University Reform Act of 1854

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The University Reform Act of 1854 was an Act of Parliament which made substantial changes to how Oxford University was run.[1]

The Act:

In 1850 a parliamentarty commission was set up to revise the statutes drawn up by Archibishop William Laud. The original Bill proposed by Lord John Russell was much more limited in scope, however dissenters effectively mobilised, threatening to block the bill, unless the theological tests were dropped.[1]

The reforms curbed the power of heads of colleges, creating a more centralised university authority. Dons no longer had to be in Holy Orders.[2]

Theological Tests[edit]

The subject of dropping the theological Test was not new as James Heywood described in the parliamentary debate:

"The subject was not a new one, for it had been brought before Parliament in 1772, when a petition was presented from a large number of clergymen on the subject of an alteration in clerical oaths, and in 1834 the late Mr. Alderman Wood brought in a Bill for the abolition of matriculation and degree oaths in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which passed this House by a large majority, but was lost in the other House. The practical result of the defeat of this Bill was the establishment of the University of London, but, notwithstanding the success of that great institution, the Dissenters still considered they had a right to send their sons to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge if they pleased. The Duke of Wellington, when Chancellor of Oxford University, endeavoured to persuade the University to consent to some alterations in these oaths, proposing that the Thirty-nine Articles should be laid aside, and that all students should be required to subscribe themselves members of the Established Church. The Hebdomadal Board laid the proposition before Convocation, which, however, rejected it. In 1843 the subject was introduced into Parliament by Mr. Christie, and now it was brought forward again. He thought he was justified in saying that there was nothing to be expected from the University itself on this subject, nor from the operation of a mere enabling Bill. Such an alteration as he now proposed was not one which could be expected to be made by an exclusively clerical body such as the University of Oxford; and he thought it was a question with which it was particularly the province of Parliament to deal."[3]

See also[edit]

Universities Tests Act 1871


  1. ^ a b "Oxford Reform Bill: A retrospect and a warning". Spectator. 12 August 1854. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  2. ^ Dougill, John (1998). Oxford in English Literature: The Making, and Undoing, Of the English Athens. University of Michigan. p. 104. 
  3. ^ "Oxford University Bill". Hansard 134: 511–95. 22 June 1854. Retrieved 25 July 2013.