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History of the Ƶ

The Ƶ is unlike many other universities. Our commitment to widening access has shaped our history, from our foundation in 1836 to the present day.

The Ƶ was founded in 1836 to promote access to higher education. We pioneered distance learning across the globe. We were the first University in the world to admit students regardless of their gender, race or religion.

In 1878 we were the first UK university to award degrees to women. Improving access and equality of opportunity remains our mission to this day.

‘The People’s University’

The Ƶ was established by Royal Charter in 1836 for the public benefit and is recognised globally. Throughout our long history, the University has offered access to a wide range of academic opportunities. As a world leader in higher education, the University has pioneered change in the sector.

Established as a secular alternative to Oxford and Cambridge, the only two other English universities at the time, we became the first to explicitly exclude religious qualification as an entry requirement. We were the first university to admit students regardless of their gender, race or religion, the first to admit women to degree programmes and, in 1865, the first to give students the opportunity to study wherever they are, providing access to higher education across the globe.

For almost 200 years, we have improved the lives of millions of people around the world through our unique approach to education. In 1858, Charles Dickens’ magazine, All the Year Round, coined the term 'The People’s University', which would “extend her hand even to the young shoemaker who studies in his garret.”

We were also the first University to give external students the opportunity to continue to earn a living while studying, and to study privately and take exams without coming to Ƶ.

Since then we have expanded and modernised, becoming a pioneering institution that was the first to make higher education available to women and those unable to pursue traditional forms of study.

1836 Foundation of Ƶ as a Chartered University

The University was established by royal charter in 1836, as a degree-awarding examination board for students holding certificates from University College Ƶ and King's College Ƶ.

The birthplace of long distance learning

In 1858 we became the birthplace of long distance learning, allowing students to study for degrees outside of Ƶ, spreading higher education across the globe. We also introduced many new subjects into university education, including modern languages and laboratory science.

We were the first to give external students the opportunity to continue to earn a living while studying, and to study privately and take exams without coming to Ƶ. Since these beginnings, we have continued to accrue new member institutions, vastly expanding our membership and academic catalogue.

Each year, our ‘Foundation Day’ celebrates the anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone and since 1903 honorary degrees have been bestowed to, among others, Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill.

The University during the war

The University had great impact for those who were serving during the First and Second World Wars in the Armed Forces or had been prisoners of war. Many continued studying and passed exams, ultimately paving the way for a life after the wars. To the present day our degree programmes can be accessed by prisoners in some countries, allowing for new opportunities or a fresh perspective of the world.

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