Buckingham is the only university independent of direct government support in the United Kingdom and has used its independence to pioneer a distinctive approach to higher education.
On 27 May 1967, The Times published a letter from Dr J. W. Paulley, which said, “Is it not time to examine the possibility of creating at least one new university in this country on the pattern of those great private foundations in the USA, without whose stimulus and freedom of action the many excellent state universities in that country would be so much poorer.”
This idea was taken up by a number of people in the business and academic worlds and three London conferences followed, two in 1968 and one in early 1969. Active supporters included Max Beloff, then Gladstone Professor of Politics at Oxford and later first Principal of the University College at Buckingham, Professor Harry Ferns and Ralph Harris. Harry Ferns and Ralph Harris were both prominent members of the Institute of Economic Affairs, an organisation whose ideas have played a major role in the development of the University.
A suitable site was found in Buckingham and on 29 March 1973 the University College at Buckingham (UCB) was incorporated, in the form of a non-profit making company registered as an educational charity. The Council of Management held its first formal meeting on 3 April 1973. Lord Hailsham, the Lord Chancellor, became the first Visitor of the College and laid its foundation stone in May 1974. UCB was formally opened in February 1976 by the Rt. Hon. Mrs Margaret Thatcher, MP, as former Secretary of State for Education. It had 65 students.
Buckingham is the only private university in the United Kingdom and it was opened in the 70s when I was the Cabinet Minister in charge of Education and Science: to see it flourish and prosper has been a great joy to me.
Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven KG, Chancellor Emeritus
From the outset it was essential that the academic standards for Honours degrees were directly comparable with those of the established British universities. The term ‘Licence’ was used to describe the qualifications of Honours level awarded by the University of Buckingham and it was decided:
- that degrees would be externally examined in precisely the same way as other universities, using examiners drawn from the ranks of Britain’s most reputable academics.
- that an Academic Advisory Council would be set up, consisting of 37 senior British academics and an International Advisory Council of 52 distinguished overseas university professors with a wide range of experience and influence.
As a result of the high standards set, recognition by distinguished associations followed swiftly. The Law Society, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, the Institute of Bankers and many more all accepted the Licence.
In March 1983 the College was incorporated as The University of Buckingham by grant of a Royal Charter, just seven years after it opened, satisfying the Department of Education and Science and the Privy Council that the standard of education was at the highest level. Following this grant, the customary nomenclature of Bachelor’s Degree (BA, BSc, LLB) was used. By 1984 student numbers had increased to 500 – the demand for places had never been higher, with a ratio of applications to acceptances at 8:1.
The three year period 1982-1985 brought great changes, not only as a result of the Charter but also in the development of the campus buildings. The comparatively small size of Buckingham, with steady rather than explosive growth, has been a blessing and has made it easier for the ideas of the University’s founders to be tested, not only in academic terms, but also in admissions policy, buildings and organisation.
Buckingham sees itself existing side by side with the state-controlled universities, but it does seek to influence by its example the content and method of higher education, and to provide students with an alternative to institutions in the public sector. It now rests on firm foundations, providing traditional small-group Oxbridge-style teaching alongside the best of the new technology in a community which has the vitality of an independent enterprise. It became a registered charity on 4 May 2011, registered charity number 1141691.