One of the greatest concerns for the modern universities was to gain acceptance from public opinion as true universities. They had many disadvantages; they often taught vocational subjects, had a poor stock of buildings in unglamorous cities but the greatest concern was that their students were commuting and therefore there wasn’t the esprit de corps exhibited in the old universities. The provision of residences became a high priority, enabling the modern universities to compete for students.
This was between the wars.
The Great War saw the foundation of the modern British university system, with the UGC distributing government grants, the CVCP co-ordinating universities and the NUS building an internationalist movement while arguing for improvements for students. The UGC and NUS agreed that the residential model was best.
Students’ Unions provided the common rooms, societies and sports in the new, non-collegiate, universities. The majority of students in the civic universities lived either at home or in digs, rather than in halls.
One of the prominent activities was singing. The Leeds University Song Book is an example of how those modern universities tried to build up their spirits. The preface explains:
With the advent of the Song Book, the hope grows strong that our University may develop a corporate musical spirit well befitting such an institution. Some of the songs in this book are very robust: in singing them it is hoped that students will feel the inspiration of comradeship…
The Committee commend the book, hopeful that ‘our University may at last become a University of Song’. There are five sections: Patriotic and National Songs; Yorkshire Songs; General University Songs (including Departmental Songs); Students’ Songs and Hymns. The oldest of the local songs dates from 1886. sung in the early days of the student association of the then Yorkshire College.
The committee notes the enthusiasm of Professor Garstang in writing songs, so we’ll start with his Boating Song (which although he wrote some music can also be sung to the Eton Boating Song).
Cambridge has her Granta
Oxford, Isis Fair,
Leeds, with an enchanter,
Still might row the Aire;
But until he comes, in spite of banter,
We must go elsewhere!
Until he comes, in spite of banter,
We must go elsewhere
As an example of a ‘departmental song’ here is the Song of the Fuel Department (by Allan C Monkhouse)
Now listen all ye students who gather round to hear
The song of the fuel Department, a name to us so dear
Its work is quite stupendous, and if you’ll come along,
We’ll tell you all about it in our departmental song.
From sim, dark, distant ages of palaeozoic life
To present day conditions with all their stress and strife,
Our fuels have been building up until this day they stand
As the power of the nations who have them in their land.
There are equivalent songs about the joys of Geology, History, Mining, Physics, Chemistry and Maths. The songs show that the healthy inter-departmental rivalry that still plays out in calls for differential fees. The ‘University Songs’ show their pride in their alma mater, but perhaps with that sense of their technological status and what Flexner would complain was the service-station model of higher education.
Do you yearn to know more of the Arts and the Sciences.
Icelandic verbs or textile appliances?
If in leather or medicine or steam your alliances,
Presto, you’re served while you wait, up –
Up, pup, pup, at the Varsity,
Hup, pup, Kumati, Kuamti, Grrr, Mah
Ha-gi, Hai Ha-gi,
Now for the last bit, Hurrah
‘Ku-ma-ti’ is the ‘war-chant’ of the university. Historians of the university are unsure exactly how it was adopted, but it appears to have a link to Maori. Another song picks up the theme:
Tho’ some Varsities be older
Being establish’d long ago
By the glamour of antiquity surrounded;
Yet we’re just as proud in Yorkshire,
And have many things to show,
to prove to you our pride is fully grounded
So Ku-Ma-ti! For Leeds and its Varsity;
Its medicine, science, arts and law,
Its technicalities galore,
The students and the training corps,
So Ku-ma-ti for Leeds
So, perhaps one part of the answer for commuting students is a return to the song book. It will combine pride in your university, however vocational its studies might be, and would come with helpful patriotic songs (having access to the words to Rule Britannia and Land of Hope of Glory must help with our new confident global status).
The Song Book is a reminder that we’ve been through many of our current anxieties before. Of course, communal singing isn’t really going to be a solution. Especially if its a series of songs about how hard study is in your department.