Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Coventry Polytechnic designation service

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Coventry Cathedral
Source: Coventry Evening Telegraph, 6 February 1971
Editorial comments: Exact time unclear. The second of the three articles reproduced includes a brief comment from MT on student demonstrations that day.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1393
Themes: Higher & further education, Industry, Labour Party & socialism, Science & technology

Mrs Thatcher hands over Polytechnic designation

Mrs. Thatcher said she was especially glad to be in a great industrial city “the day after so much bad news.” She wanted to “re-affirm our faith in Britain's technological future.”

Mrs. Thatcher, referring indirectly to the Rolls-Royce collapse, also spoke of re-affirming “our faith in the potentiality of our design work and re-affirming and stressing the necessity for good management, both of resources and people.”

Mrs. Thatcher was at Coventry Cathedral for the designation ceremony of the Lanchester Polytechnic.

She handed over a document of designation and received from the Polytechnic director, Sir Alan Richmond, a piece of contemporary transparent sculpture, made by Pamela Brown, of the Faculty of Art and Design.


The Polytechnic was formed on January 1 last year by the amalgamation of the Lanchester College of Technology, Coventry College of Art and Design and Rugby College of Engineering Technology.

Among the points made by Mrs. Thatcher were:

• Polytechnics improved links with industry and commerce and would be leaders of innovation in factories, offices and lecture rooms.

• Polytechnics would not become universities.

• Polytechnics would have an important part to play in higher education and could look forward to a period of considerable expansion.

Mrs. Thatcher, presenting the designation document, said she hoped it would be regarded as an expression of the government's confidence in the future of the polytechnic system, as well as a formal mark of recognition.

The establishment of polytechnics had introduced a new dimension into higher education. They gave increased flexibility and individual choice.

Students might choose a course closely related to a chosen career, but which also offered intellectual challenge comparable with that of more tradition degree courses.

Polytechnics improved links with industry and commerce by sandwich courses which should be expanded, block release which effectively linked study, training and industrial life, and sponsored research.

She believed that polytechnics would hasten the process of integration of education and daily life because of the effect of the urban campus at most polytechnics; the possibility of sharing facilities with the public, and the ready-made bridge with society provided by sandwich, part-time and block release students.

A surprised Mrs. Thatcher receives a gift from Sir Alan Richmond, principal of the polytechnic. try and commerce in this area made a substantial and distinctive contribution to the national economy.


Essential features of the system must be preserved.

“I have no wish for polytechnics to become universities,” Mrs. Thatcher said, “I think they have features of their own and were created for their differences from universities.” Polytechnics were primarily teaching institutions.

The variety in courses must be preserved to offer higher education opportunities to the whole community.

A comprehensive yet flexible development plan was needed for each polytechnic.

Sir Alan Richmond said the existing system for higher education, whose shortcomings and illogicalities were only too easy to pinpoint, had served the country at large reasonably well during the last 15 years.

Alderman Maxwell said close relationships existed with industry and commerce and many of the polytechnic courses served the requirements of local needs. … [end p1]

Student Barrage for Education Minister

A small group of jeering, shouting students accompanied the Education Secretary, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, on her tour of the Lanchester Polytechnic building at Coventry yesterday.

Whenever she appeared in a corridor she was greeted with abuse from a group of about two dozen students, whose numbers dwindled as the tour progressed.

They shouted: “Thatcher out,” “Tories out,” and “Fascist pig, get her—knickers off.”

Mrs. Thatcher was making a short tour of the Polytechnic after a designation ceremony in Coventry Cathedral. There are about 2,200 Polytechnic students at Coventry.


At the Cathedral she was greeted by a group of 100 shouting demonstrators who handed out leaflets complaining about “£1,000 of academic waste in an afternoon of robes and sherry.”

The Lanchester Students' Union had decided to boycott the ceremony because, they said, it was a waste of money.

But Mr. Nigel Cooper, the union president, emphasised that demonstrations were not organised by the union. And although leaflets which were handed out were signed by the Lanchester Socialist Society, students said the demonstrations were not organised by the society.

There were about 50 students at the first demonstration inside the Lanchester, but only about a dozen or so followed Mrs. Thatcher round the building.

As Mrs. Thatcher started to walk along a landing, students pushed a 6ft.-high notice board across the exit.

Pushed aside

Detectives immediately pushed the notice and the students back, and the notice was broken in a slight scuffle.

As she went down the stairs, students started shouting and jeering.

When Mrs. Thatcher entered a workshop, there was a scuffle outside. A student picked up a mat and put it over a photographer's head.

At this point the Polytechnic director, Sir Alan Richmond, came to the door and appealed to the students not to use violence. He was promptly told: “The Fascists started it.”

Sir Alan told the students: “I don't mind demonstrations, but no violence please. Please make a space for us to walk down the corridor. We are asking no more. Surely that is reasonable.”

One of the students shouted out, “Why not show her the library?” Sir Alan replied: “I have talked to her about the need for a large additional sum of money for library extensions.”

Throughout the incidents, Mrs. Thatcher remained calm and unruffled and several times smiled at the demonstrators.


At the end of the tour the demonstrators were shaken off when she took the lift to the ground floor.

As she left the Polytechnic, Mrs. Thatcher said: “I think it was more a Socialist demonstration than a student demonstration.”

Alderman C. M. Maxwell, chairman of the Joint Education Committee for the Lanchester, described the demonstrators who accompanied Mrs. Thatcher as the “dregs of the student body.”

Sir Alan commented: “We have had a very pleasant afternoon. Students can demonstrate if they want to. We have seen everything we wanted to see—and the students have had a demonstration.”

‘Imported’ to make trouble, says Tory

A student claimed today that demonstrators were “imported” to the Lanchester for the protest.

Mr. John Irons, aged 21, a first-year modern studies student at the Polytechnic, said: “Some of the demonstrators must have come from outside the polytechnic, because we have never seen them before.”

Mr. Irons, secretary of the Polytechnic Conservative Association, organised a group of 12 students who attended the designation service in the Cathedral.

“Some of the people who were with me were not in fact Conservatives,” said Mr. Irons, “and if it had been a Labour or a Liberal minister, we would still have gone along.”

Injured image

Mr. Irons and his friends attended the service to show sympathy with Mrs. Thatcher and to register their own protest against the demonstrators.

“I feel they have injured the image of students at the Polytechnic, especially as they are such a very, very small minority,” he said.

“Our ‘demonstration’ might have given a little personal satisfaction to Mrs. Thatcher, because of all the abuse she was receiving.

“I don't think theirs achieved very much except bad publicity.

He believed that more students would have gone to the service to show their support for Mrs. Thatcher if they could have got tickets.

“It was very difficult for students to get tickets,” he said. “We had to go to Rugby to get ours.”

Mr. Irons said the polytechnic had its problems—the most serious was the shortage of student accommodation—but he did not think that demonstrations of this type would solve anything.

He added: “These people were against Mrs. Thatcher for political reasons.”