This is the third part of a series giving the General Election treatment to Wikipedia's Third Oldest University in England Debate. The first part covers the Build-up to the debate, the second part shows the Debate itself, while this third part covers the Highlights and Analysis.
Chair: So we've heard the Third Oldest University in England debate between the four contenders. I'm joined now by Jessica and John to analyse what we have heard and maybe even draw some conclusions. Firstly I'd like to ask you both what you thought of the debate?
Jessica: It was very much what we expected from four Wikipedians. Rhetoric took second place to references, and we certainly had enough of those.
John: I agree. It was very different to a debate between politicians, although there were similarities: facts were disputed and definitions questioned. But there was much more of a feel from all the contenders that there was a correct answer waiting to be found if we could only agree on the facts.
Chair: Okay, lets look.at some of the highlights from tonights debate and see if we can settle some of those disputed facts. Jessica, why don't you kick off. What did you think about the battle between the two colleges?
Jessica: I think Universitatis landed a knockout blow on Regis when they revealed that King's advertises itself as the fourth oldest university. There was no real way back from that, and it simply put King's out of contention in my book. After that it was clear that if one of them had a claim to the title it was UCL.
Chair: Okay, lets take a look at that clip.
Universitatis:Of these two universities, one founded in 1826 but not incorporated until 1836, the other both founded and incorporated in 1829, the question is – which is the older? Which is the third oldest in England, and which the fourth? The answer can be found on the King's College website: "King's is … the fourth oldest university in England".Regis:Not everything on websites is accurate, for example UCL's claim that "In 1878, it became the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms with men." This despite continuing to bar women from courses in engineering and medicine! Sad to say, webpage writers don't always check their facts very well.Universitatis:This must be the first example in history, then, of under-claiming rather than over-claiming! Can anyone really believe that they wouldn't put "third oldest university" on their website instead of 'fourth" if they thought they had even the faintest claim?But it's not just the website. In the 2016 prospectus, Professor Edward Byrne, President and Principal of King's, says "Since it was established in 1829, England's fourth oldest university has established a world-class reputation." This cannot be read as anything other than an endorsement of the claim of the only university established before 1829: UCL.
Chair: Yes, that is hard to come back from. John, do you think Regis managed it?
John: They had a good effort when they appealed to Newman's definition of a university. I'm not sure what I make of the idea that it should be considered a working definition because they're right that a number of educated people believed it at the time – but a lot of educated people knew that it was wrong, and we now know they were right. I don't think they quite pulled it off, but let's see the clip.
Regis:It is also worth looking further at Johnson's definition of a university as "a school, where all the arts and faculties are taught and studied". As Universitatis notes, this was taken as true by many others, including Newman. While we now recognise that this comes from a false etymology, at the time it was believed to be correct by educated people – and thus is deserving of attention.It is ironic that Universitatis raised this, for Newman spends the entirety of his second discourse in "The Idea of a University" explaining why UCL's lack of theology teaching disqualifies it from being a university. Indeed, the first institution to teach "all the arts and faculties" was King's, which included teaching in theology from the start. By this definition, which was believed correct by many educated people at the time, King's is the third oldest university.
Indeed, a good point, but, as you say, not entirely persuasive. But while Universitas and Regis were renewing the rivalry between UCL and King's, Dunelmensis and Londiniensis were also slugging it out. What did you think of that John?
John: There was a lot of verbiage in this contest, but Dunelmensis landed some palpable hits while parrying virtually everything Londiniensis threw at them. I think one of my favourite hits was when Dunelmensis questioned whether London even qualified as the fourth oldest university using the criteria they had quoted earlier from Mr Justice Vaisey:
Dunelmensis:It really isn't hard to tell which of these is the third oldest university. A more debatable question is which was the fourth – for the federal Victoria University, now the University of Manchester following mergers with Owen's College in 1903 and with UMIST in 2004, had teaching through the colleges of the federation twenty years before London became anything other than an examining board. It may sound foolish to claim Manchester predates London, but in truth Manchester has a better claim to be the fourth university in England than London has to be the third, for Manchester's claim to fourth would rest on meeting all of the qualities of a university while London's claim to third relies on meeting certain cherry-picked qualities while failing on others.
Chair: That was an interesting point. Was Dunelmensis just being facetious Jessica?
Jessica: I think so. They were demonstrating the absurdity of using various de facto criteria to determine if a de jure university was a 'real' university, which was, of course, what Londiniensis was trying to do with their emphasis on degree awarding powers. Dunelmensis answered that one very well by pointing out the logical inconsistency in Londoniensis's position:
Dunelmensis:It follows logically that if degree awarding powers are essential to being a university then Durham gained them in 1832 when it was made a university, before London. The only way that Durham could have not been granted degree awarding powers in 1832 is if they were not essential to being a university – in which case Durham's foundation as a university in 1832 is still earlier than London's.
Jessica: For me, that was decisive. Londiniensis had no counter to the logic here. They just couldn't get around the hard fact that Durham had an earlier foundation as a university.
Chair: So the other vital question was whether the two colleges could claim to be universities. What did you make of that Jessica?
Jessica: That was a two-on-two debate, with UCL and King's both arguing that they could and Durham and London, founded later but with definite university status, arguing that they couldn't.
The crucial point was what defined a university: if it was just teaching, then the colleges' claim would succeed, but if being a university required something more, degree awarding powers for instance, the claim would fail.
Londiniensis led the attack, with a demonstration that a number of authorities, including at least some of UCL's own councillors and professors believed a charter and degree awarding powers necessary:
Londoniensis:[I]f I may make so bold as to quote one of UCL's own professors, Henry Malden, in his Origin of Universities and Academical Degrees, "In later times, the name university came to have a technical meaning when applied to a place of education. It was given to those bodies only which had the power of conferring degrees. This power was held to be an essential element of a university."…[H]ere are the words of William Tooke – Lawyer, MP, member of UCL's senate, and sometime chair of their executive committee – in his Statement of Facts on their charter. Tooke says that the charter has the effect of "reducing [UCL's] style to that of College, and thereby precluding it granting degrees", and later calls it "a barren collegiate Charter, not worth the parchment on which it should be engrossed" and "a Charter which could have been had as a matter of course, like that of King's College, at any time since 1826".…It is clear that, in the 19th century, UCL and its backers knew full well that it had failed in its bid to become a university; that it should now claim to be the third oldest is nothing short of a rewriting of history.
Jessica: I think Londoniensis is right here. UCL was named 'the London University' in the hope of gaining recognition as a university and the powers that went with it, but it failed in this at the time.
John: I think this is borne out by a point both Londiniensis and Dunelmensis made about the lists of universities in mid 19th century encyclopedias: UCL and King's don't feature. They were considered colleges by the writers of the time, even when the works were written by those closely associated with UCL such as the Penny Cyclopedia:
Londiniensis:And in the 1853 edition of the Standard Library Cyclopedia "The universities of Great Britain are Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, London, St. Andrew's, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Dublin." – no mention of either UCL or King's. Similarly other lists of universities from that time omit the two colleges.Dunelmensis:A little later we find that the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1842, referenced by Regis, lists four universities in England. The Penny Cyclopaedia from the following year lists the same four universities. These were Oxford and Cambridge, founded in antiquity; Durham, which was founded in 1831, a university from 1832, opened in 1833, and awarded its first degrees in 1837; and London, founded 1836 or 37
Chair: So did you think the colleges managed to refute any of this?
John: Not convincingly. They put forward possible definitions that didn't require degree awarding powers, but the only one that had any real.traction was Regis's suggestion, which we've already heard, that a university is a school that teaches all the arts and faculties. This has the advantage of intellectual support from the likes of Newman, but Universitatis could hardly support it – UCL didn't teach theology.
Jessica: But that still doesn't address the problem that none of the contemporary reference books recognise them as anything other than colleges. It really is a very hard sell, to say the least. I don't think they succeeded.
Chair: What about the idea that there was no legal prohibition against anyone granting degrees?
John: It's a red herring. While it might be strictly speaking true, such degrees would be worthless. If that hadn't been the case, UCL would have awarded degrees from the start.
Chair: Could you explain why the University of Edinburgh came up so much?
Jessica: Edinburgh has an interesting history. The royal charter that established it wasn't a charter of incorporation given to the university, like we are used to, instead it was a charter to the town corporation giving them permission to establish a university. As a result, it was not incorporated until 1858. It also awarded degrees without any explicit powers being granted to do so.
This situation of permission being given to a corporation to found a university that was neither incorporated nor explicitly granted degree awarding powers is closely paralleled by Durham, making this an important precedent for Dunelmensis:
Dunelmensis:[L]et us look at Edinburgh. There, as with Durham, permission was given to an existing corporation – the town in Edinburgh's case, the cathedral in Durham's – to found a university. Again like Durham, Edinburgh was founded by royal permission – via a royal charter to the town for Edinburgh, by act of parliament for Durham. Still like Durham, Edinburgh received no powers explicitly in its charter. But Edinburgh went ahead, without any explicit grant of degree awarding powers. Just as Durham had its powers confirmed by royal charter, Edinburgh was confirmed by an act of the Scottish parliament: but in Edinburgh's case this didn't happen until 1621, over 30 years after it started conferring degrees – solid evidence that this confirmation was just that and not a ratification.…The University of Edinburgh was founded, just like Durham, by a corporation – the town in Edinburgh's case, the cathedral in Durham's. Again like Durham, Edinburgh was founded by royal permission – via a royal charter to the town for Edinburgh, by act of parliament for Durham. Still like Durham, Edinburgh received no powers explicitly in its charter. But Edinburgh went ahead, without any explicit grant of degree awarding powers.
John: That it operated unincorporated was also picked up on by Universitatis, leading to the dispute between them and Regis about the importance of the royal foundation:
Universitatis:Nobody thought Edinburgh was any less a university for its not being incorporated, demonstrating conclusively that incorporation is not necessary to be considered a university and that to establish priority we must look either the date of foundation, or the date on which an institution began operating as a university by teaching students. By either of these measures, UCL predates King's by three years and should thus be considered the third oldest university in England.Regis:While the University of Edinburgh was not itself incorporated, it was established by the auspices of the town corporation, which had received royal permission for its foundation. Clearly if the monarch – King James VI of Scotland, later James I of England, in this instance – gives a corporation the right to set up a university as a trust that is very different from a group of private citizens forming an unincorporated association and calling it a university!Universitatis:If UCL had been simply an ad hoc association of teachers, Regis might have a point. But that was not the case. UCL was founded with legally recognised deeds of association, in a manner authorised under acts of parliament. That it was unincorporated was a peculiarity of the semi-developed corporate law in that period of history; by 1844 the law had changed and UCL's form of association would have been legally incorporated. As it stands, UCL was at least as incorporated as Edinburgh or Durham.Regis:UCL's association lacked the royal approval that is necessary for the founding of a university. In the cases of both Durham and Edinburgh, royal.approval is explicit in the formation of the university. That is quite distinct from incorporation, and distinct again from a privately-established joint stock company.
Chair: Thank you. Our viewers will, of course, be makimg up their own minds. To help them with that, lets close by hearing the final statements from all the contenders once more:
Universitatis:University College London is the oldest institute here. That is not disputed. It was founded as a England's third university under the name of London University. That is an historical fact. We have to prove nothing – The burden of proof lies with our opponents to show that there is a flaw in our claim.You have heard a number of claims from Dunelmensis and Londiniensis saying that degree-granting powers are necessary to be a university. This was certainly what some people thought, but I submit that they have failed to prove that this was a universally accepted definition and that there is evidence that alternative views were held by some.There is also some evidence, from the Privy Council no less, that there was no actual legal limitation on degree awarding powers at the time, only a kind of moral control. Legal recognition of degrees came not through the power to grant them but through separate acts of parliament, such as the Attornies and Solicitors Act in 1837.If, then, there was no such thing as degree awarding powers, this can clearly not be part of what defines a university.You have also heard it claimed that a university must be incorporated, but the precedent of the University of Edinburgh proves that false. The only thing that truly defines a university is teaching, making UCL the third oldest university.
Dunelmensis:There are two key points I want to emphasise.Firstly: there were only four recognised universities in England in the mid 19th century – the two ancient universities, Durham and London. UCL and King's were simply not regarded as universities.Secondly, London's claim to be older is a logical impossibility. If being a university requires degree-awarding powers, then when King and Parliament establish a university these powers must obviously be included, otherwise they aren't actually establishing a university. In this scenario, Durham had its powers in 1832, before London, and is therefore the older.Alternatively, degree awarding powers are not necessary to be a university and it is possible, therefore, that Durham did not possess them at its foundation and London may have had them first. But then these powers don't matter in terms of defining a university, and Durham is still the older.It is not logically possible for degree awarding powers to be both necessary and not implicit in Durham's establishment. King and Parliament made Durham a university in 1832, the third one established in England. It was the third university to teach degree courses and the third to award degrees.The conclusion is inescapable: Durham is the third oldest university in England.
Regis:King's college mirrors UCL in many respects, yet is the younger institution both in terms of foundation and teaching. How, then, can we make a claim to be older as a university?You have heard that the example of Edinburgh demonstrates that incorporation is not required – this is true, but incomplete. Edinburgh dates its foundation as a university to its establishment – as a college – by royal permission.That is what UCL lacks – official recognition. King's had that from 1829, Durham from 1832, but UCL not until 1836. King's was established as a college by royal permission in 1829. With the example of the University of Edinburgh before us, we claim our establishment as a university from that date, making us the third oldest university in England.
Londoniensis:In the final analysis, there were only two universities founded in the first half of the 19th century in England: London and Durham. UCL and King's were simply not recognised as being universities, even by the UCL-linked Penny Cyclopaedia.The question then is which was founded first: Durham or London. This is complicated by Durham's foundation taking place over many years. In 1832, Parliament gave Durham Cathedral's chapter permission to found a university. This was not the founding, this was permission to carry out that founding. As I have shown, it was give more years before they completed their task by obtaining a royal charter to incorporate the university, grant them degree awarding powers along with the other rights and privileges of a university, and confirm what they had done.
By the time they had this royal charter, in June 1837, London had already been chartered as a university for over six months. That is the truth if the matter, and it leads to the conclusion that London is England's third oldest university.