A short history of the University of Central Lancashire in Preston

Posted on - 28th January, 2018 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News, UCLan, University campus
The Harris Institute was one of UCLan's original buildings Pic: Tony Worrall
The Harris Institute was one of UCLan’s original buildings Pic: Tony Worrall

The present day University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) was established in 1992, but it can trace an unbroken line back through predecessor institutions to the early nineteenth century.


In 1828 a leading figure in Preston, Joseph Livesey, who became famous as the founder of the Temperance Movement, was the catalyst behind the educational vision which ultimately led to the establishment of this University.

Around that time mechanics’ institutes were being formed in many northern industrial towns and on the morning of 11 September 1828, Joseph Livesey invited 23 other men to a private meeting to discuss the establishment of a mechanics institute in Preston. The meeting took place in a building on Cannon Street only a very short distance from the University.

A second meeting of what was described as ‘this new society’ took place on 23 September 1828, by which time there were already over 200 subscribers. This encouraged the founding benefactors to proceed and on 7 October 1828 a formal public meeting was held in the Corn Exchange, a building still in existence in the city centre, at which the Preston Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge was officially established.

The title ‘Preston Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge’ was retained until 1882 when the trustees of the estate of Edmund Harris, another leading Prestonian of his day who had died in 1877, gave £40,000 to the institution, which was renamed the Harris Institute.

Read more: New social areas for UCLan students and staff open

The name of the institution remained for 74 years until 1956 and adopted as its motto ‘Ex solo ad solem’- ‘From the earth to the sun’ – helping people from all walks of life to make the most of their potential.

After the Second World War, changes in the way the Harris Institute was funded led to a proposal that it should formally become a college of further education. On 1 April 1956 the Harris Institute was renamed the Harris College of Further Education.

Control of the college was vested in a council, with equal representation given to Preston Borough Council, Lancashire County Council and members of industry and commerce.
In 1966 the government announced the establishment of a new group of educational institutions to be called the polytechnics.

They were to be similar to universities by offering the full range of academic awards up to and including doctorates. Polytechnics differed from universities by offering courses in a variety of attendance modes, full-time as well as part-time, and they were to have strong links with industry, commerce and the professions.

In 1973 the work of the Harris College of Further Education was divided into two sections. One became part of a new college of further education, now called Preston’s College, the other formed the basis of a new institution called Preston Polytechnic.

In its first academic year (1973/74) Preston Polytechnic had around 800 full-time students and 1,700 part-time students. In 1975, the Poulton-le-Fylde College of Further Education and the Chorley College of Education both became part of Preston Polytechnic.

In 1984 it was decided that the only polytechnic in the whole of Lancashire, should be renamed Lancashire Polytechnic. A new corporate image with a distinctive double red rose logo was adopted to highlight the change of name which took place on 1 September 1984.

The Lancashire Poly in 1985 Pic: Ian Thacker via the Preston Digital Archive
The Lancashire Poly in 1985 Pic: Ian Thacker via the Preston Digital Archive

On 1 April 1992 the Lancashire College of Midwifery became part of Lancashire Polytechnic, reinforcing the Polytechnic’s growing links with health and health related activities.

In an order of the Privy Council dated 4 June 1992, Lancashire Polytechnic was given permission to award its own degrees and higher degrees. These powers came into operation on 1 September 1992, and the government decided that the Polytechnic could change its name to include the word ‘University’ in its title.

On 16 June 1992 the Privy Council agreed that Lancashire Polytechnic be renamed as the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Since 1992, UCLan has continued to develop and grow. The University incorporated the Lancashire College of Midwifery in 1993 and the Lancashire College of Nursing and Health Studies in 1996, creating a broader Faculty of Health and placing nursing education in the region firmly in a higher education framework.

Read more: Things you only know if you went to UCLan in the mid-2000s

Since those early university days UCLan has developed a reputation as an institution that innovates, evolving its course portfolio to over 500 undergraduate programmes and 180 postgraduate courses. UCLan has a staff and student community of over 31,000 including students in China, Greece, India, Mauritius, Singapore and the USA, the University indirectly contributes close to £300 million into the regional economy every year.

Building at the Preston campus in late 2017 Pic: Tony Worrall
Building at the Preston campus in late 2017 for the new engineering building Pic: Tony Worrall

In 2014 the University announced a 10- year plan to create a unified, sustainable and welcoming campus to enhance the experience for all those visiting the University.

The first stage of the development will see the building of the £30 million-plus Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC), with completion due in 2019. The EIC will establish UCLan as a prominent university for engineering innovation and will lead to an increase of 500 locally trained graduates per year.

Do you have any memories of studying at UCLan or the poly? Let us know in the comments below

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