- University of Birmingham
University of Birmingham
Birmingham has been challenging and developing great minds for more than a century. Characterised by a tradition of innovation, research at the University has broken new ground, pushed forward the boundaries of knowledge and made an impact on people’s lives.
We continue this tradition today and have ambitions for a future that will embed our work and recognition of the Birmingham name on the international stage.
Universities are never complete. They develop as new challenges and opportunities occur. At Birmingham we innovate, we push the frontiers of understanding; we ask new research questions, we turn theory through experiment into practice – because that’s what great universities do.
Figures alone cannot capture the experience of learning and living at the University – neither can they completely communicate the many elements that make Birmingham one of the most popular UK universities. What they can do is provide a useful profile of what take place in this prestigious institution.
This section offers you a quick reference guide to our performance in league tables and in other national and international rankings, demonstrating our commitment to excellence in all that we do.
Schools / Colleges / Departments / Courses / Faculties
College of Arts and Law
- Birmingham Law School
- English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies
- History and Cultures
- Language, Cultures, Art History and Music
- Philosophy, Theology and Religion
College of Medical and Dental Sciences
- Applied Health Research
- Biomedical Science
- Cancer and Genomics
- Cardiovascular Sciences
- Clinical Sciences
- Graduate School
- Immunology and Immunotherapy
- Inflammation and Ageing
- Metabolism and Systems Research
- Microbiology and Infection
College of Life and Environmental Sciences
- Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
- Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences
- Chemical Engineering
- Computer Science
- Metallurgy and Materials
- Physics and Astronomy
College of Social Sciences
- Birmingham Business School
- Government and Society
- Social Policy
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. 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.
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. The college was founded in 1875. 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 collegewas made. As the result of the Mason University College Act 1897 it became incorporated as Mason University College on 1 January 1898, withJoseph Chamberlain becoming the President of its Court of Governors.
It was largely due to Chamberlain’s enthusiasm that the university was granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria on 24 March 1900. TheCalthorpe 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. It became the first civic and campus university in England.
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.[ 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.
The university’s own heritage archives are accessible for research through the university’s Cadbury Research Library which is open to all interested researchers.
The Great Hall in the Aston Webb Building was converted into the 1st Southern General Hospital during World War One, with 520 beds and treated 125,000 injured servicemen.
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.
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. 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. The initial plan was to establish a satellite university college in Coventry but Aitken advised an independent initiative to the University Grants Committee.
Malcolm X, the Afro-American human rights activist, addressed he University Debating Society in 1965.
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.
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.
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.
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 andskin grafting in cattle. They utilized 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.
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. It also acted as a training camp for the Jamaican track and field team prior to the 2012 London Olympics.
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.
In 2012 the university announced plans to build a new sports centre and library.
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