The establishment of Aberystwyth University is one of the great romantic, indeed heroic, stories of modern Welsh history. It was the work of a small group of patriots, led by Hugh Owen, a London Welshman, who sought from the 1850s onwards to raise enough money by public and private subscription to establish a college of university status in Wales. It was almost an impossible ambition. In 1872, the University was opened in a half-finished hotel building on the sea front in Aberystwyth. There were 26 ill-prepared students and a teaching staff of three.
The first dozen or so years were a desperate hand to mouth struggle for survival. The generosity of a few individual benefactors and organised appeals for support from the ordinary people of Wales, kept the University in being, and, perhaps more importantly, deeply rooted it in the affection of the Welsh people. A matter of considerable pride is that the University has made a significant contribution to the education of women, being one of the first institutions to admit female students.
From the 1960s the University relocated from the seafront to the Penglais campus. This finely landscaped site enjoys spectacular views over the town of Aberystwyth and the sea. New buildings, including major arts and science developments, halls of residence, a magnificent Arts Centre and first rate sports facilities are located here. Most recently, major investment from the Welsh Assembly Government has led to the founding of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences.
Despite continuing expansion both of buildings and of student numbers, Aberystwyth has retained its traditional friendly intimacies, its vigorous student social life, and its high academic standards.
In 2007, all the colleges of the University of Wales entered a new phase of existence as independent universities, though strong bonds of co-operation remain, re-affirmed in the St David’s Day accord of 2009 between Aberystwyth and the other four leading universities of Wales. Newly independent, Aberystwyth University reflects with pride on the heritage of its past, and faces the future with the confidence.