The 1980s at Aston were shaped by cuts to Higher Education and saw the University radically reform in order to adapt to a difficult climate. A new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Frederick Crawford, was appointed to help the University meet the changing needs of students and employers, instil computer literacy, and increase the numbers of female students.
Aston Science Park
Overshadowed by the cuts are a series of bright initiatives that have made Aston into the campus university we know today. Among Professor Crawford’s priorities in the '80s were improving the appearance of the campus and introducing a Science Park so that the University could have business on its doorstep. At the time, the Science Park model was uncommon in the UK and favoured by American universities, so the move was seen as radical and ultimately successful in attracting small technology firms to Aston.
News of the Science Park caught the attention of then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who visited the site in 1983, shortly after its launch. However, the Lady was not well received by local Councillor, Mr Clive Wilkinson, who insisted on pulling up the red carpet before she arrived! Despite being told by Mr Wilkinson, "Many of us resent you coming here. You have not been invited", Mrs Thatcher continued her tour undaunted.
Establishment of the Science Park and Aston’s contribution to the city of Birmingham was fully recognised when the area was granted its own postal address “The Aston Triangle” in 1984, emphasising the campus as an official district of Birmingham.
Despite deep cuts to the University’s main UGC grant, there were still pockets of funding available for specific initiatives. One of these was titled “New Blood” and was the Government’s response to getting more ICT expertise into universities. Aston’s bid was successful and the University was awarded funding for ICT professors and support staff. New courses were created and new computers systems were rolled out across the University, including a fully digital library search system and one of the most sophisticated Local Area Networks in Europe.
A great innovation during the '80s was the introduction of Post Experience and distance learning courses. Post Experience courses at Aston educated professionals already in employment, sharpening their skills and keeping them up to date with the latest developments in Business. The University also utilised the proliferation of VHS technology to record and distribute MBA lectures to distance learning students. Radical for the time.
By the end of the decade, research at the University was enjoying new vigour and Aston was finding its identity as a smaller institution, but with a sharper focus. The following decade would celebrate 100 years since the establishment of Birmingham Municipal Technical School and a redefining of Aston’s academic mission.