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The early days

Monday 29 October 2018

The genesis from a polytechnic to a new university was a five year process of negotiation and cross party lobbying. The Sheffield City Polytechnic, owned and administered by the City Council, had, over some twenty years, been a much admired and successful institution serving the educational needs of the region and its students. It had, by 1988, become very large, skilfully led by the Principal John Stoddart, with over 15,000 students.

It was thus with mixed feelings, that those who had been responsible for this success, were given notice in 1988 that this and other similar educational bodies were to be handed over and managed and governed as independent institutions. The prize, however, if independence were proved to be successful, was the attainment of full university status.

A Sheffield businessman, Peter Newman was approached by the Secretary of State for Education to oversee this process and soon after was able to form a board of governors to shadow the existing City Council board. Huge credit must be given to the Council for the unselfish help that was given to affect the transfer of assets and management. As managing director of Davy McKee, the region’s largest engineering company, Peter had worked with the Poly on various Teaching Company schemes, and was attracted to the challenges faced by a new organisation with much the same running costs as Davy. He soon chaired a talented Governing Board which, together with the academic community, reshaped the institution and gained its full independence in 1989.

University status was finally granted in 1992. To complement the academic success and sound financial management there had remained a final task for the Poly Board of Governors – to define the image of the new university and have it displayed at the installation of the first Chancellor Sir Bryan Nicholson and John Stoddart as the first Vice Chancellor. As now the chair of a new university Peter Newman conducted both installations in a spectacular ceremony in Sheffield Cathedral in June 1993. The University recently repeated this important civic tradition with the appointment of a third Chancellor building on the bold foundations set out in 1992.

Peter reflected, "during the transition, Sheffield Hallam University pledged to remain true to this original purpose as a broadly vocational institution with a commitment to the educational needs of its own region as well as to the needs of a rapidly changing world.”

"It promised to change the meaning of higher education making it more relevant to the world of work and more accessible to all people regardless of age, gender, race, disability or background. 26 years later I am so pleased to see these promises fulfilled and enhanced."

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