Youth in the UK have reportedly made it to university in 2021 at a record level. Some institutions have recruited more and now there is a lot of pressure on their resources. Students are finding it difficult to find a place to stay and sit in lecture halls. Some universities are paying students to defer their place.
Our research draws attention to an earlier moment of expansion in higher education. After the First World War there was an unprecedented increase in the number of students. As a result, universities and colleges had to find temporary solutions for teaching space and student accommodation.
At the time, there was much mention of the challenges of this expansion. The Northerner, the student magazine of Armstrong College in Newcastle, put it bluntly in March 1919: “We will get out of our classes and sit on the window sills.”
A contributor to the November 1919 edition of The Sphinx, a student paper from the University of Liverpool, reported that some of his peers were “being turned away from the pursuit of knowledge, with no other place to sit”. And, in a report that same year, members of the council at Mansfield College in Oxford predicted that the colleges would “overflow” by 1920. The “housing problem”, he wrote, would be “very acute”.
This influx of students was a direct result of the Great War, as many young people were forced to interrupt or postpone their studies. As our research shows, another important factor in increasing the numbers was the major funding scheme put in place by the government to support the higher education of ex-servicemen.
From the winter of 1918–1919 to 1923, the scheme provided grants to approximately 28,000 students in England and Wales. In Scotland, a similar initiative funded the study of more than 5,800 ex-servicemen.
Based on archival evidence from the Board of Education, as well as records from the Universities of Aberystwyth, Durham, Liverpool, London, Newcastle and Oxford, we have shown how these grants have helped war veterans access higher education and return to public life. helped to get involved. As the Students’ Guild at the University of Liverpool put it in their handbook for the 1918–1919 academic year, “Universities have a greater role to play in the life of the nation than in the past”.
As a result of these post-war measures, publicly funded pre-service students at many universities between 1919 and 1923 constituted about half the student body. And, as highlighted by the student publication of the University College of Wales, The Dragon, he had a different point of view. In February 1921 the magazine reported, “a world without ex-soldiers came like a fresh breeze”, “with them a greater knowledge of men and things, a wider range of practical experience, a more critical spirit and more traditional bonds.” of impatience”.
The commemoration of the fallen was an important feature of university life in this period. Institutions compiled rolls of honour, created photographic displays and raised funds for a permanent memorial for those who had not returned. Also, the ex-service generation demonstrated a strong desire to rebuild student life. New societies were formed, university sporting fixtures resumed, and dance and student rag festivals flourished.
Student clubs grew with a focus on politics and international affairs. Some societies supported the newly established League of Nations. Others circulated funds and gifts for students abroad, for example through European Student Relief, a humanitarian organization in Geneva.
Writing in the March 1922 edition of The Sphinx, the students of Durham University noted that “today’s student body is fully aware of the need for the close cooperation of nations and the establishment of international relations on mutual understanding and goodwill.”
Today, campus life is resuming after a one-time disruption, under very different circumstances. Student societies and unions continue to play a major role in rebuilding university life – as does the National Union of Students, which celebrates its centenary the following year. When the latter was founded in 1922, it was an important expression of hopes for a more peaceful future.