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My Cardiff

Sir Aubrey Trotman-Dickenson

Sir Aubrey Trotman-Dickenson, appointed Principal of the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (UWIST) in 1968 and later becoming Vice-Chancellor of the Cardiff University 1988-1993, recalls the challenges and development of UWIST and its merger with University College Cardiff.

Sir Aubrey Trotman-Dickenson

Sir Aubrey Trotman-Dickenson

I came to Cardiff from the Chair of Chemistry at Aberystwyth in 1968 as Principal of the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (UWIST), like the first two Vice-Chancellors of the University of Wales, Viriamu Jones (Cardiff) and Reichel (Bangor) I had been educated at Balliol. My time in Cardiff if written in verse should have been in ballade form, with three stanzas and an envoy.

The first stanza would deal with the emergence of UWIST into the university sector for, although founded in 1866, it was the weakest of the Colleges of Advanced Technology, with less than 1500 full-time students, research income of £38,000, and no site that was deemed permanent. The main concern was to find a site in Cardiff, as the University Grants Committee would not support development outside the centre unless city sites were shown to be impractical. The UGC paid for an elaborate investigation on the basis of finding sites for a UWIST of 5000 students and a University College of Cardiff of 10,000. The areas deemed necessary and supported by the City of Cardiff which was to pay for 75% of the cost of land considerably exceeded the area now covered by the University apart from the clinical departments. The planning inspector reported against the scheme; though not on the grounds that the area was excessive. His advice was accepted in 1972. It was not until 1976 that a Minister finally decided that UWIST should remain in the centre of Cardiff.

While the site saga was being played out, UWIST had to balance its books. Academic and administrative appointments had to wait until the growth of student numbers justified the number of staff in post.

The development stanza covers a period during which the distinctive pattern of UWIST was set. Student numbers grew but the number of departments held steady so that their average size became comparable to those in many universities. The most important appointments were to Chairs. Young professors were sought because it seemed likely that more senior cohorts of candidates would have been picked over by universities that stood higher in the pecking order. Michael Bromwich who later returned to London School of Economics was 30. Other young professors, several of whom played a major role in Cardiff University included Mansfield, King, Spencer, O’Sullivan, Towill, Williams, Couper, Millodot and the librarian: Roberts.

UWIST began with a marked shortage of student accommodation, so a development fund was established into which balances existing at the end of the financial year could be placed. It was thought that over time good students would come where the living conditions were good. The students were notably successful occupants of the Joint Union Building.

The last stanza was marked by increasing financial stringency throughout the University sector. For UWIST it was a period of consolidation during which protracted negotiations over merger with University College Cardiff took place. UWIST adapted to the economic climate by the continuation of the policy of relatively few departments with effective use of limited staff together with delegation to Heads of Department of financial control of the money that could be attributed to their operations. Flexibility was maintained by the allocation of considerable sums to short term appointments and capital projects that yielded greater efficiency. Some monies were distributed by a system that bore marked similarities to the later national Research Assessment Exercise. At this time the first notably senior recruits came to UWIST including Professors Beverton and Wallis, and, as director of computing, Robinson.

The envoy, the merger of two colleges covered my last six years. Because of the manifest determination of all members to create the basis for a major University in Cardiff, the process of merger itself was smooth and rapid. We were soon into a period of further consolidation when the foundations were created on which the University has been built with notable success. The physical plant was transformed by the addition, conversion and modernisation of academic buildings. The Buildings Officer, Mr Simpson, brought all of them in on time and on budget, with only one minor slippage. The Bursar, Mr Austin, transformed the student residences.

It has been a pleasure to watch the continued ascent of the University. Cardiff has risen greatly in public esteem, and as the public catch up that estimation will continue to rise.

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