Situated just to the south of Manchester city centre, the University of Manchester is the UK's biggest single-site university, with around 35,0001 full-time students, and the most popular, receiving more than 55,000 applications each year. Despite technically being one of the newest Universities in the UK, the two institutions which merged in October 2004 to form the current university have a long and illustrious history. The university is responsible for a number of world-changing developments, most notably Rutherford splitting the atom in 1903 and Tom Kilburn and Sir Freddie Williams creating the first modern computer, known as 'Baby', in 1947.
The Victoria University of Manchester
The John Owens College, which developed into the Victoria University, was founded in 1851 by John Owen, a wealthy Mancunian industrialist with a vision of providing university education for all who deserved it, regardless of background or wealth. In 1880 the college was granted a royal charter and in 1881 became the Victoria University of Manchester, the first civic university in the UK. The university slowly expanded from the original college buildings, which are at the heart of South Campus and still in use, though mainly for administration. The John Rylands University library was founded shortly after the university on Deansgate in the city centre and is noted for its impressive Gothic architecture. Later, a branch opened next to the John Owens College and in 1984 a massive new wing (which is actually bigger than the original library it's attached to) of this library was opened.
During the massive expansion of the 1950s and 1960s Brunswick Street, opposite the original college, was developed and six massive buildings were constructed, more than doubling the size of the university. It was during the 1960s that most of the university halls of residence were initially built. The last of the major buildings to be built during this period, the Stopford Medical School, was completed in 1974 and dominates Oxford Road opposite the Students Union.
UMIST was founded in 1824 as Manchester Mechanics Institute. The plan was put together in the Bridgewater pub for a school to train people to take advantage of the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution. In 1902, the Institute moved to its home on Sackville Street and was renamed Municipal School of Technology. It was shortly after this that the faculty of technology was started which answered to the Victoria University of Manchester.
The School of Technology, which in 1918 became the Manchester Municipal College of Technology mainly concentrated on non-degree courses. It gained its own charter in 1956 and was renamed the Manchester College of Science and Technology. Gradually the emphasis was increased on degree courses and by 1966 all non-degree courses were transferred to the Manchester Polytechnic2. It was in 1966 that the name University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology was adopted.
The 1960s was massive expansion of the both universities. UMIST's campus was built south of the Manchester to Liverpool railway, extending into Chorlton upon Medlock and included a number of white tower blocks that were in fashion in the 1960s, but less so now. UMIST also took over Jackson's Mill, which is in the centre of the new campus. The main building on Sackville Street was expanded to become one of the largest red brick buildings in Europe. It has more corridors than any other building in Manchester.
UMIST formally split from the Victoria University in 1993, though the two continued to share halls and the students were eligible to join societies in their establishment. Some departments such as Aerospace Engineering and Material Science were shared between the two universities. In 1998 UMIST opened the Manchester Business School. The UMIST Students Union withdrew from the NUS and renamed itself the UMIST Students Association, in order to better represent its students. UMIST spent £50,000 on a large sign on its maths tower which was lit up by various coloured lights at night. Suggestions that it was a massive waste of money were born out when just a few years later it had to be taken down because of the merger.
By early 2000 talks were going on behind the scenes to merge the two universities again. Obviously, nobody told whoever was in charge of the two universities' computer networks, who chose the summer of 2000 to split the computer facilities without telling the student body3, causing much confusion.
There are so many famous graduates from the University of Manchester and UMIST it would be impossible to list them all here. A few of the most noted notables are:
Anna Ford - As well as being one of the BBC's most respected newscasters, she is the current co-Chancellor, who attended the University in the early 1960s and became the first female President of the Student's Union, as well as the first female Chancellor in 2001.
Meera Syal - Actress and writer. Meera graduated from the university in 1983 and is widely recognised as a brilliant comedy actress and writer, most famous for Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No 42.
Alex Garland - Writer. Alex's most famous work, The Beach, was written because he thought he was going to fail his History of Art course. He ended up passing his degree, his novel was made into a film starring Leonardo di Caprio and he also wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later.
Sir Terry Leahy - Chief executive of Tesco plc. He graduated from UMIST in 1977 and is the co-Chancellor, alongside Anna Ford.
Alan Turing - Alan Turing worked at the University from 1945 and was an exceptionally talented mathematician and computer scientist, laying the groundwork for computer sciences. He was also one of the earliest advocates for gay rights.
Ernest Rutherford - Scientist. One of the world's greatest experimental scientists, Rutherford revolutionised chemistry and physics when he proved the 'solar system' atomic structure4 was correct, rather than the previously-thought 'raisin pudding' structure and has had a chemical element and the largest physics lecture theatre in the university named after him, among many other honours.
Sir Arthur Whitten-Brown - Aviation pioneer. Made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1919, acting as navigator for pilot John William Alcock.
In addition to these and many others, the University of Manchester is also responsible for educating three heads of state: Dr Olafur Grimsson, President of Iceland; Said Musa, Prime Minister of Belize; and George Maxwell Richards, President of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as over 20 Nobel Prize laureates.
The University today
Since the Merger
Despite the fact that the new university stretches uninterrupted from the Stopford Medical School to the Sackville Street Building, people still talk of there being two distinct campuses. The university administration, when it tried to come up with the proper terms for staff and students to use, ran into some difficulties. At first it tried to acknowledge the physical reality and just talk about 'the campus' but this never worked, as the old UMIST and VUoM were seen as too different. It then switched to calling the two parts Sackville Street Campus and Oxford Road campus respectively, but that didn't catch on either, and now the terms North and South Campus are used. Whatever you call it, the old UMIST area has changed very little, apart from changing signs and it is the South Campus which has seen the most changes; since the merger it has been one big building site, with around ten major projects taking place or planned for the near future. Despite all of these changes, the general layout of South Campus hasn't been altered much since the 1970s. The university's two big cultural assets, the Manchester Museum and the Whitworth Art Gallery also received major facelifts and put new collections on display just after the merger.
The University is officially split into four different faculties, which are further sub-divided into Schools and then Departments:
Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences - This is home to all the different forms of engineering, as well as the schools of chemistry, physics and astronomy, computer science, and mathematics. During the merger of the two universities, it was the organisation of this faculty which created the most difficulties as both UMIST and the VUoM had large and well-respected engineering, chemistry and physics departments which were determined to maintain standards and independence. In the end a compromise was reached where a central administration was created, but the various schools essentially carried on as before. The Lovell Radio Telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory, Europe's largest radio telescope, belongs to the faculty and is regularly used by Physics and Astronomy students.
Faculty of Humanities - Perhaps the most varied of all the faculties, it is home to languages, arts, histories and cultures, environment and development, which includes geography, law, the Manchester Business School, social sciences, and education. The central administration of the faculty is not noted as being the best in the university and many of their regulations, especially those dealing with the marking of students' work, were unpopular in many of the schools that found themselves in the new faculty after the merger. As a result, a new fifth faculty has been proposed which would include Social Sciences, Business, and Environment and Development.
Faculty of Life Sciences - This is the only faculty in the university to consist of a single school. All forms of biological sciences are part of this school and it is a major centre of research for the biological sciences.
Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences - This faculty consists of the schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and midwifery, social work, pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences, and psychological sciences. The medical school is one of the biggest in the UK and occupies one of the largest single academic buildings in the country.
The University of Manchester has 36 halls of residence and can guarantee a place in halls for first year undergraduates, though rooms are normally available for those who want to stay in halls for later years. In addition, all overseas students have guaranteed accommodation for the length of their course if they want it. The halls are found in three main areas, while student flats and houses are more spread out.
These halls, including Chandos, Lambert, Wright-Robinson and Weston are situated on the very edge of Manchester city centre, next to the celebrated gay village centred around Canal Street, and very close to Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester's main train station. Most are self-catered and arranged into flats of eight or six people sharing a bathroom, toilet, kitchen and living room.
The advantages of living in these halls are the access to the amenities of the city centre, including the bars, restaurants, cinemas and shops, as well as the excellent transport links. Being on North Campus is also very convenient if most of your lectures are held there, and most residents of the halls do study on North Campus, though South Campus is only 15 minutes away on foot. The main disadvantage is that the North Campus halls are on the edge of Manchester's red light zone and some students have been expelled for having ladies of the night in their room. The nearest large supermarkets are at least a 20-minute bus ride away, which is quite a nuisance when you need to do the weekly shop. Also, city campus is a considerable distance from many of the most popular student pubs, bars and clubs in Fallowfield, and since the merger the old UMIST Students Union, Harry's Bar, has been in decline and faced pressure to merge with the old VUoM and reduce its opening hours and facilities offered5.
Unless you are rather wealthy - and as a rule, students aren't - there are very few affordable flats around city campus and so there isn't much of a student population outside of the halls.
Two of the University's largest halls, Grosvenor Park and Whitworth Park, lie at opposite ends of South Campus, with Grosvenor next to the Manchester Aquatics Centre at the north edge of campus and Whitworth Park just beyond the south edge, next to the Whitworth Art Gallery. Both are large, with around 1,000 student rooms each, self-catered and cheap.
The most obvious advantages to these halls are their proximity to lecture halls etc, as well as the social facilities such as the Students Union. Both halls have very popular bars, Whitworth Park's 'Grovel' being especially popular. Grosvenor Park is popular with sporty folk because it is next to both the Aquatics Centre and the Sugden Sports Centre, while Whitworth Park is considered to be one of the most pleasant halls because of all the greenery and also because of its unusual design6.
The only real disadvantage of the South Campus is its distance from the student life in Fallowfield, but this is only relative as the bars and clubs are still less than 15 minutes away by bus. Some people find the halls to be too densely packed, with too many students in not enough space, and also very noisy, but this does seem to be a minority opinion.
In addition to the main halls there are about half-a-dozen small, postgraduate-only halls around South Campus. A small number of adventurous people choose to live in Moss Side and Hulme because of the insanely cheap rents that can be found there.
They are older than most other halls, with some of the student rooms being in buildings dating from the mid-19th Century. While these rooms have all mod cons, such as high-speed Internet and fully-equipped kitchens, they retain many of the older features, which gives them more character than your average student room.
They are more traditional, with mealtimes being more of an event and some of the halls having occasional formal dinners where smart clothes and gowns must be worn.
They are small compared to other halls: only around 450 students live at Dalton Ellis, the largest of the halls, while St Anselm's and St Gabriel's have less than 100 students each.
All the halls are catered and the rooms are arranged along corridors, dormitory-style, with up to 14 people living along a corridor.
The main advantage of living in the Victoria Park halls is that, because of their small size, there is a real community feel, much more so than in the larger halls. Rusholme and the famous 'curry mile' are right next door and the smells in the early evening when the curry restaurants are just getting going can be fantastic. The halls are reasonably close to both campuses as well as Fallowfield, so travelling costs and times can be kept to a minimum. The disadvantages are that the halls are seen as much quieter than the other two areas and they are in an area which is less busy, poorly lit and more distant from the Oxford Road bus route than the other two areas. There is also a lack of decent supermarkets nearby and the traditional feel of the halls is very much an acquired taste.
In addition to the university halls of residence there are two privately-owned halls of residence as well a significant student population in shared houses in the area of Victoria Park next to Longsight.
For some, living in Fallowfield is the epitome of student living, whereas for others it is the closest thing to hell in Manchester. Fallowfield is where Owens Park, Oak House, Allen Hall, Ashburne Hall and Sheavyn House, Woolton Hall and Richmond Park are all found. The halls vary massively in size, with Owens Park and Oak House being the two largest halls and Allen Hall and Richmond Park amongst the smallest and there is a mixture of catered and self-catered and of flats and corridor layouts.
The main advantage of living in Fallowfield is that everything a student needs is there: several cheap bars, clubs and pubs, a huge and well-stocked supermarket and thousands of other students and because of this, it is often referred to as the Student Village. A number of people have said the best thing about being in Fallowfield is that you are among 15,000 young people having the best time of their lives. In addition, Fallowfield straddles the Oxford Road bus route, meaning transport is cheap and frequent, and the Armitage Centre, the main sports centre for the university is right next to the halls. The only undisputed disadvantage is that Fallowfield is a couple of miles away from both the university campuses, as well as the city centre and the major railway stations. To get to any of these places, you must travel through Rusholme and doing this on a bus during rush hour is not a pleasant experience. Some may also point to the fact that Fallowfield is simply never quiet, and the fact that to walk around the area on a Saturday or Sunday morning requires dodging the puddles of sick and the occasional unconscious student, as major drawbacks.
Fallowfield is also the major area for student houses and flats, with almost all of the streets on either side of Oxford Road being dominated by student-let houses. All told, over 10,000 students live in houses and flats in Fallowfield and they account for around half of the entire population of the area.
After Fallowfield, Withington is probably the most popular area for students renting houses. Between Fallowfield and Didsbury, it is seen as having the best of both worlds, though it is slightly more expensive than other areas. Didsbury, East or West is for those who don't really want to live in Manchester, both are quiet and leafy suburbs, very different from any of the other areas. They're also expensive and a fair distance from either campus or the nightlife, and are correspondingly less popular. Chorlton-upon-Mersey isn't very popular amongst undergraduates, despite the fact the University maintains a hall of residence there9 and is more a bastion for postgraduates and those who tried to leave university but never quite made it. Like the Didsburys, Chorlton is leafy and serene, but isn't really geared up for students, instead being more an area for young professionals.
Manchester is home to around 80,000 students, of whom around 60,000 live in the vicinity of Oxford Road and its branches. This number of people means it would be impossible to fully describe everything that is available. The Students Union is the hub of student life, especially in first year, and has over 100 clubs, ranging from Hiking and Judo to Skydiving and the Megalomaniacs. It also has a vast array of support services and every year holds elections which are most noted for their low turnout, occasional moments of farce and general pointlessness. Outside of the Students Union, the city itself is exceptionally student friendly and very, very cheap. The bus route that runs from Didsbury to the city centre through the university is supposedly one of the busiest in Western Europe and competition has made prices very low, with a weekly pass on most services costing just £3 and year-long passes a mere £150. The buses themselves aren't in the best condition, but no-one really cares.
There are over 150 bars and 60 clubs, most of whom actively compete for the student market and have great promotions, meaning a good night out can be had for less than 20 quid, including the post-club kebab. Almost all entertainment venues do exceptionally good deals for students and the variety is staggering with 40 cinema screens, bowling, LaserQuest, paintballing, theatres and gigs. The University of Manchester is home to Manchester Academy venues where you can see brilliant up-and-coming acts as well as established artists. Rusholme and the 'curry mile' are an essential part of a student's life in Manchester. Every society will have at least one social event in one of the 40 or so curry houses, and almost every good night out starts there. As is to be expected, most places are cheap and it is possible to get a three-course meal for just over a fiver.
When you get sick of being in Manchester it is very easy to get away from it all; the magnificent scenery of the Peak District is a 30-minute train ride away, Liverpool and Leeds are just a bit further and the Lake District and North Wales coast are within two hours' travel. The Mersey and Irwell valleys, as well as the huge number of canals provide traffic-free escape routes for those who like to travel under their own power and if you feel a powerful need to escape the country altogether, Manchester Airport is at the end of one of the Oxford Road bus routes.