University of Sussex

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A history of the concept of the University of Sussex: from Balliol-by-the-sea to plate glass university

journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-11, 15:45 authored by David BerryDavid Berry
The notion that there should be a university in Sussex dates back much further than is commonly realised to 1911. The university, as Lord John Fulton, the first Vice-Chancellor of Sussex was to describe, was created with ‘a long period of gestation’. This article documents this early history of the founding of the University of Sussex and argues that rather than a response to a forecast need for more specialised graduates, a perceived post-war moral crisis helped to accelerate the eventual approval of Sussex, and justified its experimental teaching methods and campus-based location. This sense of a moral crisis was drawn, in part, from the shock caused by the collapse of the once-respected German universities into the arms of the Nazi regime, and the belief that a liberal and democratic university might prevent future social catastrophes. Red Brick universities were criticised for relying on a more anonymous and lecture-based modes of study, and with a rising intensity of industrialism and its pressures towards a perceived one-dimensional individual, the moral responsibility of the university to educate the whole person was seen as being ignored. For its founders, Sussex would therefore be a remarkable opportunity to put into effect a paradoxically much older educational philosophy – a general education on a liberal arts model combined with modern specialisation. This article argues that these factors, together with demographic change, are crucial for contextualising the decision by the University Grants Committee for approving the creation of the University College of Sussex in the 1960s. But the creation of Sussex was not a straightforward process, and there were a number of complicated and difficult hurdles to clear before approval could be given for creating this new university. With its foundation, however, the idea of a university that infused Sussex university from its earliest days was that it should look to the future with maximum possible flexibility and freedom. It should, as Asa Briggs argued, “redraw the map of learning”.


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Publication status

  • Accepted

File Version

  • Accepted version


History of Universities


Oxford University Press





Department affiliated with

  • Media and Film Publications

Research groups affiliated with

  • Centre for Social and Political Thought Publications


University of Sussex

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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