The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XIV. Education

§ 40. The new universities

The growth of “university colleges” (under this or some similar name), which was remarkable during the period 1872–84, was the result of the development of physical science, of a better appreciation of the dependence of industry upon science and a more widely extended faith in the power conferred by knowledge and intellectual cultivation, added to a growing sense of our national deficiencies in these respects. In some places, these currents of opinion were strengthened or liberalised by “university extension,” the movement in favour of which was due, in the first place, to the desire, already described, of making teaching a profession for women. In 1872, James Stuart was invited to give lectures to women on the art of teaching. He preferred, however, to deliver a course on astronomy, which he repeated in several of the great northern cities. These lectures proved the existence of a demand for teaching which Cambridge met in the following year by inaugurating the plan of extra-mural lecturing and tuition, a plan adopted by the London society (instituted in 1876) and by Oxford in 1878. The development of all these new centres of intellectual life led, in due course, to the creation of new universities, none of which is confined to the study of science, applied or pure, while some have already made notable contributions to the advancement of letters in many directions.

Owens college, founded so far back as 1851 in response to demands very like those which had led to the creation of the university of London, was the earliest of the university colleges outside the capital to seek academical independence. In 1880, a royal charter was granted to Victoria university with its seat in Manchester, and Owens college was, at first, its only college. In 1884, it was joined by University college, Liverpool, and, in 1887, by the Yorkshire college, Leeds, as constituted colleges of the university. A university charter having been granted to Mason’s college, Birmingham, in 1900, the three colleges of Victoria university were by fresh charters created the Victoria university of Manchester (1903), the university of Liverpool (1903) and that of Leeds (1904) respectively. The university of Sheffield was founded in 1905, and that of Bristol in 1909. University college, Dundee, had been affiliated to the university of St. Andrews in 1897; and the Irish university system had been remodelled in 1880 and 1908–9.

The University of London act of 1898 led to the restoration of its teaching function and the possibility of unifying the higher education of the metropolis. It is worth remarking that, of the eleven universities now existing south of Tweed, nine were founded later than the reign of George IV. “I wish we had several more universities,” said Seeley, “our material progress has outrun our intellectual.” The worship of material success and the indifference to “ideas” with which Mill, Arnold, Pattison, Seeley and others charged the English middle class are, perhaps, not much less prevalent to-day than they were fifty years ago; but the agents for overcoming them and the reasons why they should be overcome have, in the interval, been greatly multiplied.