History of UMIST

The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) can trace its origins to the Manchester Mechanics' Institution, founded in 1824 as part of a national movement for the education of working men.

The Mechanics' Institution was formed by industrialists who thought that artisans should learn basic sciences at evening classes. Its first building was near St Peter’s Square. At times the Institute struggled because students had little basic education; primary schooling was not made compulsory in England until 1870. Artisans worked long hours and many saw little advantage in science studies. The institution’s more general classes often proved more useful to young office workers and shopkeepers seeking to improve their literacy and numeracy.

Growth was sufficient to need a new building, opened in 1853 on Princess Street, but it was in the later decades of the century that pressure for technical education increased, fuelled by fears that Britain might lose its leading position as an industrial nation. In Manchester it was a self-taught ex-shoemaker, John Henry Reynolds, who transmuted national and local concerns into a successful programme of classes. He focused on subjects that served the industrial needs of the Manchester region and in 1883 he converted the Mechanics' Institute into the Manchester Technical School.

From 1892 the Technical School was funded by the Manchester Corporation, partly from national taxes, and it came to be known as the Manchester Municipal Technical School. Modelled on German technical high schools, a huge new building, now called the Sackville Street Building, was opened in 1902. After World War I the Technical School was renamed the Manchester Municipal College of Technology.

The increasingly high standards of education and the beginnings of research at the technical college raised questions about its relationship with the newly independent Victoria University of Manchester, a mile to the south, which had its own department of engineering. An agreement was reached in 1905 for the professors at the College of Technology to constitute the Faculty of Technology of the Victoria University. Students at ‘Tech’ could take Victoria University degrees. But until after the World War II the majority of Tech courses were for professional and technical, rather than academic, qualifications, and most of the teaching was through evening classes for students who were at work during the day.

In 1956 the College of Technology gained independent status as a university college after the non-degree work was moved to some of the municipal colleges, (which later became Manchester Polytechnic and then Manchester Metropolitan University). In 1966, during a period of rapid expansion, the College of Technology was renamed the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), but remained largely independent of the Victoria University. Changes to legislation meant that in 1994 UMIST became a completely autonomous university with its own degree-awarding powers. Ten years later it merged with the Victoria University.