Collegiate university

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 or Junior Common Rooms.


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. [15] 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 did 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. The London pattern spread the idea of the examining university with affiliated colleges around the British Empire, in particular to Canada where the University of Toronto was refounded as an examining university, its teaching arm becoming University College, Toronto, which federated other colleges in the region, [16] [17] and to India, where the universities of Calcutta, Madras and Mumbai were founded in 1857, and New Zealand, where the federal University of New Zealand was established in 1874.

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. [18] Like the Durham colleges, these were colleges established and owned by the universities with only limited involvement in teaching. [19] [20] The American state university systems also developed federal-style universities with autonomous campuses (although normally not legally independent). As these systems often developed from a single original campus, this often became identified as the 'flagship' campus of the state system.