From the archives: when Newcastle nearly became Northumbria

Grace Dean delves back through the Courier archives to offer a view of campus life from yesteryear.

Grace Dean
28th October 2019
Grace Dean looks through the archives to find the good, the bad and the ugly of on-campus experiences.
1962 – Newcastle University born

After almost 30 years of being called King’s College, the decision was announced to rename the university Newcastle University upon its independence from Durham the following year. The Newcastle-based King’s College site accommodated two-thirds of Durham University students, and a rise in tensions led to the decision to divide the two sites into separate universities. Three-quarters of respondents to a survey conducted by the Students’ Union wanted to retain the name of the college and call the university King’s University, but the Council of the new university opposed this name because of confusion with King’s College Cambridge and King’s College London. The Courier supported this decision, arguing that “we would always be known as Newcastle anyway”. Interestingly, two per cent of survey respondents voted for naming the university Northumbria University. This was years before our rival university over the road came into existence, which occurred following a merger of three colleges to form Newcastle Polytechnic in 1969, and decades before this then became known as the University of Northumbria in 1992 as part of a national process in which polytechnics became new universities.


2005 – RIP to the Robbo smoking room

The Robinson Library caused controversy when the smoking room shut to be replaced with a comfy lounge. This followed students complaining about smoke entering the main library from under the smoking room door, as well as the smoggy air of the previous smoking room. A member of Library staff argued that “this is in line with government legislation on banning smoking in places that sell food”. This news came around the time when disagreement between Cabinet ministers delayed the government’s partial ban on smoking in public places bill, which was instead passed as a compromise Health Improvement and Protection Bill, in which smoking would be banned in all workplaces, pubs and restaurants which serve food, leaving other pubs which offered sealed smoking rooms unaffected, alongside private clubs. This was heavily supported by former Health Secretary John Reid as an attempt to both protect public health and grant individuals the freedom to make informed choices, but was criticised as being too lenient by some trade unions and Labour MPs who wanted a total ban to echo those in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Returning to Newcastle, prior users of the Library smoking room had been encouraged to find “alternative arrangements”, which led to a congregation of smokers outside the library. Some of these discarded cigarette butts and packets on the floor outside, leading the Courier to report that these students were “potentially damaging the image of the Library”, to the extent where the Library café staff even proposed employing an extra member of staff to deal with keeping this area intact. Students who spoke to the Courier were keen to express their disappointment about the replacement of the smoking room, with comments ranging from the development being a “hassle” and leaving “many students suggesting that their rights have been questioned”, to accusations of  “being treated like a leper colony”. A Library staff member said: “I think it’s terrible as it takes away personal choice. We have had a lot of complaints.”

A self-defined “alarmed and periodically irritable” student wrote in to the Courier to complain about this policy, describing his “horror” at discovering that the “holy sanctuary” no longer existed.


2012 – biometric scanning proposed

Students were left angered by proposals to introduce biometric scanning to measure attendance across campus. Suggestions were made to implement compulsory fingerprint scanning for lectures following a call from the UK Border Agency for universities to record the attendance of international students. This idea, however, faced great backlash from the Newcastle Free Education Network and a range of student protestors, who argued that the University’s proposals were excessive and greatly exceeded the levels of monitoring required by the Border Agency. Four years after this, smartcard scanning was introduced as an alternative. Coincidentally, this protest coincided with the 55th anniversary of the publication of a letter penned to the Courier by a law student who was outraged by the “deplorable and detestable practice” of paper registration in lectures, and suggested organising a “large scale protest” to oppose this.


2017 – meal deal for real

Students of 2017 celebrated as a meal deal was finally introduced to the Robinson Library. Mimicking the concept of many supermarkets but unfortunately unable to rival their variety, the £3 deal was introduced following efforts by Students’ Union President Ronnie Reid, who was elected partially on the basis of his strong commitment to on-campus affordability.

The Beauty section of the Courier that week offered a rather haunting insight into “make-up trends to leave in 2017”. These included the weird eyebrow crazes of the year, such as wavy, feathered and plaited brows, and the use of fake eyelashes to create very questionable nose hair extensions. Whether these were bona fida make-up trends or just nightmares dreamt up by the writer I shall leave to the readers’ discretion…

It's safe to say that that week was evidently an odd one in the Courier office, with Science also publishing an article titled “the nutritional value of braaains”, which argued that “the undead [zombies] love a cerebral snack over everything else because they’re packed full of tasty goodness”. The article didn’t exactly tempt people to give the juicy grey matter a try, though, with the texture of brains compared to “slightly-set custard or runny scrambled eggs”, and it actively warned readers against giving cannibalism a go, “not only because it’ll send you to jail” but also because it can cause a deadly neurodegenerative disorder. Well, we’ve been warned.



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AUTHOR: Grace Dean
Editor-in-Chief of the Courier 2019/20, News Editor 2018/19, writer since 2016 and German & Business graduate. I've written for all of our sections, but particularly enjoy writing breaking news and data-based investigative pieces. Best known in the office for making tea and blasting out James Blunt. Twitter: @graceldean

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