Higher education postcard: University of Kent

This week’s card from Hugh Jones’ postbag takes us to what might have been Thanet University

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

In Britain in 2023, it is quite hard to imagine the optimism about the public realm of the 1960s.

In 1959 Kent County Council had been considering the possibility of creating a university in the county. Ultimately, the decision lay with the University Grants Committee and the government, but the stronger the case presented, the better the chances of a bid succeeding.

And in May 1960 the council approved a recommendation that the proposed university should be sited in Kent. Money was forthcoming from the county and the city councils, and proposals were made to the University Grants Committee (and note, by the way, the evidence of the unsuccessful bid by Thanet to be the site of the new university).

In 1962 a site was chosen. Beverley Farm straddled the administrative boundaries of both Canterbury and Kent, and so when the University of Canterbury in New Zealand objected to the idea of the University of Canterbury in the UK, it was the ideal prompt for the chosen name: the University of Kent at Canterbury.

The university was granted a Royal Charter on 4 January 1965 and admitted its first students in the autumn term of that year.

This is what I mean by the optimism of the 1960s. There was an idea; it was good; people backed it; and it was made to happen, and quite quickly really.

The university was a collegiate university, although in Kent’s case – like Lancaster, York and Durham – the colleges were more a residential and social thing than an academic teaching thing like at Oxbridge, even though the original intention was that the colleges would be the hub of academic life.

The University holds the British Cartoon Archive, which is a real gem of a collection, and includes many cartoons accessible digitally. Well worth a look.

Alumni include two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Abdulrazak Gurnah, the 2021 laureate, and Kazuo Ishiguro, the 2017 laureate. And, of course, Wonkhe’s own Mark Leach, awarded MBE in the recent honours list, and in tribute for whom this blog is written.

The card itself was sent on 22 June 1969:

Dear All, Many thanks for the card and present. Just heard from Bob; evidently the post was delayed by the riots in [illegible]. Will be home next Friday [illegible] … see you then, Andrew. (Picture of Eliot – [illegible] Rutherford still incomplete).

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