The University of Leicester then and now

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Since gaining university status in 1957 the University has gone from strength to strength to become a leading international university.

In 1957, when the University College of Leicester officially became the University of Leicester, it was one of the smallest universities in England, bigger only than the University College of North Stafford (now known as Keele University). The University had only 120 staff and 800 students, rising to 953 students by the end of the 1957/58 academic year.

The University’s first year was very different to its 50th year: women lived in separate Halls and housing; students were expected to wear academic gowns to lectures and there were only two teaching buildings on campus – Astley Clarke and Fielding Johnson. The Percy Gee Building, now home to the Students’ Union, was opened in 1958 and was described by the Leicester Evening Mail as “one of the most magnificent buildings in Leicester.”

The feeling within the new University was that it should maintain its ‘small’ scale. The Secretary of the Students’ Union predicted in the Leicester Mercury “Leicester will never have a really big University… there would never be a student population of 3,000 as at some universities.” If only he had known…

The University campus has grown massively in the past 50 years to accommodate student growth. Most of today’s recognisable landmarks have been added since 1957; including the Charles Wilson Building, the Engineering Building, and the Attenborough Tower – which still houses the UK's tallest functioning paternoster lift. The campus now contains 23 main buildings and the University owns a whopping 216 properties in total.

Whilst the campus may have become home to architecturally diverse buildings over the years, graduates recall their time here by the sculptures decorating the lawn in front of the Fielding Johnson Building – beginning with Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman in 1970, replaced a year later by his Oval With Points. Since 1990 Helaine Blumenfeld’s stunning Souls has pride of place and remains on site to this day. More recently, the University’s Harold Martin Botanic Garden in Oadby, has become synonymous with international art, having been the venue for the annual ‘Sculpture in the Garden’ exhibition every year since 2002.

Today, records show that the University has in excess of 19,000 registered students, made up primarily of 10,000 full-time and over 7,000 distance learning students. With this in mind, it is not hard to believe that more than 90,000 students have graduated from the University. Ms Wendy Baldwin (now known as Mrs Wendy Hickling) has the historical honour of being the University’s very first graduate in 1958.

The University has enjoyed many firsts; such as being the first UK university to own and run its own Bookshop, the first university to win University Challenge in 1963 and our students were among the first to stage a sit-in in 1968. Although the protest was in those days unusual, Leicester students were previously involved in at least one other demonstration in 1958 when they had boycotted the student refectory as a protest to the increase in the price of a cup of coffee from 3d to 4d.

Graduates are not alone in spreading Leicester’s standing world wide. The University today has an international reputation for its work; its research impact is top in the Midlands, 10th in the UK and the University itself is ranked in the world’s top 200 universities. In the National Student Survey Leicester recorded the highest student satisfaction rate in England for three successive years among mainstream universities and in 2007 was nominated for ‘University of the Year’ by The Sunday Times.

From humble beginnings the University of Leicester has flourished and become a world-class academic institution with its sights set firmly on the future. With a £300m investment plan over the next 30 years, building space will increase by 30 per cent and student numbers will rise from 19,000 to 25,000, paving the way towards another triumphant stage in its continuing evolution.

Source: By University Of Leicester

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