The School of hard rocks

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Education had always been vitally important to Wales and the Welsh. In the 19th and early 20th century, when mining was a major employer in the country, it was the ambition of almost every collier who ever went underground to give their sons a better way of life, away from the mines.

The key to what the miners regarded as a better life was education. Education could provide them with a decent job, above ground with white collars and clean finger nails. It was part of the dream, part of the Welsh cultural identity.

Welsh miners at Tylorstown Pit, Rhondda in 1943

Education was also provided within the mining industry, designed for those men in the industry who wanted to get on and succeed in their chosen career. The means to achieve this was through the School of Mines.

The School of Mines was opened in 1913 in what had been the home of mine owner Francis Crawshay at Trefforest just outside Pontypridd. 

The School of Mines was the brainchild of some of the largest coal owners in the region and was funded by the levy of one tenth of a penny on every ton of coal that was produced from the coalfield.

The first intake of students consisted of 17 miners who were studying for a diploma and also included three men from China.

The school grew rapidly from that humble beginning but with the onset of the Depression and the decline in world trade, its future was looking rather bleak until it was taken over by the old Glamorgan County Council.

In 1949, after the nationalisation of the coal mines, the school became Glamorgan Technical College, developing and changing again in 1958 when it became the Glamorgan College of Technology.

By this time it was offering a wide range of full and part-time courses in science and technology. In 1967 the college made history by offering the first-ever Welsh for adults course.

In 1970 the college became Glamorgan Polytechnic, merging with the old teacher training college at Barry, and five years later was designated as the Polytechnic of Wales.

It was awarded university status in 1992 and, despite having no links with the University of Wales, was finally able to award its own degrees.

The first decade of the 21st century saw steady growth and development at the college which, in 2006, formed what was called a ‘strategic alliance’ with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

The arts began to be increasingly important to the college which soon became one of the main centres in Wales for the study of creative writing.

The University of South Wales

Rated as one of the top Welsh institutions for higher education, in 2013 the Polytechnic of Wales merged with University of Wales, Newport, into the University of South Wales.

A year before, it had been awarded the Times Higher Education Award for outstanding student support.

The new university currently offers courses for over 20,000 students, both full and part-time. Notable alumni include the writer Rachel Trezise and politician Kevin Brennan

Although mining is no longer part of the curriculum, it continues to offer courses that fill a need which is what the place is all about, that and having the ability and the vision to change with the times.

I think the pragmatists and entrepreneurs who created the old School of Mines would be delighted with how their child has grown and developed.

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