Collegiate university

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A collegiate university (also federal university or affiliating university) is a university in which governing authority and functions are divided between a central administration and a number of constituent colleges. Often, the division of powers in a collegiate university is realized in the form of a federation, analogous to the geopolitical arrangement in which a country comprises member regions (provinces, states, etc.) and a central federal government.

A collegiate university differs from a centralized university in that its colleges are not just halls of residence; rather, they have a substantial amount of responsibility and autonomy in the running of the university. The actual level of self-governance exercised by the colleges varies greatly among institutions, ranging from nearly autonomous colleges to dependent colleges that are integrated with the central administration itself. Often, but not always, colleges within collegiate universities have their own specific students' unions.


The development of the collegiate university in western Europe followed shortly after the development of the medieval university itself. The first college to be established was the Collège des Dix-Huits (Fr) at the University of Paris, founded in 1180 by John of London shortly after he had returned from Jerusalem. This has led to the suggestion that the college was inspired by madrasas he saw on his travels, although this has been disputed, particularly as, unlike madrasas, the early Paris colleges did not teach.[1] Other colleges appeared in Paris shortly after this, including the College of St Thomas du Louvre (1186) and the College of the Good Children of St Honore (1208-9) – although these may both have had more of the character of grammar schools that colleges of the university[2] – various monastic colleges starting with the Dominicans in 1217,[3] and the College of Sorbonne for non-monastic theology students in 1257.[4] From Paris, the idea spread to Oxford, where William of Durham, who had been a Regent Master of Theology at Paris, left a legacy to found University College, Oxford in 1249. Although this is taken as the foundation date of University College, it was not until after 1280 that the college actually began operating. At around the same time Balliol College was founded by John de Balliol via a grant of land in 1263 as a penance imposed by the Bishop of Durham, and Merton College was founded with an endowment by Walter de Merton in 1264.[5][6]

These original Oxford colleges were "merely endowed boardinghouses for impoverished scholars",[7] and were limited to those who had already received their Bachelor of Arts degree and were reading for higher degrees (usually theology).[5] It was not until 1305 that teaching started in the College of Navarre in Paris,[1] an innovation that reached Oxford in 1379 with the foundation of New College – also the first college there to take undergraduate students.[8]

Colleges evolved in different directions in different places, but many European universities lost their colleges in the early 18th century. At the University of Coimbra, for example, many colleges were established in the 16th century, althoughthese were limited to the study of theology with the other faculties remaining non-collegiate. These colleges, joined by others in the 17th and 18th centuries, persisted until 1834, when they (along with the religious orders that ran then) were suppressed following the Portuguese civil war.[9] The colleges of Paris were closed along with the university itself and the rest of the French universities after the French Revolution, as were the colleges of the University of Salamanca.[10][11]

While the continental universities retained control over their colleges, in England it was the colleges that came to dominate the universities.[12] This led to Royal Commissions in the 1850s and Acts of Parliament limiting the power of the colleges in 1854 (for Oxford) and 1856 (for Cambridge).[13] The Hebdomadal Board was established by William Laud at Oxford in 1631 with the intent of diluting the influence of Congregation (the assembly of regent masters) and Convocation (the assembly of all graduates).[14] This led to criticism in the 19th century, with William Hamilton alleging that the colleges had unlawfully usurped the functions of the universities as the tutors had taken over the teaching from the professors.[12]

Prior to these reforms, however, the first two new universities in England for over 600 years were established, both offering new versions of the collegiate university. The University of Durham was founded in 1832, taking Oxford for its model, and University College, Durham was created at the same time. This college, unlike those of Oxford and Cambridge, was not legally distinct from the university and nor was it responsible for teaching, which was carried out by university professors rather than college tutors. Unlike the earlier foundation of Trinity College Dublin, which had been established as "the mother of a university" but to which no other colleges had ever been added, the Durham system allowed for the university itself to found further colleges, which it with the establishment of Hatfield College in 1846.

The University of London, founded in 1836, was very different. It was, in its original form, an examining body for affiliated colleges. The first two of these - University College London (UCL; founded 1826) and King's College London (founded 1829) were already in existence and resembled non-collegiate 'unitary' universities, as found in Scotland and continental Europe, except in their lack of degree-awarding powers. There had been much dispute over UCL's attempt to gain recognition as a university, and the University of London was designed as a political solution to put an end to this dispute and to enable the students at both UCL and King's to receive degrees. It was modelled on Cambridge, where the senate of the university was responsible for examinations and the colleges for the teaching. But, unlike Oxford and Cambridge, the affiliated colleges of London (which were spread across the country) were not constituent parts of the university and had no say in its running. Another major difference was that both UCL and King's were non-residential, providing teaching but not accommodation. This would provide the model for the civic colleges that were established in the major English cities, which later became the redbrick universities. After 1858 the requirement for colleges to be affiliated was dropped and London degrees were available to anyone who could pass the examinations. It was not until 1900 that London, after a period of sustained pressure from the teaching institutions in London, became a federal university.

A modification of the University of London plan was used for the Queen's University of Ireland, established in 1850. This took in three newly-established colleges: the Queen's Colleges of Belfast, Cork and Galway. This was more federal than London, but proved inflexible and was replaced in 1880 by the Royal University of Ireland, which was an examining university based more directly on London. Also in 1880 another federal university, the Victoria University, was established in the north of England to solve the problem of Owen's College, Manchester, seeking university status. This originally just took in Owen's College, but grew to take in university colleges in Leeds and Liverpool. However it unravelled in 1903-4 after Birmingham successfully became England's first unitary university, with the three colleges all becoming universities in their own right.

The federal University of Wales was created in 1893 as a national university for Wales, taking in pre-existing colleges in Aberystwyth, Cardiff and Bangor that had been preparing students for London degrees. It lasted as a federal university until 2007, when it became a confederal non-membership degree-awarding body. The University of Durham became a very curious federal institution in 1908 - its Durham division was itself collegiate, while its Newcastle division had two independent colleges (Armstrong College, the civic university college affiliated to Durham since its creation in 1871, and the Medical College, which had been affiliated since the 1850s). The two colleges of the Newcastle division were merged in 1937, and Newcastle finally became an independent university in 1963. Similarly, the university college in Dundee, founded 1881, became a college of the University of St Andrews in 1897 before becoming an independent university in 1967.

The idea of the residential college spread to America in the early 20th century, with Harvard and Yale both establishing colleges (called "houses" at Harvard) in the 1930s.[15] Like the Durham colleges, these were colleges established and owned by the universities with only limited involvement in teaching.[16][17]

Loosely federated colleges[edit]

The two founding colleges of the federal University of London

Some colleges are part of loose federations that allow them to exercise nearly complete self-governance. In the United Kingdom, the colleges of the University of London and the University of the Highlands and Islands are legally separate bodies that are responsible for all of the teaching, and University of London colleges receive government funding directly rather than through the central university. All University of London colleges hold their own degree awarding powers and, since this was authorised in 2008, many have begun awarding their own degrees rather than University of London degrees.

In the United States, many state university systems consist of campuses that are almost independent, spread out across different parts of the state. Examples of such institutions include the University of California, the State University of New York, the University of Michigan, the University of Texas System, and the University System of Maryland. The University of the Philippines started as one campus but is now a similar system of "constituent universities". The four constituent universities of the National University of Ireland are, for all essential purposes, independent universities.

Over time, the level of federation may evolve. University College London and King's College London were for a period dependent colleges of the central university, and all London colleges received funds through the University of London rather than directly. The trend since the late 1970s has been for increased decentralisation; taken to its ultimate, this has led some colleges to formally end their relations with the parent university to become degree-awarding universities. Examples include Cardiff University (formerly named the University of Wales, Cardiff) and Imperial College London, formerly a college of the University of London. The University of Dundee and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne were colleges of the University of St Andrews and the University of Durham, respectively, before they became independent universities. A number of autonomous universities in South Africa were formerly colleges of the University of South Africa.

Independent and federated colleges[edit]

At some universities the colleges enjoy a significant degree of independence, but the central administration also has an active role in institutional affairs. Often the binding conditions of federation, affiliation or incorporation outline fixed responsibilities of individual colleges and the university. In some cases the university may own a part share of the controlling entity.

Independent colleges vary in the level of teaching that they provide, but they may create positions independently from the university and may provide their own funding for research. They also tend to play a large role in deciding admissions. Students become members of the University through membership in their particular college, and matriculation is often done through, or at the behest of, the colleges. At the undergraduate level, independent colleges usually provide most, if not all accommodation and bursaries. They often have their own halls for meals, libraries, sports teams and societies. This fosters loyalty to the college among its students—an undergraduate might state the name of his or her college before the name of the university when asked where he or she studied. This spirit is often maintained through college-based alumni organizations.

The two ancient universities of the Kingdom of England (and subsequently the United Kingdom), Oxford and Cambridge (collectively termed Oxbridge), are federations of autonomous colleges. The University of Oxford has 38 colleges and 6 Permanent Private Halls, which exist autonomously and run independent, supplementary academic programmes. The university requires all teaching staff and students to be members of one of these institutions. The University of Cambridge has 31 colleges, which have a significant role in providing independent supplementary tuition and are governed autonomously. These institutions represent a significant financial interest, having combined fixed assets of approximately £3.4 billion, in contrast to the university's central assets, which total approximately £1.9 billion.[18][19]

Ireland's only ancient university is the University of Dublin. Created during the reign of Elizabeth I, it is modelled on the collegiate universities of Cambridge and Oxford. However, only one constituent college was ever founded, hence the curious position of Trinity College, Dublin today.

Of the 17 colleges at Durham University, St Chad's College and St John's College and Ushaw College are separately incorporated and independently governed, with their own supplementary academic support and academic staff. All four of Roehampton University's constituent colleges, Whitelands College, Southlands College, Digby Stuart College and Froebel College, are independently owned, although the university holds a number of relevant long-term leases.[20][21]

In the Americas, the University of Toronto has a collegiate system that took form from the mid 19th century, modeled after Oxford.[22] The independent colleges include Knox College, Regis College, Wycliffe College, Massey College, St. Michael's College, Trinity College, Emmanuel College and Victoria College. The Claremont Colleges in California operate a hybrid federal-constituent system.[citation needed] All 7 colleges are independently governed: Pomona College, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College as undergraduate colleges as well as Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences as graduate universities. Their founding model was based on that of the University of Oxford and they are linked through the Claremont University Consortium, though, unlike other constituent college systems, degrees are conferred separately by the seven constituent institutions and they exist as universities and liberal arts colleges in their own right. The colleges are spread over a square mile site and share certain departmental, library and research facilities. In addition, the five undergraduate colleges operate two intercollegiate athletic programs, with Claremont, Harvey Mudd, and Scripps forming one program and Pomona and Pitzer the other.

In New Zealand, the University of Otago has 14 colleges, of which 5 are independently owned and governed: Selwyn College, Knox College, St Margaret's College, Salmond College and City College. Both dependent and independent colleges provide their own supplementary academic programmes.

In Italy, the University of Pavia includes four independent colleges, of which the oldest are the Collegio Borromeo (founded in 1561) and Collegio Ghislieri (1567), and eleven dependent colleges administered by EDiSU. While degrees are conferred by the University and students are not required to be members of a college, at least some colleges offer additional courses and other academic programs in parallel to those offered by university faculties.

Dependent colleges[edit]

Some universities have built colleges that do not provide teaching but still perform much of the housing and social duties, allowing students to develop loyalty towards their college. Such colleges are planned, built and funded entirely by the central administration and are thus dependent on it, however they still retain their own administrative structures and have a degree of independence. This system was pioneered at Durham University in the United Kingdom in the 1830s, and has been described as "a far better model for people at other institutions to look to, than are the independent colleges of Oxford and Cambridge".[23]

Durham University itself is now a mix of 14 dependent and two independent colleges,[24] with the two independent colleges (St Chad's and St John's) both being Anglican foundations created in the early 20th century. Most of the dependent colleges have been created by the university itself, although the College of St Hild and St Bede was previously an independent teacher training college (itself formed from the merger of the women's teacher training college of St Hild and the men's teacher training college of St Bede) and some were originally student associations: St Cuthbert's Society (originally for non-collegiate men), St Aidan's College (originally for non-collegiate women) and Ustinov College (previously the Graduate Society and still postgraduate-only). The university expects to build four to six new colleges by 2027.[25]

The British 1960s plate glass universities of York, Lancaster and Kent are also collegiate. York is made up of nine colleges, with a tenth planned.[26] The colleges play an important role in the pastoral care of the student body; every student is a member of a college and staff may choose to join a college if they wish. All the colleges are of equal status, and has its own constitution. The day-to-day running of the colleges is managed by an elected committee of staff and student members chaired by the college's 'Head of College'. Lancaster has nine colleges, one being postgraduate only, with the most recent created in 1992.[27] Kent has six colleges (one "mainly postgraduate" on its main campus, the most recent being created in 2014, and one on its Medway campus.[28]

A different form of dependent college is found at another British university, the University of the Arts, London (UAL). Here, the colleges existed prior to federating to form the university and are responsible for all of the teaching.[29] However, although this resembles the arrangement of the University of London, the UAL colleges have no separate legal status and are dependent colleges of the parent university.[30]

In the United States examples include the colleges of the Stanford University, Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Rice University.

In Australia, most Group of Eight universities such as the University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, and University of Queensland have a residential college system.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong was founded as a loose federation of three colleges, but the founding colleges have since become dependent on the central administration, and new colleges have been established as dependent colleges.

Former collegiate universities[edit]

The University of Paris depicted in a 17th-century engraving

Some universities that once featured collegiate systems had gradually lost them to mergers and amalgamation, due to financial, political or other reasons. Examples include the following:

  • At the University of St. Andrews, the colleges joined together to become St Mary's College, St Andrews for Divinity, the United College of St Salvator and St Leonard and St Leonard's College for postgraduates. The divisions are now largely administrative, although St Mary's retains a distinctive identity within the university and St Leonard's operates as a postgraduate society 'without walls'.
  • The colleges of the former University of Paris were suppressed after the French Revolution. In the twentieth century, the university was split into 13 institutions (Paris I - Paris XIII). Some of these universities are currently in the process of forming new collegiate systems, such as Sorbonne Paris Cité University, Sorbonne Universities and HéSam.
  • The Victoria University, which split into Victoria University of Manchester, University of Liverpool and University of Leeds.
  • At the University of Coimbra, independent colleges much like the Oxbridge ones were created throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. They were abolished with the extinction of religious orders in 1836.
  • The University of Salamanca had a number of Colegios Mayores (Colleges), that were abolished in 1807 when Napoleon invaded Spain.
  • The University of Wales was a loose federation of colleges from its formation in 1893 until 2007, when its colleges became independent and it was transformed into a non-membership accreditation body.


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