The City of Birmingham Polytechnic was designated in 1971 and later on became the University of Central England in Birmingham in 1992 (and, in 2007, Birmingham City University). It was the second polytechnic of the city of Birmingham in England, the first having existed in the mid-19th century for just ten years.
First Polytechnic (1843-1853)
A Polytechnic Institute was formed in 1843. It was supported by leading Liberals in the city such as George Dawson (who now has a building at Birmingham City University's Perry Barr campus named after him). The Polytechnic mainly taught languages, chemistry and mathematics and had a library of 4,000 volumes. Charles Dickens was among the visiting academics who gave speeches at the Polytechnic.
Although the Polytechnic had over 500 members at one stage, including over 100 women, support fell away and the Polytechnic closed in 1853.
Second Polytechnic (1971-1992)
In the late 1960s changes were made to the Higher Education sector creating the polytechnics as a more vocationally orientated alternative to the universities. Birmingham gained a polytechnic in 1971, formed initially out of 5 colleges. They were:
- Birmingham College of Art and Design (originally the Birmingham Government School of Design, founded in October 1843)
- Birmingham School of Music (developed as a department of the Birmingham and Midland Institute in around 1859)
- Birmingham College of Commerce (originally a branch school of the Birmingham Central Technical College, which went on to become Aston University)
- South Birmingham Technical College (opened in 1961)
- North Birmingham Technical College (formerly Aston Technical College).
The latter's Perry Barr campus became the centre of the new Polytechnic though the Institution continued to have a number of different campuses spread across the city. This has sometimes been considered to be a weakness of the Polytechnic, with the dispersal of sites considered to be confusing to visitors.
In the early 1970s the Perry Barr campus saw the building of what later became the centrepiece of the Polytechnic: Attwood and Baker builings. Later in the 1970s the Perry Barr campus was increased in size with the building of what later became Cox, Dawson, Edge, Feeney and Galton buildings. Finally in the early 1980s the William Kenrick Library was added to the site. Although further smaller buildings were added to the site later on this is largely the Perry Barr campus as remains today.
In 1975 three further colleges were added to the Polytechnic:
- Anstey College of Physical Education (founded as a private college for women in 1897)
- Bordesley College of Education (founded a local education authority (LEA) Day Training College for women teachers in 1963).
- City of Birmingham College of Education (founded as an LEA Emergency Teacher Training College in 1948).
Finally in 1988, Bournville College of Art was also added. The extensive archives, including over 10,000 artworks, from these earlier incarnations are housed at the University's Margaret Street campus.
Becoming a university (1992 onwards)
Following the UK Government's Education Reform Act in 1989 the Polytechnic ceased to be under Birmingham Local Education Authority control and became an independent corporation with charitable status. The Polytechnic continued to have close links to the city and the City Council however and to this day the Lord Mayor of Birmingham also serves as the University's Chancellor.
In 1992, the Further and Higher Education Act gave Polytechnics the right to assume the title of University if they chose. Birmingham Polytechnic thus became the University of Central England in Birmingham. This change being agreed by the Privy Council on 16 June 1992 and took place in time for the new academic year starting in the Autumn of 1992, students who graduated in the Summer of 1992 were given certificates with "the University of Central England" on, even if all their study had taken place at the Polytechnic.