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A history of the school of Psychology blog

  • The University of Surrey has its origins in the Battersea Polytechnic Institute, which was founded in 1891 and which from the 1920s had particular strengths in science and technology.  Following the publication of a Government White Paper on Technical Education, Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs) were established in 1956, of which Battersea was one.  But it was the publication of the Robbins Report in 1963, which gave university status to the Colleges of Advanced Technology.  The University of Surrey was established on 9 September 1966 with the granting of its Royal Charter. Moving out to Guildford, the building work did not finish until 1970. The AD and AC buildings in which Psychology is currently housed were among the first buildings developed on the Stag Hill campus.  The University has since expanded in recent years onto Manor Park which now houses the University Sports Centre, the Surrey Research Park, the new School of Veterinary Science and other academic buildings as well as a major area of student residences.

    Russell Wicks (1958)

    Figure 1: Russell Wicks (1958)

    Although Battersea College of Advanced Technology had concentrated on science and technology, it also included a Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, which was the precursor to the social sciences programmes at the University of Surrey.  The ‘in-house’ psychologist at Battersea, who made the trip down the A3 to be a founding member of the psychology presence at the new University of Surrey, was Russell Wicks.  Russell Wicks had the distinction of being in the first cohort of Masters Students in Britain who graduated in Occupational Psychology (Birkbeck College, University of London, 1958).  Russell, a “friendly, genial and interesting person to talk to” (Randell, 2011, 273) had worked in the military as a psychologist having an interest in aviation.  He was involved in human factors’ aspects of the TSR2, a low level supersonic bomber project (Empson, 2012).

    In the early years at Surrey, Psychology was offered as part of a more general Human Sciences degree course comprising Psychology, Philosophy and Sociology.  Russell Wicks oversaw the psychology component of this course and continued to be de facto deputy head of department until the establishment of the autonomous Department of Psychology and the appointment of the first Professor of Psychology and Head of Department in 1971, Terence Lee.  Russell was a senior figure in British psychology at a national level, had the distinction of being appointed the Honorary General Secretary of the British Psychological Society between 1975-79, and Deputy President from 1979 – 1985.  In addition, Russell was Chair of various BPS committees and in recognition of his service was made a Honorary Fellow of the BPS.

    Creating an Identity – Surrey Psychology: Contributing to Evidence-Based Policy

    The culture and expertise of every academic department, of course, is a product of the interests that each new member of staff brings, but it is also the result of outside influences whether it is government and research council funding policies based on the needs of society, the commercial needs of the private sector or the development plans of the universities themselves.  Surrey was no different.

    Professor Terence Lee, first Head of Department

    Figure 2: Professor Terence Lee, first Head of Department

    Evidence-based policy was a slogan much associated with the Blair Government of the 1990s, as it was recognised that the need for good analysis and sound evaluation should be at the heart of policy making.  But evidence-based policy is not a new concept. The need to inform political policy and decision-making goes back to the beginning of the 20th century with the establishment of the Medical Research Committee, if not before (Booth, 1903; Bulmer, 1982). It was, however, the publication of the Rothschild Report (Lord Rothschild, 1971) that articulated the relationship with an emphasis an emphasis on where power and science as another aspect of consumption:

    “However distinguished, intelligent and practical scientists may be, they cannot be so well qualified to decide what the needs of the nation are…as those responsible for ensuring that those needs are met.  This is why applied R&D must have a customer.  The customer says what he wants; the contractor does it (if he can); and the customer pays” (Rothschild, 1971, p.4 para. 8).

    The Rothschild Report was, for academics, a highly contentious document at the time as it was arguing that that politicians were better suited to control the funding and direction of applied research than the scientists undertaking it.  It was perhaps then serendipitous that Terence Lee was appointed as the first Professor of Psychology and Head of Department at Surrey in the same year that the Rothschild Report was published.  The views of Rothschild were not particularly at variance with Terence’s position on these issues because his own research had been borne out of something of this process.

    From Terence Lee to Derek Moore: 1971 – 2017

    After serving in the Fleet Air Arm in the latter stages of the Second World War, Terence gained admission to Magdalene College, Cambridge, completing a bachelor’s degree in Moral Sciences (Experimental Psychology) in 1949.  He initially intended to work on his doctorate in industrial psychology, but his professor, Sir Frederick Bartlett, had been approached by the Labour government to undertake research for its radical social policies.  In contrast to the uniform and soul-less ribbon development of the 1930’s, the Government wanted to build ‘Neighbourhood Units’ and ‘New Towns’.  Bartlett asked his young doctoral student to “put down some ideas” – ideas which ultimately led to a PhD (1954) which not only forged a relationship between social and cognitive psychology, and to the development of the concept of ‘socio-spatial schemata’ (Lee, 1968), but was also the first PhD in the UK, if not Europe, in environmental psychology.  For Terence, socio-spatial schemata not only provided an insight into people’s inner representations of space and place, but these in turn provided templates for the design of urban spaces.  As Terence used to say, his work was about as far from the orthodoxy of early 1950’s Cambridge psychology research as one could get, dominated at the time by the ‘psychology as natural science’ paradigm – the tachistoscope and memory drum of the experimental laboratory.  Terence was subsequently appointed to positions at Exeter and Dundee universities, before coming to Surrey, where he continued his research integrating psychology and environmental issues of relevance to policy makers such as the educational effect of bussing children to school.

    Terence Lee hosting a Department party in his garden in Wonersh. Ian Davies, Elizabeth Campbell and Peter Wood are in the background (probably mid 1980s)

    Figure 3: Terence Lee hosting a Department party in his garden in Wonersh. Ian Davies, Elizabeth Campbell and Peter Wood are in the background (probably mid 1980s)

    The significance of Terence’s work for the Department was threefold.  First Terence was arguably the first true environmental psychologist in the UK and, having become Head of Department at Surrey, he gathered around him most of the other leading environmental psychologists in the country, thereby establishing Surrey’s pre-eminent international reputation in this area.  Second, because of the nature of his research and interests, this laid the foundation for one of the most enduring facets of Surrey’s identity and reputation, its emphasis (across a number of sub-disciplinary areas) on applied and policy-oriented research for government and industry.  And third, by extension, he saw that government and industry were largely untapped sources of research funding, especially by psychologists.  So in the 1980s and later, Surrey Psychology’s research income from non-Research Councils was probably the highest of any psychology department in the country.

    Within a few years of his appointment as Head of Department in 1971, Terence made several crucial appointments which established the culture and image of the Department that was to persist for several decades.  These staff included David Canter, Lionel Haward, Harry McGurk, Ian Davies, and a little later, Glynis Breakwell – each representing different streams of psychology that were to grow into significant areas of research and teaching activity.  Alongside each of these were other members of staff who helped build the research reputation of one of the UKs youngest psychology departments.  Because of Terence’s own research interests, it was perhaps not surprising that many of his first appointments were psychologists who could see the advantages of working outside as well as inside the laboratory, especially when undertaking research that would be ‘useful and useable’ (Solesbury, 2001) for policy-makers and real-world application.

    Since Terence Lee was appointed the first Head of Department, there have been seven further Heads of Department and one Head of School.  In 2016, the University saw yet another re-organisation and the department was mutated into a School of Psychology having moved from the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences to the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences (FHMS). Professor Derek Moore, who was previously Director of the Institute for Research in Child Development at the University of East London, moved to Guildford to take up the post as the Head of the School of Psychology. Derek had trained at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings (MSc Biostatistics), University College, London (PhD, Psychology) and was a researcher at the MRC Child Psychiatry Unit, Institute of Psychiatry; the Developmental Psychopathology Research Unit, University College London; the Centre for Human Development and Learning, Open University before becoming a Lecturer, Reader and Professor at the university of East London.

    Professor Derek Moore, Head of School of Psychology

    Figure 4: Professor Derek Moore, Head of School of Psychology

    Although now a School of Psychology, it was decided to create two sub-divisions, the Department of Psychological Sciences, headed by Paul Sowden, and the Department of Psychological Intervention, led by Mary John.

    While never the Head of Department, this list would be incomplete without the inclusion of Nick Emler, who moved to Surrey in 2002 and was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences until August 2010.

    Heads of the Department (1971 – 2015) and School of Psychology (post 2015)

    Department of Psychology

    Terence Lee 1971-1987 (Pro Vice Chancellor)
    David Canter 1987-90
    Glynis Breakwell 1990-1995 (1994-95 Pro Vice-Chancellor (Staff Development and Continuing Education); 1995-2001 Head of School of Human Sciences)
    Ian Davies 1995-2000
    Chris Fife-Schaw 2000-2005
    Jennifer Brown 2005-2008
    Annette Sterr 2008-2011
    Chris Fife-Shaw 2011-2012
    Peter Hegarty 2012-2015
    Derek Moore 2015 – present

    School of Psychology

    Derek Moore
    Department of Psychological Sciences
    Paul Sowden
    Department of Psychological Intervention
    Mary John

    Dean, Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences
    Nick Emler 2002 – 2010


    Booth, C. (1903). Life and Labour of the People in London. Macmillan and Company, limited.
    Bulmer, M. (1982). The uses of social research: Social investigation in public policy-making. Allen & Unwin London.
    Empson, J. (2012). Hetta and William: a memoir of a bohemian marriage. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse.
    Lee, T. (1968). Urban neighbourhood as a socio-spatial schema. Human Relations, 21(3), 241–267.
    Lord Rothschild. (1971). The Rothschild Report: A Framework for Government Research and Development. London: HMSO.
    Solesbury, W. (2001). Evidence based policy: Whence it came and where it’s going (ESRC UK Centre for Evidence Based Policy and Practice No. Working Paper 1). Queen Mary, University of London.

  • 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the University of Surrey.

    While the School of Psychology is just a few years younger, we have taken the occasion to look back over the history of the School in order to provide an account of its early history, and those who established psychology at Surrey and gave it its particular characteristics.  There is no doubt that Surrey Psychology had a specific identity born of its early appointments and philosophy as well as significant changes in the priorities of government, research councils, higher education and the psychology profession over the past five decades, both nationally and internationally.  The legacy of this lives on through individual members of staff, through our teaching programmes, through our research interests, and the philosophy that drives our day-to-day activities and practices. But new appointments over recent decades have created new identities and traditions.  We have been particularly fortunate – like many psychology departments and universities throughout the UK – to attract colleagues from across continental Europe and beyond.  This has enhanced our international presence and collaborations, and made for a vibrant intellectual community.

    There are various ways of writing history.
    There is the ‘great lives’/hagiographic approach which suggests that history is created by far-sighted, single-minded individuals who have a vision and drive to bring about change.  Then there is an alternative approach that recognises the importance of individuals, but pays equal attention to the conditions that encourage, enable and support the work and efforts of individuals.  In other words, there is a time when historical moments intersect with individual personalities and interests in a creative way that leads to new research interests, subject areas, and teaching initiatives that had the conditions not been auspicious, change might not have occurred.  The early history of the Department is a good example of that.  There are places in this history where we have written extensively about some individuals.  Usually these have been Heads of Department or other senior staff who have made their mark in terms of initiating new areas of psychological research and teaching, or they have been influential figures in psychology nationally or internationally.  But we have also been acutely aware of the changing political and economic climate in which we live and how the university sector has changed making certain actions possible and providing the conditions which encourage and enable key people to come to the fore.

    This in turn has raised an interesting issue.
    In some cases, individuals were influential and had an impact on some aspect of psychology (at the university, or at the national or international level) when they were here. In other cases, they were influential after they left Surrey.  If we are to subscribe to the school of history which argues one should also understand the conditions which allow people to flourish (and fail) it seems to be entirely reasonable to mention the later achievements of some colleagues after they have left Surrey because Surrey has been a part of their formation.

    Another decision that has to be made is how one structures the narrative.
    On the one hand, one can paint the big picture and discuss the weft and weave of all the threads simultaneously through time.  Alternatively, one can break the history down into the various specialisms within the department and discuss them individually over time.  We have decided to adopt the former approach. At the time of publishing this first ‘chapter’ on the Heads of Psychology Department since 1967, some of the chapters on the development of sub-disciplinary specialisms were still being researched and written. Over the next few months we will publish further chapters on social psychology, environmental psychology

    A more integrated approach is probably better, but this requires not only a good understanding of the interactions between areas but a good factual/chronological knowledge (i.e., the dates).  There is too much uncertainty at the moment in the remaining collective knowledge to allow this.  The university records may well be equally unreliable; there has been insufficient time to check centrally.  As a consequence, we have opted for a thematic account.

    This publication tries to capture the origins and the subsequent twists and turns of our history.
    Since the appointment of the first Head of Department, Professor Terence Lee, there have been nine heads of department, and five Vice-Chancellors over the history of the University.  Each incoming Vice-Chancellor has changed the organisational structure of the University, starting with the Faculties.  Prior to restructuring in 2015 and the transfer of the School to the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, the Department of Psychology was variously in the Faculty of Human Sciences, the School of Human Sciences, and the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences.  Psychology became a School in 2012. Adopting the different structural configurations of our new home in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, and given the size and specialisms of the School of Psychology, it was decided that the School would be sub-divided into a Department of Psychological Sciences, with Paul Sowden as Head, and the Department of Psychological Interventions, headed by Mary John.  The Head of School is Derek Moore, who moved to Surrey in 2015.

    The history of the School of Psychology can only be understood by situating its origins and early development in the political and educational foundation of the University of Surrey as a whole. This had, and continues to have, a significant effect on the philosophy, interests and management of the University, and by extension the School of Psychology.

    Thank you to all those colleagues – past and present – who have provided comments and, even more usefully, paragraphs of text. When organisations are new, they do not often anticipate that one day they will have a past that people about which people may be interested; records may not be kept. The University of Surrey is no different.  This history has been written drawing more on collective memory and personal accounts than the University archives. If you are reading this and have been part of Surrey Psychology’s history and have something to add to our story (or make corrections), please do write to me.

    Professor David Uzzell

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