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Our history

Sunderland has been an important centre for education since 674 AD, when Benedict Biscop built St Peter's Church and monastery. Among its early students was a seven-year-old boy who became known to history as The Venerable Bede, a renowned scholar and teacher.

The river bank surrounding the ancient church of St Peter's is now the setting for our award-winning Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St Peter's.

The first stained glass ever made in England was created for St Peter's Church, and so it is appropriate that the National Glass Centre, home to the University's teaching and research in glass and ceramics, should be based at the Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St Peter's.

St Peter's Church was the site of the greatest scriptorium north of the Alps, and has been described as the Oxford of its day. The oldest existing Latin version of the Bible - the Codex Amiatinus - was written at St Peter's Church, close to the University's £9m state-of-the-art Media Centre, launched in 2004.

Sunderland Technical College

Our modern roots lie in Sunderland Technical College, which opened at the Galen Building in Green Terrace in 1901.

The local Taxation and Customs and Excise Act of 1890 paved the way for the new College, which was paid for from so-called 'whiskey money' at a cost of £27,800.

From the outset, the College had much in common with today's University. It enjoyed considerable support from local industry and key public figures such as Mr Samuel Storey MP and councillor Dr Robert Gordon Bell, the first Chairman of Governors.

The Principal, Mr Branford, was the College's Director of Higher Education and he was also responsible for the School of Art and the new Bede Collegiate School. From the start, the intention of the College was to develop capacity and quality in order to achieve University College status.

As a dynamic new College, Sunderland was the first in England to introduce the 'sandwich course' which enabled engineering apprentices to gain higher qualifications whilst working.

By 1908, 25 engineering firms were involved in the scheme. The concept of educational progression, familiar nowadays, was already in place by 1910, when evening classes were re-structured to allow specialist study after two preliminary years.

The first great surge of expansion took place between 1919 and 1939. Galen Building was extended between 1922 and 1930, supported by both private and public funding. In 1939, the industrialist Sir John Priestman opened Priestman Library, with room for 10,000 books. The Priestman building was also home to the departments of Mathematics and Mining.

In 1921-22 the College introduced departments of Naval Architecture and Pharmacy. The Pharmacy Department began as a single bench in the Chemistry Department, but soon grew to become the largest in the country. This was thanks to the vision of Miss Hope CM Winch, a remarkable scientist and pioneer of the Pharmacy Department.

In 1930 the quality of Pharmacy Department was reflected by an affiliation to Durham University.

The London University Pharmacy BSc was introduced in the same year, and Sunderland was recognised by London University as a centre for its BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) degree in 1934.

During the Second World War Sunderland ran special courses for the armed forces and the Ministry of Labour. By 1946 the College had 59 full-time staff, 175 part-time assistants, 840 full and part-time students and 1,485 evening class students.

New courses developed in the post-war period included the Department of Housecrafts, in recognition of 'modern woman's realisation that she must have appropriate training if she is to play her part more effectively in her chosen trade, profession or in the home.'

The late 1950s saw further expansion as the College sought the status of College of Advanced Technology. As our Technical College concentrated on advanced teaching, our two local colleges of further education took over most of the non-advanced work.

Sunderland was the first educational centre in the region to install a digital computer. This hi-tech innovation required a crane to haul it through the roof of the building in which it was housed - a far cry from today's laptops and netbooks.

In 1959, an ambitious building programme began, culminating in the opening of a new complex of buildings on Chester Road by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1964.

These developments meant that the College was the first in the region to offer residential accommodation - at £5 per week half board. By then there were 1,750 full and part-time students, and Sunderland was the largest of 25 regional colleges. In the mid-1960s, the College had some 260 Norwegian students - the largest Norwegian student body outside Norway itself - many of them taking marine engineering.

Sunderland Polytechnic

Sunderland Technical College became Sunderland Polytechnic on 1 January 1969. A new Department of Education - for teacher training - was also established in the same year.

Sunderland was among the first of 30 Polytechnics; national institutions which were set up to concentrate on professional and vocational courses and develop part-time provision.

As a Polytechnic we brought together our Technical College with two other institutions which had played a significant role in the town - the School of Art and, later, Sunderland Teacher Training College.

School of Art

The School of Art had been established in 1901 and classes were run in the Town Hall. As well as a Fine Art curriculum, it also ran classes in Painting and Decorating, Stone and Wood Carving, Photography, Millinery and Dressmaking.

The industrial classes grew rapidly as employers paid fees for many of the students. In 1934, the College of Arts and Crafts moved to new accommodation in Ashburne House, donated by TW Backhouse.

By 1960 the College of Arts and Crafts had more than 1,000 students. In 1963, the College of Art, as it was now known, began to offer a degree-equivalent diploma in Art and Design and Fine Art.

In 1982 Sunderland Polytechnic established the UK's first degree course in Glass Design. The modern University remains a leading European centre for Glass Design teaching and research.

Sunderland Teacher Training College

Sunderland Teacher Training College opened in 1908 with 70 students - both male and female - and with tuition fees of £10 per annum. Staff included a Sergeant Major to teach `Swedish drill'.

In 1922 students moved into Langham Tower in Ryhope Road, bought by the College for £8,000. At the same time the College became 'women only' and remained that way until 1959. Under its last principal, Mr H Armstrong James, the Teacher Training College reached its zenith with 820 students and 80 staff.

By 1968, while still called Sunderland Technical College, the institution ran the first interdisciplinary undergraduate degree programme outside the university sector, a BSc materials science. In 1973, as a Polytechnic, Sunderland created the first part-time, in-service BEd (Bachelor of Education) programme in the country.

By 1980, Sunderland Polytechnic's student body had leapt to 2,294 full-time and sandwich students, and 1,446 part-time students.

University Status

In 1992 Sunderland Polytechnic gained university status and became the University of Sunderland. Dr Anne Wright, who had been the Rector of Sunderland Polytechnic, became Vice-Chancellor of the University and was one of the very first female Vice-Chancellors of a UK university.

In the same year, HM The Queen granted Sunderland city status to mark the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne.

Prince Philip [image]

In 1993, HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visited the City of Sunderland the University of Sunderland.

Her Majesty met University staff and students and saw plans for the flagship St Peter's Campus development, which has since made a significant contribution to the regeneration of the city.

In September 2002 St Peter's Campus was renamed the Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St Peter's. The event marked the 80th birthday of Sir Tom Cowie, esteemed Sunderland businessman and one of the University's most loyal supporters.

The £50m Sir Tom Cowie Campus is now home to about half of our 17,000 students. The School of Business, Law and Psychology opened on the campus in 1994, and the spectacular David Goldman Informatics Centre followed two years later.

In March 2004 the £9m Media Centre was launched by the then Minister for the Arts, and later University Pro Vice-Chancellor, Baroness Morris of Yardley.

The Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St Peter's plays a significant community and regional role. The 400-seat Sir Tom Cowie Lecture Theatre and state-of-the-art 200 seat cinema have been used for international conferences and festivals in addition to their primary use as venues of teaching and learning.

In 1998, the Oscar-winning film producer Lord Puttnam of Queensgate CBE became the University's first Chancellor. Lord Puttnam was succeeded by former Olympic athlete Steve Cram MBE, who has held the position of Chancellor of the University of Sunderland since 2008.

In 1999 Professor Peter Fidler left Oxford Brookes University to become Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive at the University of Sunderland. As well as leading efforts to enhance our reputation for high quality teaching and research, Professor Fidler contributes to regional regeneration as a member of several North-East development bodies.

In 2006 a new £3.5m Gateway development opened at City Campus, housing a wide range of university services and academic support. This development was followed in 2009 by the £12m CitySpace sports facility featuring a six-badminton sports hall, 70-station fitness suite and indoor climbing wall.

2011 saw the launch of the new Sciences Complex - a £8.5m development for healthcare sciences.

2012 was a busy year, with the establishment of the new University of Sunderland London Campus, and refurbishments of Priestman Building and National Glass Centre. Pristman building is now a centre for Fine Art and Culture, and National Glass Centre is firmly established as one of the UK's premiere tourist destinations and the heart of glass research in the UK.

For over a century the University of Sunderland and all its former iterations has set the pace in higher education, and we look forward to continuing this trend into the next century.

With grateful thanks to Stuart Miller for his research on the University's history.


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