The autumn of 1969. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shoots its way into cinemas, Monty Python silly walks onto British TV screens, The Beatles release Abbey Road, and Vietnam rumbles on amid howls of protest.
It was the end of an era, but a fresh chapter for the UK’s tertiary education sector, where the impact of the Robbins Report and the binary policy of Labour’s Secretary of State for Education, Anthony Crosland, was paving the way for the creation of new universities and polytechnics.
In Plymouth, this development was being followed closely by the leaders of the city’s College of Technology – one of the University’s antecedent institutions – which taught an extensive portfolio of subjects below degree level, among them geology.
“They understood that the widening of its range of higher education courses, and increasing the number of degree students that it enrolled, would strongly reinforce its case for gaining the status as one of the new breed of tertiary-level institutions being planned,” said Professor Mark Brayshay.
“This was timely for geography as John Harvey, a geology lecturer employed by the College’s Department of Physics and Mathematics, had already recognised the growing popularity in Britain of the subject as a university discipline and its considerable potential for further expansion.”
Harvey set about convincing departmental colleagues and college authorities that they needed to invest in geography, and in December 1969, the first steps were taken when Peter Sims was recruited to become the first geography lecturer in the city.