The University of Bristol (simply referred to as Bristol University and abbreviated as Bris. in post-nominal letters, or UoB) is a red brick research university located in Bristol, United Kingdom. It received its royal charter in 1909, although like the University of the West of England and the University of Bath, it first started as the Merchant Venturers Navigation School in 1595. Its key predecessor institution, University College, Bristol, had been in existence since 1876.
Bristol is organised into six academic faculties composed of multiple schools and departments running over 200 undergraduate courses largely situated in the Tyndalls Park area of the city. The university had a total income of £617.9 million in 2016/17, of which £155.4 million was from research grants and contracts. It is the largest independent employer in Bristol.
The University of Bristol is ranked 44th by the QS World University Rankings 2018, and is ranked amongst the top 10 of UK universities by QS, THE, and ARWU. A highly selective institution, it has an average of 6.4 (Sciences faculty) to 13.1 (Medicine & Dentistry Faculty) applicants for each undergraduate place.
Bristol is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive British universities, the European-wide Coimbra Group and the Worldwide Universities Network, of which the university’s previous vice-chancellor, Eric Thomas, was chairman from 2005 to 2007. In addition, the university holds an Erasmus Charter, sending more than 500 students per year to partner institutions in Europe.
The earliest antecedent of the university was the engineering department of the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College (founded as a school as early as 1595) which became the engineering faculty of Bristol University. The university was also preceded by Bristol Medical School (1833) and University College, Bristol, founded in 1876, where its first lecture was attended by only 99 students. The university was able to apply for a royal charter due to the financial support of the Wills and Fry families, who made their fortunes in tobacco plantations and chocolate, respectively. The Wills Family made a vast fortune from the tobacco industry and gave generously to the city and university. The royal charter was gained in May 1909, with 288 undergraduates and 400 other students entering the university in October 1909. Henry Overton Wills III became its first chancellor. The University College was the first such institution in the country to admit women on the same basis as men. However, women were forbidden to take examinations in medicine until 1906.
The university has been regarded as being elitist by some commentators, taking 41% of its undergraduate students from non-state schools, according to the most recent 2009/2010 figures, despite the fact that such pupils make up just 7% of the population and 18% of 16+ year old pupils across the UK. The intake of state school pupils at Bristol is lower than many Oxbridge colleges.
The high ratio of undergraduates from non-state school has led to some tension at the university. In late February and early March 2003, Bristol became embroiled in a row about admissions policies, with some private schools threatening a boycott based on their claims that, in an effort to improve equality of access, the university was discriminating against their students. These claims were hotly denied by the university. In August 2005, following a large-scale survey, the Independent Schools Council publicly acknowledged that there was no evidence of bias against applicants from the schools it represented. The university has a new admissions policy, which lays out in considerable detail the basis on which any greater or lesser weight may be given to particular parts of an applicant’s backgrounds – in particular, what account may be taken of which school the applicant hails from. This new policy also encourages greater participation from locally resident applicants.
Some of the University of Bristol’s buildings date to its pre-charter days when it was University College Bristol. These buildings were designed by Charles Hansom, the younger brother of Joseph Hansom, Joseph being the inventor of the Hansom Cab. These buildings suffered being built in stages due to financial pressure. George Oatley added to them a tower in memory of Albert Fry which can still be seen on University Road. The first large scale building project the University of Bristol undertook on gaining a charter was the Wills Memorial Building which it was hoped would be a symbol of academic permanence for the university and a memorial to the chief benefactor of the university, Henry Overton Wills. It was requested to the architect George Oatley that the building be built to last at least 400 years but the site purchased, at the top of Park Streetsuffered from an awkward slope and a desirability to link the building with the Museum and Art Gallery situated adjacent to the plot.
Many of the more modern buildings, including Senate House and the newer parts of the HH Wills Physics Laboratory, were designed by Ralph Brentnall after funds from the University Grants Committee. He is also responsible for the extension to the Wills Memorial Building library which was completed to such standard that few now realise that is an extension to the original building. Brentnall oversaw the rebuilding of the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building after it was partly destroyed during the Bristol Blitz of World War II. The buildings of St Michael’s Hill were rebuilt using hundreds of old photographs to recreate the original houses.
In common with most UK universities, Bristol is headed formally by the chancellor, currently Sir Paul Nurse and led on a day-to-day basis by the vice-chancellor, currently Hugh Brady, who is the academic leader and chief executive. There are four pro vice-chancellors and three ceremonial pro-chancellors. The chancellor may hold office for up to ten years and the pro-chancellors for up to three, unless the University Court determines otherwise, but the vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellors have no term limits. The vice-chancellor is supported by a deputy vice-chancellor.