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Why did I move from Australia to England?


The increasing number of British universities
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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It might just be worth reminiscing for a moment – when I left Melbourne in August of 1948, there were in England, 11 universities. That’s a carefully designed phrase – it’s England, not the United Kingdom, so that excludes Scotland, but there were 11 universities which were autonomous universities. The 12th one took its charter and became independent by the time I’d landed in Colombo and the 12th one was Nottingham which before had been the Nottingham University College and a distinguished university college, but it was part of the University of London.

So that was the beginning of a trend in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s to found new universities which had been university colleges. Another one was in Leicester, for example, followed soon after, and there were other examples. But I did mention this to get philosophical for a moment. Now there aren’t 12 universities in England, there are 124 and more, of course, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was sometimes fashionable, I should say, it was sometimes fashionable to deride new universities, but I don’t do that. I think that universities are an important concept – the more of them you have, of course, the more their nature changes. So one is not saying that there are 124 Cambridges or Oxfords or, indeed, any other sort of university; the new universities have to find their own way. Some will be successful, others will be less successful.

But if now, in 2011, we look back to 1951 which we’re talking about in Harwell and going up to Nottingham, one has to say immediately that many of the universities that have founded in the last 50 years are superb institutions, doing first-rate work. They are real universities, some of the best in the world, but some people chose to deride them when they were first formed. It’s just a philosophical point, but I make that about Nottingham because in Nottingham – and one of the things which attracted me to staying in England, was the excitement of an expanding tertiary education environment.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: Melbourne, 08-1948, England, Colombo, Nottingham University College, Nottingham University, University of London, 1940s, 1950s, Leicester, UK, Cambridge University, Oxford University, 2011, 1951, The Atomic Energy Research Establishment

Duration: 2 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011