The 1950s were a period of transition for the Technology College. The site at Suffolk Street had become overcrowded and pressure was being placed on the institution to complete the build at Gosta Green, so that it could attract more students and improve the take-up of technical education.
Public support for technical education was growing, and, to the delight of the college in 1951, Princess Margaret laid one of the first foundation stones at the base of the new building. The stone is inscribed and can still be seen today, to the left of the stairs in the main foyer.
College of Advanced Technology
In order to allay public concerns about the quality of technical education, the Government awarded the College “College of Advanced Technology” status - the first of its kind - which enabled it to focus on areas of research and postgraduate study, attracting a broader range of students and more specialised staff. The University’s Arms were granted on 18 March 1955 by Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy and Ulster Kings of Arms to the Birmingham Corporation.
In November of the same year, the College (which by now had been recognised for its outstanding potential and contribution to technical education) was opened by Her Majesty The Queen. Taking advantage of the new enthusiasm for technical education, Birmingham’s local authority set up a committee tasked with keeping programmes offered by the College relevant to industry.
Under the leadership of Principal, J. Wilson, the College enhanced its reputation for students working in industry as part of their study programme. Electrical Engineering (still taught at Aston today) was the first courses to benefit from such a model, with all its students becoming apprentices of the General Electric Company.
The Emergence of Student Life
With the construction of a brand new building at Gosta Green and the rapidly expanding student numbers, the College’s Guild of Students began to increase in popularity. Despite not yet having a central campus location, the Guild was home to over 20 societies and was an active political forum.
The Guild’s most vocal outlet was its own newspaper The S.U.N which included articles, editorial and letters from the College’s students and staff. The correspondence section offers some great insights into student life at the time, with one letter highlighting that a “private tunnel” between the two campuses (Suffolk Street and Gosta Green) would undoubtedly be the simplest solution to an awkward commute. Once the building in Suffolk Street was demolished, the tunnel would be used as a “as a launching site for space satellites.”
The end of the decade saw the construction of the College’s first official hall of residence, JJ Gracie Hall (named for the Chairman of the Governing Body, see panel above right). This paved the way for a more active student body, a greater range of courses and the ambitious expansion that occurred during Aston’s inaugural years.