Who’d want a return to the 1930s? Clearly not a favourite decade for politicians to hark back to, what with economic depressions having to be dealt with by unhappy coalition governments. For higher education, though, there may be some things to be learnt. Fee income was still the largest source of income; government support was modest and hard to come by. There was still suspicion of ‘modern’ universities with their links to industry and lack of first-class facilities. But, they also had the answer to the issue of public information: the University Calendar.
Each University produced a Calendar each year. They weren’t required to, but custom had evolved that this was what they did, and they followed broadly similar lines. They were publicly available accounts of the university, its activities and the courses they offered. Take a look through the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) guidance on consumer protection law and you’d find that a 1930s university publishing a Calendar would be mostly compliant.
The Calendar starts with an alamanc, key dates, often of committees but also deadlines for students to enrol, pay fees, register for exams. Then you get a list of committees and staff (this is what some of the remaining Calendars have boiled down to). Although this isn’t very interesting, it provides a public record of who the governors are, and the staff lists give you a clear indication of who your teachers are and what qualifications they have. That’s a tick for both HEFCE governance and CMA guidance. As an extra bonus, some Calendars print the home addresses of the staff – that’s probably on a par with giving out email addresses on websites.
For those who’d love to see differential fees, the Leeds calendar shows the increasing level of fees for science and technology courses. And there’s a discount if you pay in advance:
Then you get regulations. Assuming that yours is a modern university and these are not in Latin, they are pretty clear and comprehensive. Sadly the content is not going to pass the CMA test for fair and balanced terms and conditions. Old regulations are endlessly amusing, here are some clauses from Leeds in 1939:
A student dismissed for idleness or misconduct will forfeit all fees and privileges
Students are not at liberty to publish, except with the specific consent of the head of the department, the results of research work done in the University, or to publish any matter given in the lectures
The latter would clearly fall foul of the CMA’s take on intellectual property.
The course regulations explain the required courses, giving the hours of lectures and workshops, a comprehensive timetable and the exact format of the examinations. Often a Calendar would bind in the previous year’s actual examination papers. There are a clear descriptions of the various fees – another tick for the CMA.
The Calendar gives you a list of graduates (a necessity for parliamentary elections) but also a statistical report on their numbers and class of degree. Some, such as Manchester, would include the Annual Report of the University, at which point you get a publications and grants report as well. The Financial Statement shows the perilous state of finances of your 1930s university, running successive deficits as a result of declining enrolments.
Sadly, one thing that your Calendar won’t help you with, is a complaints process. Not a chance.
I like University Calendars. They provided a concise and accurate guide to the University which was publicly available at modest cost. Probably, the only thing in them that would upset the CMA are the claims of the advertising they carried for companies.