's Science Park. Opened in 1991, it houses university-run research laboratories alongside new and established names in the latest fields and technologies. For instance, the Biocentre is home to, among others, Smith and Nephew, while the Innovation Centre hosts the Strategic Health Authority and a wealth of new media companies.

The campus

The University of York is a campus university, with almost all of its academic departments, residences and teaching facilities situated within the confines of the Heslington campus. Heslington Hall is the administrative hub of the university. Originally the country seat of local gentry, the house was bought by John Bowes Morrell, a local councillor and Lord Mayor of York, in the 1950s. Morrell had intended to turn the house and extensive grounds into a 'folk park' but when plans for a university in York were revived, he conceded his folk park to a better cause. The university library is named after him in recognition of this generous act.

The campus is about a mile outside of the city walls. You can't help but notice the army barracks and police headquarters which back onto the city side of the campus. Forward thinking by suspicious town planners, I wonder? The main campus is built around a large, man-made lake which hosts a bird sanctuary. This means that it is rather overrun with ducks and geese. Although at times it's a nightmare to pick your way through the poo, it's also very sweet in Spring to see a host of tiny fluffy things making their first attempts to fly. The campus borders the old village of Heslington, an old-fashioned village with cosy pubs and well-kept gardens. I feel rather sorry for the locals, but in return for drunken singing at kicking-out time they do get the associated revenue. The university owns a few properties in the city itself, the archaelogy department, for example, has its base at the medieval King's Manor site.

It's a nice, tranquil place during the day and holidays, when most students are, I'm told, either sleeping or doing their washing at their parents' house. You can sit under a willow tree and watch the ducks or laugh at people falling off their bike on the dedicated cycle paths which link into the city's own cycle network. There are manicured lawns, flowerbeds, fountains and even the odd sculpture, my favourite being a carved tree called The Five Continents by W. B. Hodgson. (I took some photos, you can see them here.) The Quiet Place, a quaint building off the beaten track, offers guidance in relaxation and meditation as well as providing somewhere to go and sit and read, away from the hustle and bustle of campus central.

The Market Square provides a student's daily necessities. An outrageously expensive supermarket for booze and frozen pizza, Blackwell's bookshop for, er, coursebooks, a student travel agents for cheap flights to the Costa del Sol and a newsagent for fags, (subsidised copies of) The Guardian and Lottery Instants. This is the centre of the dodgy sixties architecture which unfortunately dominates the centre of the campus. Thankfully, the lesson has been learnt and recent additions are trendy light brick affairs with metal railings and not a scrap of concrete to be seen.

A plethora of new buildings, to house new disciplines and supported by new sponsorships, have sprung up in the past academic year and this growth appears likely to continue as plans for a major extension to the campus roll slowly forward through the quagmire of red tape.

The colleges

At its inception, the University of York had grand designs, choosing again to model itself on the great English universities of Oxford and Cambridge by implementing the college system, whereby each academic department is linked to a residential counterpart. There, though, the similarity ends, as the university's colleges do not have financial or academic independence, nor is there any status to be gained by belonging to one college or another. Most colleges have a central hub, offering departmental offices, teaching rooms, social and catering facilities. The names of the colleges reflect the university's desire to maintain strong links wth the community around it, by choosing names of local dignitaries and nearby places. Today there are eight colleges.

Alcuin Named after Alcuin of York, a scholar and later headteacher at the Cathedral School in York in the C8th. Most famous for establishing the Carolingian miniscule hand, which is the ancestor of the modern typeface. The college was built in the late sixties and is linked to the Economics and Health Sciences departments.

Derwent Named after the nearby River Derwent, it was one of the first colleges to be built on the campus, opening its doors in 1965. Home to the Politics and Philosophy departments.

Goodricke Named after the C18th York astronomer, John Goodricke, who contributed to the discovery of the binary nature of the star Algol and became a Fellow of the Royal Society aged 21. Goodricke College was completed in 1968 and is home to the Students' Union.

Halifax A tribute to Lord Halifax, who owned great swathes of land in the Fulford and Heslington area, upon which much of the university stands. One of the newer colleges, and the largest, it is set slightly apart from the rest of the campus. It has the feel of a small housing estate with its own shopping area, take aways and low rise buildings. It houses not only undergrads and postgrads but also families in specially designed accommodation.

James Named after the first Vice-Chancellor of the university, Lord James of Rusholme. Home to the Engineering and Physics departments. Renowned on campus for making up for the lack of their own bar by having parties in the college quads.

Langwith Named after Langwith Common, an expanse of marshland beyond the nearby village of Heslington. Another of the the first colleges to be built, it is home to the English and Education departments. The college's motto, Vincit Qui Se Vincit, has been translated in the college's handbook as "Self control: a quality for which Langwithians are famous all over the civilised world and in some parts of Yorkshire." *rolls eyes*

Vanbrugh Named after Sir John Vanbrugh , the C17th architect of Castle Howard, to be found just outside York. This college houses the History and Mathematics departments.

Wentworth Named after Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford who was the last President of the Council of the North, which used to govern from the King's Manor in York. The college was founded in 1972 but the residential areas have recently been rebuilt. The college houses postgraduates only in its residential blocks and is the headquarters of the Sociology department.

Being a student at York featuring Blatantly Subjective Drivel

Like all major universities today, York has a well organised welfare infrastructure, more student societies than seems feasible, social events which would make your eyes water (at least to "mature" students like me) and extensive sports facilities.

Its athletic prowess is measured annually against the University of Lancaster in The Roses, named after The War of the Roses where the Houses of Lancaster and York vied for the throne of England. The Roses is a competition covering all manner of sports and activities. Like the Olympics, every year several new events are deemed eligible for the 3-day sporting extravaganza. This year (2003) the new additions included korfball and paintball but so far downing vast quantities of alcohol, projectile vomiting and streaking have eluded their much sought after official status, even though I suspect such activities are considerably more representative of the original War of the Roses.

Not having had the dubious pleasure of attending a campus university for my undergraduate degree, I have nothing to compare the York campus with. It's about thirty minutes walk from the centre of York and buses leave from the railway station (supposedly every ten minutes but I dispute First's claim) and take about fifteen minutes, traffic permitting. There are plenty of student lets available in the area and therefore no need to endure campus life if you don't wish to. I personally rather like having a five minute walk past trees, over footbridges and under covered walkways to get to my lectures. The hefty 'campus tax' on laundry facilities and on-site shops, however, is not so welcome. Even if you do choose to live on campus, at some point you will need to go into York, which means having to contend with lots of tourists... but then they have to cope with lots of students. Cheesy gift shoppes and tatty tea rooms sit cosily alongside cheap places to eat and tacky student targeted clubs. Fair's fair.

The academic benefits of studying at York are evident from the consistently high ranking it achieves for both teaching and research. It must be remembered, however, that York is committed to research and has strong ties with industry. Such an arrangement is not a comfortable one for everyone. I had no such worries, as my department, though powered by research, in my view A Good Thing, is not restricted by any sponsorship deals. If you are considering studying at York then consult the departmental website to see if their policy sounds right for you.


Famous names to grace the alumni list of the university include Alan Ayckbourn, John Barry, Adam Hart-Davis, John Dankworth, Cleo Laine, TenMinJoe and Clone.
The university's first ever computer, bought in 1967, was an Elliott 4100 which was, shortly after its installation, upgraded to a whopping 12 megabytes.
In the 70s students were asked not to sleep together on campus to prevent the additional wear and tear this caused to bedding.

UoY Student's Union publications
UoY Communications Office publications

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