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With more than 7,500 students enrolled on hugely diverse courses, the modern-day University College Birmingham is unrecognisable from the small Victorian classes to which its origins can be traced.
Today, hospitality managers, aviation executives, dazzling hairdressers and makeup artists, educators, chefs, bakers, tourism industry experts and creative entrepreneurs learn skills for life at a university hailed for its vocational training, academic achievements and cultural diversity.
The institution has earmarked in excess of £90 million on the now completed Phase 1 development, known as McIntyre House, and the neighbouring Phase 2 building in the Jewellery Quarter. The ambitious projects represent a bold statement of intent beyond the dreams of Birmingham’s early educational pioneers.
There is, however, a common theme. Then, as now, cookery was of the moment; and students and employers in the 21st century owe a debt of gratitude to municipal reformers such as Joseph Chamberlain who backed the cause of cookery at UCB’s forebear, Birmingham Municipal Technical School, in the 19th century.
A report in the Birmingham Daily Post of November 7, 1874 recalls a meeting of the Birmingham School Board, presided over by the then chairman, one J Chamberlain. The Board was told that the Education and School Management Committee had considered the “advisability of introducing instruction in practical cookery and household work as part of the ordinary school course.”
The committee suggested “experimental buildings” should be built at two schools to replicate the “ordinary size and ordinary character found in the cottages of working people.” There should be “no special appliances for cooking” and the girls would be taught to cook with “ordinary utensils, at the ordinary fires, the ordinary food of the class to which they belonged.” It was a visionary, albeit no frills, educational development.