Breadth, ‘National Needs’, and Reimagining the Role of the University in Society

The early University of Warwick


  • Joshua Patel Department of History, University of Warwick, Coventry



Warwick, Higher Education, industry, New Universities, Butterworth, breadth


A persistent critique of university histories is their lack of consideration for the influence of external forces. How did the political and societal pressures of the 1960s inform understandings of the contributions that students and universities should make to society? This article investigates how pressures that the universities contribute to the ‘national need’ informed the design of studies and the built environment at the University of Warwick.

Vice-Chancellor of Warwick ‘Jack’ Butterworth in 1970 found himself and his university criticised for permitting an ‘oligarchy of industrialists,’ to subjugate the university and force it to mass-produce ‘capitalistic,’ managers. For Butterworth this was no coup but a reorientation of the purpose of a university towards public needs. At Warwick, a new university was imagined. Its environment and teaching programme stressed ‘breadth’ and spontaneity so that it might produce students armed with ‘pure’ knowledge to be ‘applied’ to practical issues of the day, particularly those found in industry. The nation needed such broad-minded, productive graduates in order to engender the prosperous liberal society. This educational philosophy is identifiable in Butterworth’s proposals for his business school, Warwick’s foiled attempt to merge with the local college of technology, and its unsuccessful early designs for halls of residence.     


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Author Biography

Joshua Patel, Department of History, University of Warwick, Coventry

Postgraduate student studying MA History: Global and Comparative at University of Warwick

1970s Map of the University of Warwick