University of Bristol

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University of Bristol
University of Bristol logo
Latin: Bristolliensis (Bris.)
Motto Vim promovet insitam
[Learning] promotes one's innate power, from Horace, Ode 4.4
Established 1909 (predecessor in 1876)
Type Public
Chancellor The Baroness Hale of Richmond
Vice-Chancellor Prof Eric Thomas
Staff 5,521
Students 16,000
Postgraduates 5,200
Location Bristol, United Kingdom
Campus Urban
Affiliations Russell Group, Coimbra Group, WUN

The University of Bristol is a university in Bristol, England. It received its Royal Charter in 1909 and is one of the original " redbrick" universities.


"There shall be from henceforth for ever in Our said City of Bristol a University..."
King Edward VII, Charter of Incorporation of the University of Bristol, 4 December 1909

The University was preceded by the University College of Bristol founded in 1876. Since the founding of the University itself in 1909, funded by Henry Overton Wills III, the University has grown considerably and is now a member of the Russell Group of research-led UK universities, the Coimbra Group of leading European universities and the Worldwide Universities Network (the WUN).

The University College was the first such institution in the country to admit women on the same basis as men. The University is now one of the largest employers in the local area, although it is considerably smaller by student numbers than the nearby University of the West of England. Bristol does not have a campus but is spread over a considerable geographic area. Most of its activities however, are concentrated in the city centre.

The University offers a wide range of courses: undergraduate, postgraduate (taught and research), full-time and part-time spanning a long list of disciplines (see below). Its particular strengths lie in Medicine, Engineering (see History) and Law. The University usually ranks in the top ten of British universities in newspaper league tables and was ranked 60th in the world in 2004, rising to 49th in the world in 2006. Bristol is also known for its research strength, having 15 departments gaining the top grade of 5* in the latest RAE ( Research Assessment Exercise) in 2001, and for its teaching strength, having an average Teaching Quality Assessment score of 22.05/24 before the TQA was abolished. This reputation lead to Bristol being the most oversubscribed of any United Kingdom university in the 2001 UCAS admissions round, with 11 applications for every undergraduate place. For admissions in 2004, this figure had declined only slightly to 10.2 applications per place.

The University has been regarded as being elitist, taking one third of its undergraduate students from non-state schools. In late February and early March 2003, Bristol became embroiled in a row about admissions policies, with some private schools threatening a boycott based on their claims that, in an effort to improve equality of access, the University was discriminating against their students. These claims were hotly denied by the University. In August 2005, following a large-scale survey, the Independent Schools Council publicly acknowledged that there was no evidence of bias against applicants from the schools it represented. The University has a new admissions policy which lays out in considerable detail the basis on which any greater or lesser weight may be given to particular parts of particular applicants backgrounds — in particular what account may be taken of which school the applicant hails from. This new policy also encourages greater participation from locally resident applicants.

Bristol, in common with most other UK universities, has faced increasing shortfalls in funding for teaching in recent years (although the budget is usually in surplus, the University has little room for further borrowing). It was a proponent of the recently introduced, and highly controversial, variable tuition fees policy of the UK Government, with the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Eric Thomas, writing an article in The Sunday Times in support. After due consideration, the University decided to charge the full £3000 fees for all undergraduate courses from 2006/ 7, and offer means-tested bursaries to students affected by the new fees. This pattern of charging has emerged as the norm amongst English universities, with the competition largely between the size and nature of the bursaries offered.


The early years

The Wills Memorial Building
The Wills Memorial Building
Most of the buildings here are used by the University. The Wills Memorial Building is left of centre. Viewed from the Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill
Most of the buildings here are used by the University. The Wills Memorial Building is left of centre. Viewed from the Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill
The Victoria Rooms now house the University's Department of Music.
The Victoria Rooms now house the University's Department of Music.

After the founding of the University College as a College of the University of London in 1876, Government support began in 1889 and allowed the opening of a new Medical School and an Engineering School (after mergers with the Bristol Medical School and the Merchant Venturers' Technical College), two subjects which remain among the University's greatest strengths. In 1908, gifts from the Fry and Wills families (who made their fortunes in chocolate and tobacco respectively), particularly £100,000 from Henry Overton Wills III (£6m in today's money) were provided to endow a University for Bristol and the West of England, provided that a Royal Charter could be obtained within two years. In December 1909, the King granted such a Charter and erected The University of Bristol; Henry Wills became its first Chancellor. He died in 1911, and in tribute his sons George and Harry built the Wills Memorial Building, started in 1913 and completed in 1925 — a spectacular edifice which dominates the city to this day. These days, it houses parts of the academic provision for law, management & finance, geography & geology amongst others and graduation ceremonies are held in its Great Hall. In 1920 George Wills bought The Victoria Rooms and endowed them to the University as a Students' Union — one of the first Student Unions in the country.

At the point of foundation, the University was required to provide for the local community. This mission was behind the creation of the Department of Extra-Mural Adult Education in 1924 to provide courses to the local community. This mission continues today — the new admissions policy specifically caters to the 'BS' postcode area of Bristol.

In 1927 the H.H. Wills Physics Laboratory was opened by Ernest Rutherford. It has since housed some of Bristol's most famous names: Paul Dirac ( 1933), a Bristol graduate; Cecil Frank Powell ( 1950); Hans Albrecht Bethe ( 1967); and Sir Nevill Francis Mott ( 1977). The Laboratory stands on the same site today close to the Bristol Grammar School and the city museum and remains at the forefront of research in the field.

Sir Winston Churchill became the University's third Chancellor in 1929, serving the University in that capacity until 1965.

Towards mass higher education

During World War II, the Wills Memorial was bombed, destroying the Great Hall and the organ it housed. It has since been restored to its former glory, complete with oak panelled walls and a new organ.

In 1946, the University established the first drama department in the country. In the same year, Bristol began offering special entrance exams and grants to aid the resettlement of servicemen returning home. Student numbers continued to increase, and the Faculty of Engineering eventually needed the new premises that were to become Queen's Building in 1955. This substantial building housed all of the University's engineers until 1996 when Electrical Engineering and Computer Science moved over the road into the new Merchant Venturers' Building to make space for these rapidly expanding fields. Today, Queen's Building caters for most of the teaching needs of the Faculty and provides academic space for the 'heavy' engineerings ( civil, mechanical, aeronautical).

With unprecedented growth in the 1960s, particularly in undergraduate numbers, the Student's Union eventually acquired larger premises in a new building in the Clifton area of the city, in 1965. This building was more spacious than the Victoria Rooms, which were now given over to the Department of Music. The new Union provides many practice and performance rooms, some specialist rooms as well as three bars: the Epi; the Mandela (also known as AR2) and the Avon Gorge. Whilst spacious, the Union building is thought by many to be ugly, and out of character compared to the architecture of the rest of the Clifton area. It is also rather away ftom the areas where the students are taught. There are long term plans to relocate the Union back to the most central part of the city.

The Sixties were a time of considerable student activism in Britain, and Bristol was no exception. In 1968, many students marched in support of the Anderson Report which called for higher student grants. This discontent culminated in an 11-day sit-in the Senate House (the administrative headquarters of the University).

The modern university

As the age of mass higher education dawned, Bristol continued to build its reputation and its student numbers. The various undergraduate residences were repeatedly expanded and more recently, some postgraduate residences have been constructed. These more recent ventures have been funded (and are run) by external companies in agreement with the University since the University currently has little borrowing facility left available to it to finance large capital ventures without external funding. Current residences are:

Undergraduate residences

Name Established External link
Badock Hall 1964 Website
Churchill Hall 1956; expanded 1960, 1980 Website
Clifton Hill House 1909; expanded 1960, 1972 Website
Durdham Hall 1993 Website
Goldney Hall 1956; expanded 1994 Website
Hiatt Baker Hall 1966 Website
Manor Hall 1932;
constituent parts various;
main building refurbished 1997- 8
University Hall 1971; expanded 1992 Website
Wills Hall 1929; expanded 1969, 1990 Website

Postgraduate residences

Name Established External link
Chantry Court 2002; run by Unite Website
Deans Court 2001; run by the Dominion Housing Group Website
Hodgkin House Run by the Anglican Church Website
Methodist International House Run by the Methodist Church Website

Mixed residences

Name Established External link
Unite House 2003; run by Unite Website
Woodland Court 2005; run by the Dominion Housing Group Website

After a recent rearrangement, Bristol now has 6 Faculties: Arts, Engineering, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, Medicine and Dentistry, Science, and Social Sciences & Law. Between them they comprise 52 separate Departments, offering over 200 undergraduate courses and 110 taught postgraduate courses. Additionally, the University offers postgraduate degrees by research (see Degrees of the University of Bristol), spanning a huge range of specialist topics.

1981 saw the establishment of one of the few Centres for Deaf Studies in the UK, followed in 1988 by the Norah Fry Centre for research into learning difficulties.

Also in 1988 and again in 2004, the Students' Union AGM voted to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students. On both occasions, however, the subsequent referendum of all students reversed that decision and Bristol remains affiliated to NUS.

As the number of postgraduate students has grown (particularly the numbers pursuing taught Master's Degrees) there eventually became a need for separate representation on University bodies and the Postgraduate Union (PGU) was established in 2000.

Universities are increasingly expected to exploit the intellectual property generated by their research activities and, in 2000, Bristol established the Research and Enterprise Division (RED) to further this cause (particularly for technology-based businesses). In 2002, the University opened a new Centre for Sports, Exercise and Health in the heart of the University precinct. Local residents are also able to take advantage of its facilities.

Expansion of teaching and research activities continues. In 2004, the Faculty of Engineering completed work on the Bristol Laboratory for Advanced Dynamics Engineering (BLADE). This £20m project provides cutting-edge technology to further the study of dynamics and is the most advanced such facility in Europe. It was built as an extension to the Queen's Building and was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in March 2005.

In January 2005, The School of Chemistry was awarded £4.5m by HEFCE to create Bristol ChemLabS: a Centre for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL), with an additional £350k announced for the capital part of the project in February 2006. Bristol ChemLabS stands for Bristol Chemical Laboratory Sciences; it is the only Chemistry CETL in the UK.

There is also a plan to significantly redevelop the centre of the University Precinct in the coming years.


The Chancellor is elected by Court on nomination by the Council. The initial term is ten years, although this is renewable. There have been seven Chancellors of the University:

  • Henry Overton Wills III, 1909 – 1911
  • The Viscount Haldane of Cloan, 1912 – 1928
  • Sir Winston Churchill, 1929 – 1965
  • The Duke of Beaufort, 1965 – 1970
  • Professor Dorothy Hodgkin, 1970 – 1988
  • Sir Jeremy Morse, 1989 – 2003
  • The Baroness Hale of Richmond, 2004 –


There have been twelve Vice-Chancellors of the University:

  • Professor Conwy Lloyd Morgan, 1909
  • Sir Isambard Owen, 1909 – 1921
  • Professor E. F. Francis, (Acting) 1921 – 1922
  • Thomas Loveday, 1922 – 1945
  • Professor A. M. Tyndall (Acting) 1945 – 1946
  • Sir Philip Morris, 1946 – 1966
  • Professor J. E. Harris 1966 – 1968
  • Professor A. R. Collar 1968 – 1969
  • Sir Alec Merrison, 1969 – 1984
  • Professor P. Haggett (Acting) 1984 – 1985
  • Sir John Kingman, 1985 – 2001
  • Professor Eric Thomas, 2001 –

Constitution and governance

Whilst the Chancellor is the titular head of the University, it is in practice led by the Vice-Chancellor, currently Prof. Eric Thomas, who is the University's Principal Academic Officer and Chief Executive Officer. He is supported by a team of 4 (but usually 3) Pro Vice-Chancellors: Profs. Malcolm Anderson, Avril Waterman-Pearson, David Clarke and Selby Knox; the Registrar (Derek Pretty) and a Deputy Registrar (Alison Allden) . There are also 2 Pro Chancellors, but their roles are purely ceremonial, deputising for the Chancellor when he or she is unable to attend.

There are four organs of governance in the University. A brief overview may be found here.


Council comprises 32 members, with a lay majority and appoints its own Chairmain from among the lay members. The members are the Vice-Chancellor, the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, the Treasurer, 15 lay members elected by Court, a member appointed by Bristol City Council, a member appointed by the Society of Merchant Venturers, a member appointed by Convocation, 4 members of the academic staff, 2 members of the support staff and 3 students. Elected and appointed members serve for renewable three-year terms.

The University Council is the supreme governing body of the University. It alone has the power to make changes to the University's Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and make the necessary recommendations to the Privy Council. The only exceptions to this are academic ordinances which Council may only make or amend with the consent of Senate, and changes to the constitutions of Court and Convocation which require approval from Court. If Court withholds consent, then after one year Council may impose the changes without Court's consent.

The ceremonial officers of the University (the Chancellor and Pro-Chancellors) and the Treasurer are nominated by Council for approval by Court. The senior executive team of the University and the Professors are appointed by Council, after consulting Senate. Council may also institute or abolish any academic post, with Senate's consent. Honorary degrees are awarded by Council on nomination by Senate and Council recommends to Court the award of honorary fellowships. In fact, all degrees are awarded by Council, but for the most part this is after the approval of the relevant Board of Examiners and/or Degree Committee.

Council is also ultimately responsible for the legal and financial affairs of the University and is, for example, the formal employer of all staff. The Council also holds Senate to account. It meets usually 6 times per year, and is advised by a large number of Committees, some jointly formed with Senate.


There are approximately 550 members of Court. They include officers of the University, representatives of the non-academic staff, members of Council and Senate, emeritus Professors, benefactors, some members of the Society of Merchant Venturers, representatives of Local Authorities, people appointed by the Privy Council, people appointed by the Chancellor, representatives of other universities and colleges, local Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament, representatives of local and professional ('learned') societies, and about 100 members elected by and from Convocation. The students are represented by those they elect to Council and Senate and do not have direct electoral powers to Court. It is chaired by the Chancellor and usually meets once each year in December, although it may meet at other times if sufficiently many of its members so request.

Court was formerly the only body in the University which could approve changes to the Charter and Statutes (before they were petitioned to the Privy Council). Thus, Council would recommend the changes and Court would debate and approve, amend or reject them. After a recent tussle with the Privy Council and the Department for Education and Skills, Court has lost these powers. Council is now the only body which can make such changes. Court's only residual powers in this respect are the ability to delay changes to the constitutions of itself and of Convocation; powers which were only barely retained.

Some 'genuine' power retained is that to appoint the Chancellor, Pro-Chancellors and Treasurer, on the nomination of Council, to appoint the external auditors and to elect 15 of the lay members of Council. Note, however, that it can only select these (mainly ceremonial) posts on recommendation from other bodies and Court does not usually disagree with them. It also retains the power to remove its own members and those of Council, apart from those whose membership results from their office or from being members of the academic staff of the University. Thus most of the members of Court are excluded from this provision, though notably not most of Council, a situation the Privy Council does not seem concerned with.

Court's role now is thus largely advisory. It receives an annual report from Council and the audited accounts. It may comment on the affairs of the University, may advise Council on any matter relating to the University and may invite Council to review a decision.


There are a little over 100 members of Senate including the Vice-Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellors, Deans of Faculties, Heads of Departments, the Registrar, Librarian, the President and Vice President of the Student's Union, the President of the Postgraduate Union, representatives of: the Undergraduate Deans, the Graduate Deans, the Professors and the non-professorial academic staff, and one undergraduate and one postgraduate student from each of the Faculties.

Senate is the senior academic body in the University and changes or additions to the academic ordinances may only be made by Council with Senate's approval. It is responsible to Council for overseeing teaching, examinations and research and no new academic award may be created without Senate's approval. Recommendations for honorary degrees and professorships are made to Council by Senate and advice is given regarding the appointment or removal of the Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Vice-Chancellors and academic staff. Note that Senate has no influence over the Charter or Statutes, including the academic elements of them, since that power rests solely with Council.

Being the ultimate academic authority in the University, Senate oversees the Faculties, Schools and Departments and may make recommendations to Council regarding their composition and structure. Similarly, it is the body formally responsible for controlling student admissions and student discipline. Senate has the formal power to declare an opinion on any matter relating to the University and Council is required to take that opinion into account in its discussions.

Senate usually meets four times a year and is chaired by the Vice-Chancellor. After each meeting it reports to Council.

There are a few Committees advising Senate, some construed jointly with Council.


Convocation has a large number of members: the Chancellor, Pro-Chancellors, Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Vice-Chancellors, honorary fellows, members of Senate, academic staff, University officers, graduates, honorary graduates and such other former students as Convocation determines, currently those who have received academic awards requiring at least nine months of full-time study or an equivalent period of part-time study. There are also associate members, including all the academic-related staff of the University.

It has little power in its own right, although it elects 100 members of Court and 1 member of Council. Like the other bodies, it may express an opinion on any matter relating to the University and it may communicate directly with Court, Council and Senate. Its principal function is to provide a forum for discussion for all the members of the University who have no other representation, and to organise alumni events and the like to ensure graduates stay in touch with the University.

It meets each July, over a reunion weekend. It is formally chaired by the Chancellor, but the Chair of Convocation (currently Susannah Howie) more normally presides.


Bristol awards a range of academic degrees spanning bachelor's and master's degrees as well as junior doctorates and higher doctorates. The postnominals awarded are the degree abbreviations used commonly among British universities. The University is part of the Engineering Doctorate scheme, and awards the Eng.D. in engineering management and aerospace engineering .

Bristol notably does not award by title any Bachelor's degrees in music which is available for study but awarded B.A. (although it does award M.Mus. and D.Mus.), or any degree in divinity since divinity is not available for study (students of theology are awarded a B.A.). Similarly, the University does not award B.Litt. (Bachelor of Letters), although it does award both M.Litt. and D.Litt. In regulations the University does not name M.D. or D.D.S. as higher doctorates although they are in many universities. This is because at the University of Bristol these degrees are normally accredited professional doctorates.

The degrees of D.Litt., D.Sc., D.Eng., LL.D. and D.Mus., whilst having regulations specifying the grounds for award, are most often conferred as honorary degrees (in honoris causa). Those used most commonly are the D.Litt., D.Sc. and LL.D., with the M.A. (and occasionally the M.Litt.) also sometimes conferred honorarily for distinction in the local area or within the University.

Academic dress

The University specifies a mix of Cambridge and Oxford academic dress. For the most part, it uses Cambridge-style hoods and Oxford-style gowns. Unusually for British universities, the hoods are required to be 'University red' (see the logo at the top of the page) rather than black.

Famous alumni

A list of some of the most famous alumni of the University can be found here.

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