Our history: the 1990s

In 1990, the Vice-Chancellor, Berrick Saul, recounted to court that York had been described by a senior member of the Universities Funding Council as "a well-run university with a relatively low profile."

What a difference a decade makes.

By the end of the 1990s, York was dominating national league tables for research and teaching and was receiving international press coverage for achievement across the disciplines.

Rapid growth

The decade was characterised by advancement and recognition. York remained a popular choice amongst prospective students growing from 4,300 to 8,500 students without compromising its high entry standards. As the Sunday Times pointed out, "elitism does not appear to be the price of excellence at York". York was one of only very few universities whose entry from state schools and colleges (around 80 per cent) was the same as the proportion of A-level students in the state system.‌

The introduction of official quality assessments and the proliferation of newspaper league tables saw the University's stock rocket. After years of academic advancement, York began to get the recognition it deserved. National recognition attracted additional funding and investment. Research grants rose to over £20 million per annum, and the University enjoyed one of the highest incomes per researcher in the higher education sector.

Oral history: Pioneering research

Professor Rod Hubbard's scientific career has involved pioneering work with medical implications. "York has given me the freedom to pursue my research," he says.

Listen to the full interview

A competitive market

A relationship with industry was more actively courted, and the University began to develop a more entrepreneurial side to its character. The Science Park opened in 1991 with Smith & Nephew as its first tenant. Developed to enhance links between the University and commerce, it now houses a cluster of knowledge-led businesses and is known as a key national incubator of biotech and IT start-ups.

Students' approach to education paralleled the University's move closer to industry. Faced with the introduction of tuition fees and loans, students increasingly began to see their education as an investment.

A York education was still attractive for its rigour and opportunity for personal development, but students were concerned with their "employability" after graduation. The graduate job market became very competitive. The University responded with new flexible courses and the "York Award", focusing on transferable skills.

Photos from the 1990s



Professor Berrick Saul

1979 - 1993
Professor Berrick Saul

Professor Sir Ron Cooke

1993 - 2002
Professor Sir Ron Cooke


Lord Swann

1979 - 1990
Lord Swann

Dame Janet Baker

1991 - 2004
Dame Janet Baker

Students' Union Presidents

1990/91 James Minton
1991/92 David Wheeldon
1992/93 Benjamin Drake
1993/94 Fleur Anderson
1994/95 Lee Findell
1995/96 Jago Parker
1996/97 Fergus Drake
1997/98 Jenny Wood
1998/99 Claire Ainsley
1999/00 Helen Woolnough