University constituency

From Academic Kids

University constituencies existed from 1603 until 1950 to allow a University to be represented in the United Kingdom Parliament.

King James I of England, on ascending the English throne, brought to the English Parliament a practice which had been used in the Scottish Parliament of allowing the Universities to elect members. The King believed that the Universities were often affected by the decisions of Parliament and ought therefore to have representation in it.

Cambridge University and Oxford University were therefore given two seats each from 1603. The voters were the graduates of the university, whether they were resident or not, who had the vote for their University in addition to any other vote that they might have. After the Act of Union 1800 with Ireland, the University of Dublin (Trinity College), which had elected two MPs to the Parliament of Ireland since 1613, was allowed one member from 1801 and two from 1832.

The University of London was enfranchised with one member in 1868, along with the four ancient Scottish Universities - Glasgow and Aberdeen electing one member, and St. Andrews and Edinburgh electing another. The list of Universities was further enlarged in 1918, including the Queen's University, Belfast and the National University of Ireland. These both, as well the University of Dublin, also received four seats in the Stormont Parliament and the Southern Ireland Parliament respectively that were established in 1920. Also in 1918, the Scottish Universities switched to all electing three members jointly (see Combined Scottish Universities).

The Labour government in 1930 attempted to abolish the University constituencies but was defeated in the House of Commons. Although the members for the University Constituencies were usually Conservatives, in the later years Independent candidates began to win many of the seats. In 1948 the Labour government abolished the University constituencies along with all other examples of plural voting.

The Members for the University constituencies include many notable statesmen: William Pitt the Younger was MP for Cambridge University from 1784 to his death, and William Gladstone was MP for Oxford University at one point. In their last years Ramsay MacDonald was MP for Scottish Universities after losing his seat in the 1935 general election. Many criticised this as he had previously sought to abolish the seats when Labour Prime Minister and many now felt the seats were being used to provide a failed politician with a seat he could not find elsewhere.

The Queen's University, Belfast survived in the Northern Ireland Parliament until it was abolished in 1968 by the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 (1968 c. 20, Act of the Stormont Parliament). This was part of a series of measures by the-then Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terrance O'Neill to reform elements of the election franchise and deal with many long standing civil rights grievances.

When the Irish Free State was established in 1922, the seats of the University of Dublin and of the National University of Ireland were transferred to Dáil Éireann. These were abolished by the Electoral (University Constituencies) Act, 1936 of June 29, 1936. Later under the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, these two Universities were each granted the right to elect three Senators to Seanad Éireann.


University Parliament Years No.
Oxford and Cambridge Westminster 1603-1948 2 each
Dublin Ireland 1613-1801 2
Dublin Westminster 1801-1922 1 (1801-32)
2 (1832-1922)
London Westminster 1868-48 1
Glasgow and Aberdeen Westminster 1868-1918 1 between
St. Andrew and Edinburgh Westminster 1868-1918 1 between
Queen's University, Belfast Westminster 1918-48 1
National University of Ireland Westminster 1918-22 1
Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and St. Andrews Westminster 1918-1948 3 between
Queen's University, Belfast Northern Ireland 1920-68 4
Dublin Southern Ireland 1920-22 4
National University of Ireland Southern Ireland 1920-22 4
Dublin Dáil Éireann 1922-36 3
National University of Ireland Dáil Éireann 1922-36 3
Dublin Seanad Éireann 1937- 3
National University of Ireland Seanad Éireann 1937- 3

Other Countries

Some other former countries of the British Empire, such as India, had university constituencies. The Indian Constitution, however, provided that these University Constituencies no longer have a force in law. Nonetheless, the President of India has the authority to appoint not more than twelve scientists, artists, or other persons who have special knowledge in similar fields, to the Rajya Sabha.


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