University of York

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University of York Details

  • Country : United Kingdom
  • City : York
  • Acronym : Ebor
  • Founded : 1963
  • Students (approx.) : 17000
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The University of York, is a research-intensive plate glass university located in the city of York, England. Established in 1963, the campus university has expanded to more than thirty departments and centres, covering a wide range of subjects.

In 2012 York joined the Russell Group in recognition of the institution’s world-leading research and outstanding teaching. In the 2014 Research Assessment Exercise, York was also named as the 14th best research institution in the United Kingdom. The university also places among the top 20 in the country, top 50 universities in Europe, and ranked 103rd in the world, according to the 2016 QS World University Rankings. York is described as a “genuinely world class” institution by the Times and Sunday Times. York was the Sunday Times university of the year in 2003 and Times Higher Education university of the year in 2010.

The University attracts a student body with a wide range of backgrounds (with over 41,000 part-time and full-time student applications in 2010/11), including a large number of international students, and a relatively high number of state school students in comparison to other well-ranked universities according to The Times Good University Guide.

Situated to the south-east of the city of York, the university campus is approximately 200 acres (0.81 km2) in size, incorporating the York Science Park and the National Science Learning Centre. Its wildlife, campus lakes and greenery are prominent, and the institution also occupies buildings in the city of York. In May 2007 the university was granted permission to build an extension to its main campus, on arable land just east of the nearby village of Heslington. The second campus, known as Heslington East, opened in 2009 and now hosts three colleges and three departments as well as conference spaces, sports village and a business start-up ‘incubator’.

York is a collegiate university and every student is allocated to one of the university’s nine colleges. The ninth college was founded in 2014 and was named Constantine after the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who was proclaimed Augustus in York in 306 AD. There are plans to build a tenth college in the near future.

Schools / Colleges / Departments / Courses / Faculties

Department of Archaeology

  • Archaeology Data Service
  • BioArCh
  • Centre for Applied Heritage Studies (CAHSt)
  • Centre for Digital Heritage
  • Centre for Medieval Studies
  • Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP)
  • Palaeo

BHF Cardiac Care and Education

Biological Physical Sciences Institute (BPSI)

Department of Biology

  • Biological Physical Sciences Institute (BPSI)
  • Biology Technology Facility
  • The Cancer Research Unit
  • Centre for Immunology and Infection
  • Jack Birch Unit for Molecular Carcinogenesis (JBUMC)
  • Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry (CoEMS)
  • Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP)
  • Palaeo
  • York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA)
  • York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI)

Biorenewals Development Centre (BDC)

Borthwick Institute for Archives

Department of Chemistry

  • Centre of Industry Education Collaboration (CIEC)
  • York Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence (GCCE)
  • York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA)
  • Centre for Hyperpolarisation in Magnetic Resonance (CHyM)
  • Centre for Magnetic Resonance
  • York Centre for Laser Spectroscopy
  • Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry (CoEMS)
  • York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI)
  • York Institute for Materials Research
  • The York JEOL Nanocentre
  • York-Nanjing Joint Research Centre
  • York Neuroimaging Centre (YNiC)
  • Palaeo
  • York Structural Biology Laboratory

Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture (History)

Department of Computer Science

  • York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA)
  • Centre for Digital Heritage
  • Centre for Usable Home Technology
  • York Neuroimaging Centre (YNiC)
  • York Robotics Laboratory

Criminology (SPSW and Sociology)

  • Centre for Urban Research

Centre for Digital Heritage

Department of Economics and Related Studies

  • Centre for Mechanism and Institution Design
  • School of Politics, Economics and Philosophy (PEP)

Department of Education

  • Centre for English Language Teaching (CELT)
  • Centre for Research in Language Learning and Use (CLLR)
  • Centre for Research on Education and Social Justice (CRESJ)
  • Psychology in Education Research Centre (PERC)
  • University of York Science Education Group

Institute for Effective Education (IEE)

Department of Electronics

  • York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA)
  • Centre for Digital Heritage
  • York Institute for Materials Research
  • The York JEOL Nanocentre
  • York-Nanjing Joint Research Centre
  • York Neuroimaging Centre (YNiC)
  • York Robotics Laboratory
  • York Centre for Singing Science (YCSS)
  • Centre for Usable Home Technology

Department of English and Related Literature

  • Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies
  • Centre for Medieval Studies (CMS)
  • Centre for Modern Studies (CModS)
  • Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies (CREMS)
  • Centre for Women’s Studies (CWS)

Centre for English Language Teaching (CELT)

Environment Department

  • Palaeo
  • Stockholm Environment Institute at York (SEI-Y)
  • York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI)

Department of Health Sciences

  • BHF Cardiac Care and Education
  • Epidemiology and Cancer Statistics Group
  • Health Services and Policy Group
  • Mental Health and Addiction (MHARG)
  • Nursing and Midwifery Research
  • Public Health and Society
  • York Trials Unit and Statistics

Department of History

  • Borthwick Institute for Archives
  • Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture
  • Centre for Digital Heritage
  • Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies
  • Centre for Global Health Histories (CGHH)
  • Centre for Historical Economics and Related Research at York (CHERRY)
  • Centre for Medieval Studies (CMS)
  • Centre for Modern Studies (CModS)
  • Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies (CREMS)
  • Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP)
  • Institute of Railway Studies and Transport History
  • York Centre for the Americas

Department of History of Art

  • Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies
  • Centre for Medieval Studies (CMS)
  • Centre for Modern Studies (CModS)
  • Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies (CREMS)
  • Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP)

Hull York Medical School

  • Centre for Immunology and Infection (CII)
  • York Neuroimaging Centre (YNiC)

Department of Language and Linguistic Science

  • Centre for Advanced Studies in Language and Communication
  • Forensic Speech Science
  • Centre for Linguistic History and Diversity
  • Phonetics and Phonology
  • Phonological Development
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Syntax and Semantics
  • Variation and Change

The York Management School

  • York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA)
  • Centre for Evolution of Global Business and Institutions (CEGBI)
  • Centre for Historical Economics and Related Research at York (CHERRY)
  • Centre for the Study of Working Lives
  • Centre for Women’s Studies (CWS)

Department of Mathematics

  • York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA)

Hull York Medical School

  • Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences
  • Centre for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research
  • Centre for Education Development
  • Centre for Health and Population Sciences
  • Centre for Immunology and Infection (CII)
  • Centre for Neuroscience
  • York Neuroimaging Centre (YNiC)

Department of Music

  • Music Research Centre (MRC)

Department of Philosophy

  • Centre for the History of Philosophy (CHiPhi)
  • Centre for Research into Imagination, Creativity and Knowledge (CRICK)
  • School of Politics, Economics and Philosophy (PEP)

Department of Physics

  • Biological Physical Sciences Institute (BPSI)
  • York Institute for Materials Research
  • The York JEOL Nanocentre
  • York-Nanjing Joint Research Centre
  • York Plasma Institute (YPI)

Department of Politics

  • Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR)
  • Morrell Centre for Toleration
  • Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU)
  • School of Politics, Economics and Philosophy (PEP)
  • School of Social and Political Science (SPS)
  • York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI)

School of Politics, Economics and Philosophy (PEP)

Department of Psychology

  • Centre for Criminal Justice Economics and Psychology
  • York Neuroimaging Centre (YNiC)
  • Palaeo
  • Centre for Reading and Language
  • Centre for Usable Home Technology

Department of Social Policy and Social Work (SPSW)

  • Criminology
  • Centre for Housing Policy
  • International Centre for Mental Health Social Research (ICMHSR)
  • Social Policy Research Unit (SPRU)
  • School of Social and Political Science (SPS)
  • Social Policy East Asia eXchange (SPEAX)
  • York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI)

Department of Sociology

  • Anomalous Experience Research Unit
  • Chronic Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre (CDoC)
  • Criminology
  • Centre for Digital Heritage
  • European Centre for Cultural Exploration (ECCE)
  • Science and Technology Studies Unit (SATSU)
  • Social Informatics Research Unit see SATSU  
  • School of Social and Political Science (SPS)
  • Centre for Urban Research (CURB)
  • Centre for Women’s Studies (CWS)
  • York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI)

Department of Theatre, Film and Television (TFTV)

  • Centre for Digital Heritage


Though plans for a university in York first appeared as early as 1617, it would be over three centuries before they came to fruition. In 1960, permission was finally granted for the University of York to be built, marking the beginning of our journey.

Early 20th Century

Before the Second World War, Heslington was a quiet rural retreat with a local aristocracy, and a working village with around 12 farms.

Groceries were bought in the very modest village shop, and a bus stopped twice-weekly for trips into the city. Before the arrival of piped water in the 1930s, the whole village relied on pump water from the well. There was no electricity and the Charles XII was lit by gas.

Heslington Hall was occupied by Nicholas de Yarburgh-Bateson, the 4th Baron Deramore, whose family had owned the property since 1708.

The picturesque village, just outside York, was a popular focus for city-dwelling families’ Sunday walks.

A “bizarre” ambition?

The Deramores did not return after the war. Heslington Hall stood empty until the decaying house and its acres were bought in the 1950s by JB Morrell, who for many years had a long-cherished ambition to create a folk park.

His plans included a village green (with maypole), gypsy camp, water mill, urban street and boat house in the grounds of the Hall. However, as the possibility of a university became greater, Morrell felt that building this would be a worthier use for the site.

But the Hall and King’s Manor, which were to be the University’s core accommodation, had seen better days, and when Lord James, the first Vice-Chancellor, came to view the site in 1960, he was left with very mixed feelings:

“King’s Manor had passed into the ownership of York City Council which was using it as workshops for the blind. The courtyards were adorned with weeds, some of them literally head height. That this, or indeed Heslington Hall, could ever be even the most temporary home of a university seemed not so much improbable as positively bizarre,” wrote Lord James.

Fresh, young, forward looking and enthusiastic, the University of York was known for its friendly atmosphere before it even opened its doors.

The informal tone was endorsed by Lord James of Rusholme, the Vice-Chancellor, who rubbed shoulders with staff and students, taking his meals with everyone else in the Heslington Hall dining room.

Planning and building the University happened with astonishing speed. In April 1960 the Government approved the establishment and in less than three years, on 9 October 1963, the first students walked through the gates of Heslington Hall.

At the start of term, the number of academic and administrative staff numbered just 28. There were 216 undergraduates and 14 postgraduate students.

Third year students could elect to live in the brand new Langwith or Derwent Colleges. Study bedrooms were furnished with plain, heavily textured fabric and hessian and light wood furniture echoing the earnest but modern atmosphere.

Social life

In such a small population, there was much socialising between staff and students. Everyone was on first name terms, remarked Ruth Ellison, Assistant Lecturer in English, “I had no idea whether I was meeting colleagues, staff, wives or students.” “The place was so small that rugby players mixed with aesthetes,” said former student Neil McIntosh.

In the first week of term, a welcome reception for staff and students was held by the Friends of York Art Gallery hosted by Sir Herbert Read with many of the city’s great and the good present. Later in the month, a service to commemorate the inauguration of the University was held in York Minster.

The King’s Manor was an important social centre, and staff and students gathered in the dim caverns of the Cellar Club which, with its rough brick walls, low vaulted ceilings and coloured lights built into the floor. The blues singer T-bone Walker was among those who played there.

Early days

The community was youthful, keen and liberal-minded. Some of the young academics returned from the States, attracted by the alluring combination of old and new which York had. “The average age of the professors is only 40 and the accent is certainly on youth,” commented the York and County Times.

In its infancy, the University had a different flavour for each year of the first intake. During the first year all students lived in digs, bussing out to the University where Heslington Hall, the Stables and the New Building housed all the lectures, study and catering facilities.

Being a university city was a new experience for York. University Road was still under construction and the lane leading out of the village still meandered away into open countryside. Even Heslington Lane was then a rural road. To help bridge the gap between town and gown, Harry Ree, the first Professor of Educational Studies, persuaded local schools to take students as classroom assistants.

In the nine years under Lord James’ Vice-Chancellorship, the University was developed and built on schedule and by the end of the decade, five colleges, three laboratory-based buildings, Central Hall, the Library, the Sports Hall, Music Centre and the Jack Lyons Concert Hall had been completed.

But behind the scenes Lord James was acutely anxious about money and the Government’s ‘stop start’ attitude to funding. “The planning of the buildings let alone their erection on time, becomes almost impossible,” he wrote, concerned that a preoccupation with finance would mean that we lose sight of the real aims of universities. Writing in November 1970 of the years to come, Lord James said “We shall be short of money, short of accommodation; short of staff.”

The 1960s ended with 2,500 undergraduate students, twelve times the original intake.

The 1970s was the decade in which college social life began to blossom.

Central Hall was the venue for the Who, The Kinks, Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Hot Chocolate, Humphrey Littleton, Acker Bilk, Paul Tortelier, Julian Bream, John Williams and others.

Paul McCartney and Linda appeared one day out of the blue with their new band “Wings” and performed a concert in Goodricke College Dining Room.

Clubs and societies thrived, including the Winnie the Pooh Society, and the “Turf Club” which met regularly to go to the races. And despite the fact that sports facilities consisted of just two playing fields, two squash courts and the sports hall, the annual “Roses” event with Lancaster attracted hundreds of spectators.

Up to 600 students competed at the inter-college sports day. The Drama society was prolific and at a festival in June 1972 produced six plays in one month: Much Ado About Nothing; Shakespeare’s Farewell; The Bacchae, Uncle Vanya, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern and Private Lives.

In 1973 the University provided a computerisation results service for the RAC Rally. It placed a fast printing terminal and a VDU in the Rally Headquarters at the Royal Station Hotel. Results were sent to the Rally HQ via PO lines and then to the Rally control points to give both competitors and spectators the latest news of the event.

The beginning of the 1980s was not propitious for the University. It was to see the start of cuts across higher education and a fire in the Chemistry Department.

Staff were exhorted to make economies including turning down their thermostats, recycling, and making telephone calls as short as possible.

The close of the decade with the introduction of the mixed grant and loan scheme was to lend more importance to the ‘marketing’ of the University. One innovation was the introduction of Open Days – both for student recruitment and for the local community to see how the University worked.

Despite the harsh economic times, a number of academic departments were introduced and others developed rapidly, reflecting societal and technological change. New buildings began to appear including Computer Science in the centre of campus, and a courtyard of buildings near Music, now home to Environment and Philosophy respectively.

Staff from various quarters helped in setting up the now famous Jorvik Viking Museum with a dig beneath what is now the Coppergate shopping centre. As well as research contributions from the Environmental Archaeology Unit, sounds for the Museum were recorded in the new Electronic Music Studio.

The University celebrated its silver Jubilee in 1988/89 with a programme of events including two concerts by Dame Janet Baker, a large reunion weekend, natural history walks, sports and a firework display.

In 1990, the Vice-Chancellor, Berrick Saul, recounted to court that York had been described by a senior member of the Universities Funding Council as “a well-run university with a relatively low profile.”

What a difference a decade makes.

By the end of the 1990s, York was dominating national league tables for research and teaching and was receiving international press coverage for achievement across the disciplines.

The decade was characterised by advancement and recognition. York remained a popular choice amongst prospective students growing from 4,300 to 8,500 students without compromising its high entry standards. As the Sunday Times pointed out, “elitism does not appear to be the price of excellence at York”. York was one of only very few universities whose entry from state schools and colleges (around 80 per cent) was the same as the proportion of A-level students in the state system.

The introduction of official quality assessments and the proliferation of newspaper league tables saw the University’s stock rocket. After years of academic advancement, York began to get the recognition it deserved. National recognition attracted additional funding and investment. Research grants rose to over £20 million per annum, and the University enjoyed one of the highest incomes per researcher in the higher education sector.

A relationship with industry was more actively courted, and the University began to develop a more entrepreneurial side to its character. The Science Park opened in 1991 with Smith & Nephew as its first tenant. Developed to enhance links between the University and commerce, it now houses a cluster of knowledge-led businesses and is known as a key national incubator of biotech and IT start-ups.

Students’ approach to education paralleled the University’s move closer to industry. Faced with the introduction of tuition fees and loans, students increasingly began to see their education as an investment.

A York education was still attractive for its rigour and opportunity for personal development, but students were concerned with their “employability” after graduation. The graduate job market became very competitive. The University responded with new flexible courses and the “York Award”, focusing on transferable skills.

The new Millennium saw a sea-change in the way that Britain viewed higher education.

Unprecedented student numbers in universities and strong investment, was coupled with increasing regulation, compliance issues and requirements to demonstrate societal and economic impact.

Student debt, quality assurance, Freedom of Information and public scrutiny changed the way in which both academic departments and central support for the University’s mission operated.

Technology also moved fast, with “YorkWeb” becoming a major marketing tool, the introduction of a Virtual Learning Environment, and new ways of communicating with students and stakeholders through SMS, Facebook and on-campus electronic screens. We installed wi-fi across campus, video-conferencing and a range of online services.

Campus became more sophisticated, with en-suite accommodation, significantly upgraded catering, shops and better-equipped offices, teaching facilities and laboratories.

In response to government prompting on interacting with the community, hundreds of students volunteered for York Students in Schools and Millennium Volunteers. The University became heavily involved in significant partnerships for a variety of projects – Science City York with the Council; Higher York with York’s colleges; the Hull York Medical School with the University of Hull. The science park thrived.

The two major policy initiatives for York in this time were the concerted effort to “internationalise” the University and its work, and the establishment of the extended campus at what became known as Heslington East.

Internationally, we were founder members of the Worldwide Universities Network, a group of 19 research universities spread across the globe, which has tackled a range of ‘global challenges’ with its huge network of expertise. Strong relationships were developed with universities in China and the US, and we established The University of York in America. Our recruitment of international students rose rapidly, and York students began to participate in Study Abroad schemes.

The planning for Heslington East began in earnest in 2002 with the arrival of Brian Cantor as Vice-Chancellor. It took years of master-planning, liaison with interest groups, negotiations with land-owners and local communities, an 8-hour city planning meeting and a Public Inquiry to achieve the purchase of land and complex planning permissions for a site equal to the size of the original Heslington West campus. In 2009, the new Goodricke College opened as the first building on Heslington East.

At the time of the 40th anniversary in 2003, we wrote about Heslington East: “it will be everything that the designers of the original campus hoped for – integrated, landscaped and traffic-free, with a large expanse of water, and a very eager populace.”

In 2012, those hopes have been fulfilled.

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