Matthew Andrews

DPhil in English Local History


Durham University: Last of the Ancient Universities and First of the New

Research abstract

Durham University quickly gained a reputation for being an anachronism: a second-rate imitation of Oxford dedicated almost exclusively to theology.  Its inadequacies became a national scandal and a Royal Commission was forced in 1861.  This Commission found it to be poorly managed, wasteful of resources, and woefully ill-equipped to provide useful, modern higher education. My thesis attempts to dispel this impression.  I will argue that it was not an institution which sat outside of the general development of higher education.  I will argue, first, that Durham University was founded with far greater ambition than is commonly understood.  Second, that the reasons why Durham failed to achieve its ambitions were not connected primarily the criticisms levelled by the Commissioners.  My thesis argues that the lack of sufficient demand for the growing supply of higher education was the essential reason for Durham’s failure and thus places the University in its historical context. My proposed title ‘Durham University: Last of the Ancient Universities and First of the New’ reflects my argument.  Durham University can claim to be the last of the ancient universities due to the circumstances and manner of its establishment, but the first of the new based on its founders’ intentions to offer a modern, practical, and professional education.


Professor William Whyte, Tutorial Fellow in History, St John's College


Since 2009 I have been researching higher education in the C19 century, principally the foundation of Durham University. I am a member of the Royal Historical, Durham County Local History, History of Education, and Ecclesiastical History Societies. I am the Academic Registrar at Oxford Brookes University. I became a Trustee of the Association of University Administrators in 2008 and was Chair 2012-14.  I am on the THE Editorial Board. I believe that universities can and do change lives for the better from individuals to society as a whole. I do not plan a switch from a professional to an academic career, but hope to find some outlet for my academic interests.

Research interests

Nineteenth century higher education.