Skip to main content

The Entrepreneurial University - 1980s

Impact of the cuts

The University's fleet of Sinclair C5s
The University's fleet of Sinclair C5s

In 1980 the full impact of the proposed cuts in higher education was made clear. Warwick faced a cut of £1.4 million, not as harsh as for some but on an income of £21 million this still represented something of a large ask.

The immediate impact of the cuts was to reduce the intake of students. Humanities bore the brunt of the reductions but all disciplines were affected. The cuts also affected the University’s ability to match research council grants, eroding research capability.

The reduction in student numbers occurred at a time when applications were increasing. In October 1981 there were 18000 applications for 1750 places. By October 1982 there were 20345 applications for just 1440 places.

Innovation and earned income

The University’s response to the funding environment was, unlike other universities, not simply to implement a range of cuts. Warwick instead aggressively pursued opportunities for increasing its own earned income to replace the lost funding. This meant an emphasis on innovation and earned income.

The strategy outlined a range of opportunities such as conference business, post-experience programmes, fundraising, increasing international student numbers and developing links with businesses and the local community.

A new generation of academic staff were at the heart of developing these activities. For example, Kumar Bhattacharyya joined the University in 1980 and quickly developed a centre of excellence in Manufacturing, which now has an global reputation.

This strategy of developing earned income opportunities meant that at a time of financial retrenchment across the sector Warwick was embarking on one of the largest building and investment programmes in its history. During the 1980s Warwick invested in conference facilities, a Science Park, extensions to the Arts Centre, new academic and residential buildings.

An International University

Investment was also made to develop overseas recruitment and continuing education programmes. The International Office was established in 1981 to provide a focus for international students. Academic and administrative staff were encouraged to speak about the University when they visited institutions overseas and the University built a network of representatives to manage requirement ‘in country’. A permanent office was set up in Hong Kong and each summer saw Warwick staff interviewing like crazy.

The University established a Department of Continuing Adult Education in the 1983/84 academic year, the same year the University was granted Responsible Body status for continuing education in Warwickshire and Solihull. Previously all continuing education activity had been conducted under the umbrella of the University of Birmingham. The awarding of Responsible Body status meant that Warwick took ownership of these activities – and the funding that supported them.

Building a Science Park

Opening of the Science Park
Opening of the Science Park

The early 1980s were a difficult time for the City of Coventry. Unemployment was high and a number of traditional industries were in severe decline. The University was approached by the Chief Executive of the city council to help identify opportunities to encourage investment and the creation of new jobs in the city. In response the University developed a plan for a Science Park on the edge of the existing campus. The Science Park was an indication of the University’s will to work with industry and commerce and a key enabler for technology transfer. The scheme was launched in 1982 and the first building was opened on the 24th February 1984 by then Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher. Since its opening the park has developed to become one of the UK's most successful Science Parks with satellites in Coventry and Warwick and managed space in Solihull. The Park is now home to 85 high technology companies and manages 424,000 square feet of space.

'Most Favoured'

In the academic year 1984/85 the Government outlined its vision for the development of Higher Education into the 1990s. In its Green Paper they stressed the need for institutions to adapt and be concerned with attitudes outside of the HE sector and placed increasing importance on innovation and entrepreneurial skills. Alongside this vision was a determination to reduce the reliance on public funds.

The University Campus - 1987
The University Campus - 1987

In May 1986 the University Grants Committee announced its planning trends for the following 5 years. These trends were based on more detailed information about the operation, performance and aspirations of institutions and subject areas. The University of Warwick emerged as the “most favoured” University. This resulted in a 4% cash increase for the University, an extremely positive outcome when compared to other institutions. This status was due to the continuing increase in student numbers, now rising above 6000, and the effectiveness of the University’s distribution of resources in support of research strengths.

A key part of the Governments new strategy for Universities was a new mechanism for the allocation of resources according to judgements of an institutions research quality, the results of which would be made public for the first time. The White Paper ‘HE: Meeting the Challenge’ and the Education Reform Bill placed great importance on commercially orientated research balanced with the advancement of knowledge for its own sake. The University of Warwick took this new assessment process and research environment very seriously. The University had already created an Industrial Development Office in 1983 to support researchers in developing the commercial potential of their research. In 1986 the Research Development and Support Office was established to provide a focus of expertise and advice for researchers and income generators. The outcome of this activity was that when the results of the first Research Assessment Exercise were published in 1989 Warwick was placed in the top 5 UK Universities for research, a position it has enjoyed ever since.

A new Chancellor

The end of the 1980s saw the installation of a new Chancellor – Sir Shridath Ramphal, who succeeded Lord Scarman in 1989. The incoming Chancellor inherited an instituion that was heading into the 1990s with a renewed sense of confidence. The student population had risen above 9000 and employment amongst Warwick Graduates was amongst the highest in the UK university sector. The strategy of pursuing alternative income streams meant that by 1989 49.5% of the University’s income was now generated from earned activities. Over 50 companies were now in the Science Park which provided employment for nearly 1000 people.