University of Birmingham

University of Birmingham
MottoPer Ardua ad Alta (Latin)
Motto in English
"Through efforts to heights"[1]
Established1900 – gained University Status by Royal Charter
1898 – Mason University College
1875 – Mason Science College[2][3]
1843 – Queen's College
1836 – Birmingham Royal School of Medicine and Surgery
1825 – Birmingham School of Medicine and Surgery
Endowment£120.3 million (as of 31 July 2018)[4]
Budget£673.8 million (2017-18)[4]
ChancellorLord Bilimoria[5]
Vice-ChancellorSir David Eastwood
VisitorThe Lord President of the Council ex officio
Students34,835 (2016/17)[6]
Undergraduates22,440 (2016/17)[6]
Postgraduates12,395 (2016/17)[6]
Location, ,
United Kingdom

52°27′2″N 1°55′50″W / 52°27′2″N 1°55′50″W / 52.45056; -1.93056
CampusUrban, Suburban
ColoursThe University
AffiliationsUniversitas 21
Universities UK
Sutton 13
Birmingham logo.svg

The University of Birmingham (informally Birmingham University)[7][8] is a public research university located in Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom. It received its royal charter in 1900 as a successor to Queen's College, Birmingham (founded in 1825 as the Birmingham School of Medicine and Surgery) and Mason Science College (established in 1875 by Sir Josiah Mason), making it the first English civic or 'red brick' university to receive its own royal charter.[2][9] It is a founding member of both the Russell Group of British research universities and the international network of research universities, Universitas 21.

The university was ranked 14th in the UK and 79th in the world in the QS World University Rankings for 2019.[10] In 2013, Birmingham was named 'University of the Year 2014' in the Times Higher Education awards.[11] The 2017 Global Employability University Ranking places Birmingham at 142nd worldwide and 10th in the UK.[12] Birmingham is also ranked 5th in the UK for Graduate Prospects in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018.[13]

The student population includes 22,440 undergraduate and 12,395 postgraduate students, which is the fourth largest in the UK (out of 167). The annual income of the institution for 2017–18 was £673.8 million of which £134.2 million was from research grants and contracts, with an expenditure of £663.2 million.[4]

The university is home to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, housing works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet; the Shakespeare Institute; the Cadbury Research Library, home to the Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts; the Lapworth Museum of Geology; and the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower, which is a prominent landmark visible from many parts of the city.[14] Academics and alumni of the university include former British Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin,[15] the British composer Sir Edward Elgar and eleven Nobel laureates.[16]


Queen's College

A view across Chancellor's Court, towards the Law building

Although the earliest beginnings of the university were previously traced back to the Queen's College which is linked to William Sands Cox in his aim of creating a medical school along strictly Christian lines, unlike the London medical schools, further research has now revealed the roots of the Birmingham Medical School in the medical education seminars of Mr John Tomlinson, the first surgeon to the Birmingham Workhouse Infirmary, and later to the General Hospital. These classes were the first ever held outside London or south of the Scottish border in the winter of 1767–68. The first clinical teaching was undertaken by medical and surgical apprentices at the General Hospital, opened in 1779.[17] The medical school which grew out of the Birmingham Workhouse Infirmary was founded in 1828 but Cox began teaching in December 1825. Queen Victoria granted her patronage to the Clinical Hospital in Birmingham and allowed it to be styled "The Queen's Hospital". It was the first provincial teaching hospital in England. In 1843, the medical college became known as Queen's College.[18]

Mason Science College

Ceiling of the Aston Webb building

In 1870, Sir Josiah Mason, the Birmingham industrialist and philanthropist, who made his fortune in making key rings, pens, pen nibs and electroplating, drew up the Foundation Deed for Mason Science College.[3] The college was founded in 1875.[2] It was this institution that would eventually form the nucleus of the University of Birmingham. In 1882, the Departments of Chemistry, Botany and Physiology were transferred to Mason Science College, soon followed by the Departments of Physics and Comparative Anatomy. The transfer of the Medical School to Mason Science College gave considerable impetus to the growing importance of that college and in 1896 a move to incorporate it as a university college was made. As the result of the Mason University College Act 1897 it became incorporated as Mason University College on 1 January 1898, with Joseph Chamberlain becoming the President of its Court of Governors.

Royal charter

It was largely due to Chamberlain's enthusiasm that the university was granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria on 24 March 1900.[19] The Calthorpe family offered twenty-five acres (10 hectares) of land on the Bournbrook side of their estate in July. The Court of Governors received the Birmingham University Act 1900, which put the royal charter into effect on 31 May. Birmingham was therefore arguably the first so-called red brick university, although several other universities claim this title.

The transfer of Mason University College to the new University of Birmingham, with Chamberlain as its first chancellor and Sir Oliver Lodge as the first principal, was complete. All that remained of Josiah Mason's legacy was his Mermaid in the sinister chief of the university shield and of his college, the double-headed lion in the dexter.[20] It became the first civic and campus university in England.[citation needed]

The University Charter of 1900 also included provision for a commerce faculty, as was appropriate for a university itself founded by industrialists and based in a city with enormous business wealth, in effect creating the first Business School in England.[citation needed] Consequently, the faculty, the first of its kind in Britain, was founded by Sir William Ashley in 1901, who from 1902 until 1923 served as first Professor of Commerce and Dean of the Faculty.

From 1905 to 1908, Edward Elgar held the position of Peyton Professor of Music at the university. He was succeeded by his friend Granville Bantock.[21]

The university's own heritage archives are accessible for research through the university's Cadbury Research Library which is open to all interested researchers.[22]

The Great Hall in the Aston Webb Building was converted into the 1st Southern General Hospital during World War I, with 520 beds and treated 125,000 injured servicemen.[23]


In 1939, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, designed by Robert Atkinson, was opened. In 1956, the first MSc programme in Geotechnical Engineering commenced under the title of "Foundation Engineering", and has been run annually at the university since. It was the first geotechnical post-graduate school in England.[citation needed]

The UK's longest-running MSc programme in Physics and Technology of Nuclear Reactors also started at the university in 1956, the same year that the world's first commercial nuclear power station was opened at Calder Hall in Cumbria.

In 1957, Sir Hugh Casson and Neville Conder were asked by the university to prepare a masterplan on the site of the original 1900 buildings which were incomplete. The university drafted in other architects to amend the masterplan produced by the group. During the 1960s, the university constructed numerous large buildings, expanding the campus.[24] In 1963, the university helped in the establishment of the faculty of medicine at the University of Rhodesia, now the University of Zimbabwe (UZ). UZ is now independent but both institutions maintain relations through student exchange programmes.

Birmingham also supported the creation of Keele University (formerly University College of North Staffordshire) and the University of Warwick under the Vice-Chancellorship of Sir Robert Aitken who acted as 'godfather' to the University of Warwick.[25] The initial plan was to establish a satellite university college in Coventry but Aitken advised an independent initiative to the University Grants Committee.[26]

Malcolm X, the Afro-American human rights activist, addressed the University Debating Society in 1965.[23]

Scientific discoveries and inventions

Friezes on the Aston Webb building

The university has been involved in many scientific breakthroughs and inventions. From 1925 until 1948, Sir Norman Haworth was Professor and Director of the Department of Chemistry. He was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Science and acted as Vice-Principal from 1947 until 1948. His research focused predominantly on carbohydrate chemistry in which he confirmed a number of structures of optically active sugars. By 1928, he had deduced and confirmed the structures of maltose, cellobiose, lactose, gentiobiose, melibiose, gentianose, raffinose, as well as the glucoside ring tautomeric structure of aldose sugars. His research helped to define the basic features of the starch, cellulose, glycogen, inulin and xylan molecules. He also contributed towards solving the problems with bacterial polysaccharides. He was a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1937.[27]

The cavity magnetron was developed in the Department of Physics by Sir John Randall, Harry Boot and James Sayers. This was vital to the Allied victory in World War II. In 1940, the Frisch–Peierls memorandum, a document which demonstrated that the atomic bomb was more than simply theoretically possible, was written in the Physics Department by Sir Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch. The university also hosted early work on gaseous diffusion in the Chemistry department when it was located in the Hills building. Many windows in the Aston Webb building overlooking the former fume cupboards were opaque from being attacked by hydrofluoric acid well into recent years.[citation needed]

Poynting physics building

Physicist Sir Mark Oliphant made a proposal for the construction of a proton-synchrotron in 1943, however he made no assertion that the machine would work. In 1945, phase stability was discovered; consequently, the proposal was revived, and construction of a machine that could surpass 1GeV began at the university. However, because of lack of funds, the machine did not start until 1953. The Brookhaven National Laboratory managed to beat them; they started their Cosmotron in 1952, and get it entirely working in 1953, before the University of Birmingham.[28]

In 1947, Sir Peter Medawar was appointed Mason Professor of Zoology at the university. His work involved investigating the phenomenon of tolerance and transplantation immunity. He collaborated with Rupert E. Billingham and they did research on problems of pigmentation and skin grafting in cattle. They used skin grafting to differentiate between monozygotic and dizygotic twins in cattle. Taking the earlier research of R. D. Owen into consideration, they concluded that actively acquired tolerance of homografts could be artificially reproduced. For this research, Medawar was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He left Birmingham in 1951 and joined the faculty at University College London, where he continued his research on transplantation immunity. He was a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1960.[29]

Recent history

In 1999 talks commenced on the possibility of Aston University integrating itself into the University of Birmingham as the University of Birmingham, Aston Campus. This would have resulted in the University of Birmingham expanding to become one of the largest universities in the UK, with a student body of 30,000. Talks were halted in 2001 after Aston University determined the timing to be inopportune. While Aston University management was in favour of the integration, and reception among staff was generally positive, the Aston student union voted two-to-one against the integration. Despite this set back, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham said the door remained open to recommence talks when Aston University is ready.[30]

The Great Hall, where the final round of the first ever prime ministerial debate was held

The final round of the first ever televised leaders' debates, hosted by the BBC, was held at the university during the 2010 British general election campaign on 29 April 2010.[31][32] It also acted as a training camp for the Jamaican track and field team prior to the 2012 London Olympics.[33]

On 9 August 2010 the university announced that for the first time it would not enter the UCAS clearing process for 2010 admission, which matches under-subscribed courses to students who did not meet their firm or insurance choices, due to all places being taken. Largely a result of the Financial crisis of 2007–2010, Birmingham joined fellow Russell Group universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Bristol in not offering any clearing places.[34]

A new library was opened for the 2016/17 academic year, and a new sports centre opened in May 2017.[35] The previous Main Library and the old Munrow Sports Centre have both since been demolished, with the demolition of the old library being completed in November 2017.[36]


Statues of the University of Birmingham (Beethoven, Virgil, Michelangelo, Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Watt, Faraday, and Darwin)

The discipline of cultural studies was founded at the university and between 1964 and 2002 the campus was home to the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, a research centre whose members' work came to be known as the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. Despite being established by one of the figures in the field, Richard Hoggart, and being later directed by the theorist Stuart Hall, the department was controversially closed down.[37]

Analysis showed that the university was fourth in a list of British universities that faced the most Employment Tribunal claims between 2008 and 2011. They were the second most likely to settle these before the hearing date.[38]

In 2011 a Parliamentary Early Day Motion was proposed arguing against the Guild suspending the elected Sabbatical Vice President (Education), who was arrested while taking part in protest activity.[39]

In December 2011 it was announced that the university had obtained a 12-month-long injunction[40] against a group of around 25 students, who occupied a residential building on campus from 23 to 26 November 2011, preventing them from engaging in further "occupational protest action" on the university's grounds without prior permission. It was misreported in the press that this injunction applied to all students, however the court order defines the defendants as:

Persons unknown (including students of the University of Birmingham) entering or remaining upon the buildings known as No. 2 Lodge Pritchatts Road, Birmingham at the University of Birmingham for the purpose of protest action (without the consent of the University of Birmingham) [41]

The university and the Guild of Students also clarified the scope of the injunction in an e-mail sent to all students on 11 January 2012, stating "The injunction applies only to those individuals who occupied the lodge".[42] The university said that it sought this injunction as a safety precaution based on a previous occupation.[43] Three separate human rights groups, including Amnesty International, condemned the move as restrictive on human rights.[44]

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: Birminhem Universiteti
Bahasa Indonesia: Universitas Birmingham
Simple English: University of Birmingham
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Univerzitet u Birminghamu
ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche: بىرمىنگام ئۇنىۋېرستېتى