History and Traditions

Aston University Crest

Aston University received its Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth II on 22 April 1966.

The Charter of the University outlines objectives appropriate to a technological university: "to advance, disseminate and apply learning and knowledge by teaching and research, for the benefit of industry and commerce and of the community generally: and to enable students to obtain the advantage of a university education, and such teaching and research may include periods outside the University in industry or commerce or wherever the University considers proper for the best advancement of its objects." The emphasis given to the sandwich course system, and the maintenance of strong links with industry, arises naturally from the institution’s history. The motto of the University is the same as that of the City of Birmingham – Forward.

Key Dates


A School of Metallurgy was set up in the Birmingham and Midland Institute by G H Kenrick.


The Birmingham Municipal Technical School separated from the Birmingham and Midland Institute. Dr W E Sumpner was appointed as Principal and classes were taught in chemistry, physics, metallurgy and electrical engineering.


Commercial classes were introduced and grew into an independent School of Commerce by 1916.


The Birmingham Municipal Technical School became the Birmingham Central Technical College.


Acquisition of the Gosta Green site for the new Technical College and the Colleges of Commerce and of Arts and Crafts was approved.


The Department of Industrial Administration was created.


The Technical College was re-named the College of Technology, Birmingham. Work began on the Main Building at Gosta Green.


Dr P F R (later Sir Peter) Venables was appointed as Principal of the College, which in the same year became the first designated College of Advanced Technology.


The Robbins Committee on Higher Education recommended that the Colleges of Advanced Technology should become technological universities.


The College came under the aegis of the University Grants Committee on 1 April 1965 and the draft Charter was submitted to the Privy Council.


The Royal Charter was formally sealed on 22 April 1966 and the first Chancellor of the University, Lord Nelson of Stafford, was installed on 10 May.


Dr J A (now Sir Joseph) Pope succeeded Sir Peter Venables as Vice-Chancellor in August 1969, and the next decade saw rapid growth of the University, with developments on the main campus and the acquisition of additional sites at Walsall, Handsworth and Saltley. Lord Nelson of Stafford was succeeded as Chancellor by Sir Adrian Cadbury, who was installed on 21 September 1979.


Dr Pope was succeeded as Vice-Chancellor by Professor F W (now Sir Frederick) Crawford, formerly of Stanford University, California, who assumed office on 1 July 1980.  In 1981, Aston clarified its mission to be a leading technological university, and devised a comprehensive strategy coordinating the planning of its academic programmes with optimum use of its finance and facilities. The University’s development during the 1980s was characterised by a rigorous pursuit of quality. Its structure and operations were streamlined, while the standards and quality of its academic programmes were greatly enhanced.  Work proceeded on a comprehensive physical redevelopment programme to transform the campus. A campus-wide Local Area Network was installed in 1988 to interconnect Aston’s distributed computing facilities. 

In 1981, in conjunction with the City of Birmingham, and with financial support from Lloyds Bank plc, the University established the Aston Science Park as a launch pad for high-technology companies.


At the end of August 1996 Professor Crawford retired. Professor Michael Wright, the former Senior-Pro-Vice-Chancellor and an Aston graduate, was chosen to succeed him. He oversaw the University’s next phase of strategic development, securing a dynamic and expanding role for Aston as a leading UK university for the new millennium.  During the academic year 1996/97 Aston redefined its mission:  to be an international centre of excellence in teaching, research and consultancy, focused on subjects of professional and vocational relevance in the sciences, engineering, business and the humanities.

In February 1997 the Privy Council approved the change in name from the University of Aston in Birmingham to Aston University.

In August 1998 the academic faculties were restructured into four Academic Schools: Aston Business School, Engineering & Applied Science, Life & Health Sciences and Languages & European Studies, which was later retitled as Languages and Social Sciences.

2000 to the present

In December 2006 Professor Michael Wright retired as Vice-Chancellor, and was succeeded by Professor Julia King. Launched in 2008, the Aston 2012 Strategy provided the University with a new and challenging mission to develop the three corners of our academic triangle: delivering an excellent learning experience for students, enhanced by interaction with internationally recognised, relevant research, and linked to innovative support for local companies and engagement with schools and the community, involving students and staff in raising aspirations and attainment. Aston’s culture and values were developed through a series of initiatives, including the Aston People Strategy 2012, and the Aston First (culture transformation) and ExCL (excellence, capability and leadership development) programmes.

In 2005, a £22 million extension of the Business School building was completed, including an outstanding residential (160 bedroom) conference centre, to provide new MBA and management development programme facilities. The £215 million Aston Student Village project commenced in 2008, which is transforming the standard of student accommodation on campus - providing 2,400 brand new rooms, built to the highest standard, all with en suite bathrooms. 1,300 of these opened in 2010 with Phase Two of the construction currently underway and due for completion in 2013. A rolling programme of campus refurbishments was completed included investment to refresh the Main Building, the creation of student study and rest spaces, improvements to the Guild Building, laboratory enhancements, the demolition of the Sumpner Building accompanied by the relocation of the Civil Engineering and Logistics/Transport Management academic provision into the School of Engineering and Applied Science areas within the Main Building, and the creation of the Hub, a one-stop-shop for student services. Birmingham Metropolitan College’s (formerly Matthew Boulton College) relocation to the edge of the University Campus in 2005 enabled the University to further develop its longstanding partnership with the College.

The University's results in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2008 improved on the performance in the 2001 RAE in all subject areas submitted. The results based on quality and volume, indicate that research in Allied Health Professions and Studies at Aston was rated 3rd best out of 63 HEIs in the UK, Business and Management Studies 9th of 90, European Studies 11th of 27 and General Engineering 12th out of 47. 45% of the research submitted for assessment was judged internationally excellent or world-leading research (based on 3* and 4* ratings), and 85% was judged Internationally recognised for its originality and rigour.

The student population continued to grow in this period, to 9500, with significant growth in international students, postgraduates and foundation degree students.

Working with staff and students, Professor King, has developed the ambitious new strategy to take Aston Forward to 2020.

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