From bell bottoms and disco music to activism and protests, the 1970s was an iconic period of history, leading us to question what the Warwick student looked like in this decade. The years 1970 to 1979 saw an increase in the number of students accessing higher education. By the end of the decade, 14% of school students went on to university and 68,150 students were in the process of obtaining their first degrees. At the beginning of the 1970s, the University of Warwick was only five years old, meaning that the ‘70s saw the growth, expansion, and development of the University take place.
The typical Warwick student had an affiliation with the SU and felt that the new building was a symbol of the student organisation at Warwick.
After many campaigns by students, the Students’ Union (SU) Building was opened in 1975, giving students a place which belonged to them. Prior to this, Warwick students had enjoyed SU events that were held in a large, inflatable building on campus. The typical Warwick student had an affiliation with the SU and felt that the new building was a symbol of the student organisation at Warwick. It reflected the students’ right to have a say on University matters.
Student life involved the range of services offered by the SU. These services included a record store, games room, travel bureau, coffee bar, second-hand bookshop, and juke box. In 1978, the SU’s turn-over exceeded £300,000; it was reinvested into the Union so that the students could enjoy the benefits of the money.
Many 1970s students enjoyed socialising in the University bars. The Students’ Union ran many bars, with the main two being ‘The Market Bar’ and the ‘Sean Hosey Bar’.
Popular music of the time, such as disco and punk, was played at the bars. Some students even enjoyed specific bars that played jazz music and sold wine. The most popular beverages amongst university students in the 1970s were gin and tonic, wine, beer, and vermouth. Unfortunately, the students of the ‘70s did not experience ‘POP!’ or nights out in the Students’ Union building, as ‘The Copper Rooms’ were yet to exist.
RAG week, however, was an event that Warwick students participated in throughout the 1970s. For example, in 1971, RAG week involved a six-legged bar crawl, showing us that 1970s Warwick students enjoyed socials similar to those that we enjoy today.
By the beginning of the 1970s, the Library already been built. It was vital for students as the World Wide Web was only founded in 1989. Students spent time in the Library studying and gathering information. Sally Waterson, a student at Warwick between 1969 and 1973, recalled the Library being her favourite place on campus. However, it struggled to meet student needs in the face of surging books prices.
The academic departments at the University were divided into three boards in the 1970s. These were Arts, Social Studies, and Sciences. In the academic year starting in 1971, there were 596 students studying undergraduate Science degrees with only 149 of these being women. The distribution was similar for Social Studies with 193 of the 687 students under this board being women. However, the Arts board was majority-female, with just 265 out of 687 undergraduate Arts students being men. In the 1976-77 academic year, the number of undergraduate students in each department had almost doubled, but the majority were still men. Out of 1047 Science students, 197 were women. At this point in the decade, most students studied Social Studies.
These statistics highlight the fact that the typical Warwick student from this time was male. By the end of the ‘70s a further department of Education Studies had been added, showing that the Warwick student was changing as new degrees were offered.
In the ’70, 1/3 of students in the UK were awarded firsts, in contrast with the 2022/23 year when over 2/3 of students were awarded firsts.
By 1980 Warwick had on-campus accommodation for approximately 2,600 students. The typical Warwick first-year student lived on campus or in other University-owned housing in nearby towns. However, some students who were late to accept their places at the university did have to live in private lodgings.
Over 800 students lived in Rootes Residences. It was made up of six ‘houses’, and like the Rootes we know today the halls had communal kitchens for self-catering. Unlike today, the student of the 1970s had bedding provided and laundered. Cryfield Hall was another popular accommodation choice. However, here, residents shared a communal evening meal. Tocil Flats, Whitefields and Cryfield Flats were opened for students later on in the decade.
The campus catering team ran three refectories which offered breakfast, snacks, sandwiches, lunch, and dinner. Most students ate in these refectories with few leading an entirely self-catered lifestyle.
Most Warwick students had strong political and social stances which they made visible. Life in the ‘70s at Warwick was characterised by student unrest. In 1970, a 24-hour sit-in occured in the central administrative building. The students were disciplined, but a week later they returned for an unspecified length of time.
It was during the second occupation that students found documents that detailed surveillance of politically-active students. After finding out that Warwick Council businessmen had sent informants to SU meetings, outrage exploded across campus. Sit-ins were organised and students in Manchester and Oxford followed suit, organising their own sit-ins.
1975 saw a rent strike that resulted in a month-long occupation of Senate House. These Warwick students were paying £4.82 for a room in Rootes Residences.
Only a year later, students began protesting about an increase in catering prices. They were now required to pay 2p more; the price of a budget meal had become 32p.
In response to the growth of the National Front, Warwick students became involved in anti-racism protests towards the end of the 1970s.
They enjoyed expressing themselves through religion and that religion was a way to meet other people and develop relationships with fellow students.
In the ‘Guide to First Degree Courses 1973-1974’ the section titled “RELIGION AND THE CHAPLAINS” shows the growth in religious beliefs at the University. The Anglican and Free Church students shared a service each Sunday morning, with the Catholic Mass occurring at the same time in a different room. Students would then meet afterwards for coffee, showing how they enjoyed expressing themselves through religion and that religion was a way to meet other people and develop relationships with fellow students.
The fact that the ‘70s saw the beginning of discussions on the construction of a Chaplaincy Centre speaks to the importance of religion at Warwick. A building dedicated to religion was seen as a necessity for the University. This building would be home to the three chaplains who were Anglican, Free Church, and Roman Catholic respectively. There was not much diversity in the religious opportunities at the University in the 1970s, suggesting that the student body did not hold diverse religious beliefs.
The Sports Centre was constructed in 1971 which gave students the opportunity to exercise and socialise through sport. It was then in 1972 that the ‘Koan’, the ominous oft-spinning cone-shaped sculpture towering over campus by Senate Hall, became a part of Warwick life, as students watched it be purchased by the University and placed on campus.
The 1970s was also the decade that saw the launch of ‘Nightline’, a service that offers emotional support, resources, and information to students across the country.
The implementation of this service at the University of Warwick shows that the typical student felt that they could need support during the night. It also highlights the fact that these students had strong opinions and acted on their thoughts to make the university a better and safer institution.
The typical University of Warwick student in the 1970s lived a life filled with socials and activism as they watched the university change and grow. The fact that these students could attend university for free, with grants for tuition and accommodation, meant that cohorts were from all different backgrounds and ways of life. However, many students were male, and religious opinions tended to be similar amongst the pupils. It is clear that the ‘70s was an exciting time to attend the University of Warwick. It was a decade of music, progress, and crucially, one that saw the University of Warwick develop into the institution that we know it to be today.