|When the University of Birmingham was established by royal charter in 1900, the Court of Governors was designated as the 'supreme governing body'. In practice, the Court of Governors was too large to exercise its formal power within the University, and so effective authority was delegated to University Council. Council initially comprised thirty three members, mostly drawn from prominent Birmingham families and individuals already active in civic life, particularly those close to Joseph Chamberlain and supportive of his vision for the University. The overwhelming majority of members of Council had also been members of the Council of Mason University College, the institution's predecessor. A small number of academic staff were also represented. These were Oliver Lodge, the first Principal, Robert Heath, the Vice-Principal, the Deans of the Faculties of Arts, Science, and Medicine, and an elected representative of the Faculty of Medicine. The composition of Council was therefore dominated by its lay or non-academic members. Council acted as the University's supreme executive authority, controlling the institution's offices and finances, including the payment of student fees and the setting of staff salaries, allowances and superannuation; governing the terms and tenure of employment and the duties of teaching of academic staff; approving recommendations put forward by the Senate relating to the award of degrees, diplomas, certificates and distinctions awarded by the University; and managing the University's real estate, including borrowing money and raising mortgages, and taking responsibility for the provision of accommodation for student residences. Financial responsibility was delegated by Council to the Finance and Estates Committee, renamed Finance and General Purposes Committee from 1926. This committee was eventually dissolved in 1987, and Council again dealt directly with financial matters.
Council was initially chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, the title given to the most senior lay officer in the early years of the University's existence. Following a revision of the Charter in 1927, the title was changed to Pro-Chancellor, allowing the leader of the University to hold the title Vice-Chancellor and Principal. Non-professorial staff also gained representation on Council for the first time in 1927. Council was serviced by the Secretary, and by the Registrar and Secretary when those roles were combined in one post in 1988.
The Court of Governors delegated its powers to Council in 1940, for the duration of the Second World War. By this date, the demographic of Council membership had shifted towards a greater number of appointees with connections to the University, who took the places that local industrialists and philanthropists had previously held. However, members of prominent Birmingham families such as Tangye, Wiggins, Beale, Kenrick, Barrow, Chance, and Cadbury continued to be represented, and the Council was still overwhelmingly a lay dominated body by the time of the 1968 student protest at Birmingham. Professors and a few other members of academic staff served on Council sub-committees, but there was student representation only on the Refectory committee. Council membership at this time consisted of the Chancellor, who was normally absent, twenty six lay persons, two graduates, the Vice-Chancellor, Vice-Principal, the Deans of Faculties, and a single non-professorial member of staff. In response to demands for greater student representation on University committees, set out in The Student Role, and the focus of the 1968 protest, a Review Body was established in 1970 to consider constitutional change. The report of the Review Body proposed that Council should take over from the Court of Governors as the supreme governing body of the institution, and this was agreed by the Court in 1973. It was accepted that as Council was responsible to the University Grants Commission for expenditure, and for the direction of the University as a whole, it should have full authority not only in practice but in law. However, other recommendations of the Review Body were rejected, and the distinction between the Council role, responsible for finance and organisation, and the Senate role, responsible for academic matters, was reinforced by enhancing the Senate's specific executive authority in the academic sphere. The number of lay members of Council was reduced in the reconstituted body, but the rights of Birmingham City Council, the Court of Governors, and the Guild of Graduates, to nominate members were retained. Academic represenation was increased from fifteen to seventeen, and students were represented for the first time, though student members were restricted from parts of meetings where 'reserved business' was discussed. The new system came into operation in November 1975. Later amendments to University legislation resulted in the reduction of the size of Council. In 2014 it consists of twenty four members, two thirds of whom are lay persons from outside the University, with the remainder of the membership composed of academic staff and students. University Council remains responsible for the University's strategic planning, organisational structure, finances, investments and businesses, estates, infrastructure and property, and employment of staff.
Source: Eric W. Vincent and Percival Hinton, 'The University of Birmingham: Its History and Significance', Birmingham 1947; Eric Ives, Diane Drummond, Leonard Schwartz, 'The First Civic University: Birmingham 1880-1980, An Introductory History', Birmingham 2000; University of Birmingham website http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/council/index.aspx Accessed October 2014
|Council records were transferred to Special Collections in 1989-1990 as part of a project to gather and sort the university's institutional archives. Subsequent transfers of later records were made by officers servicing University Council until 2017