Education and impact of the First World War


With the outbreak of the First World War, educational institutions around the UK suddenly found large numbers of their students being called away to fight. Then as the war went on, they were called upon to help support the war effort.

As part of the World War 1 Centenary commemorations, AHRC funded engagement centres have been supporting community groups to research how the war impacted on educational institutions. How did they cope and what was their contribution?

See also other World War One features at ahrc.ukri.org/WW1 and visit our 'WW1 Centenary news and events' page.

Beyond the War Memorial: life, work and study in Preston during WW1

This project goes beyond the memorial to look at the stories of those that studied during the war at the Harris Institute, which was the principal provider of higher education in Preston at the time

Six soldiers

A collaboration between the University of Central Lancashire and Preston Remembers, it emerged from the ‘memorial challenge’ where volunteers researched the names of people listed on memorials around Preston.

The University of Central Lancashire archives hold the Harris Institute Class Registers which provide details of the names, ages, addresses and occupations of the students who attended, as well as the courses studied. This valuable information was transcribed onto a database and used to find out more about the people who attended.

These students lived in the same streets, sometimes came from the same families, as the fallen, yet their experiences of the war are likely to have been quite different. It also researched how education was affected by the war. Learn more about it on the project webpage.


Six soldiers

‘Men behind the Glass’ - Campbell College, Belfast

126 pupils and one staff member from the college were killed during World War 1. Images of over 100 of them are embedded in the wood panelled walls of the College’s Central Hall. This project looked to preserve the images by digitising them and opening up the school archives to help tell their stories. The school has been running a creative writing programme to help remember those that lost their lives. Visit the community project webpage.


Six soldiers

Adult education and the Great War in Yorkshire

This community history project explored how adult education establishments addressed the educational needs of several lost generations during and after the Great War - including disabled veterans and children who had worked in industry during the war - and how they contributed to discussion about the role of education in a newly-democratic age.

It uncovered the histories of students and tutors to understand better the shifting nature of adult education provision in Yorkshire in response to the war and international events. Learn more at the project webpage.


British Ex-Service Students and the Rebuilding of Europe, 1919–1926

This project investigated the war generation’s entry into higher education by focusing on one particular aspect: their contribution to reconstructing Europe by forging links with students from other countries, including former enemy nations.

The immediate post-war years saw a plethora of international student initiatives – from the humanitarian efforts of European Student Relief to an international federation for national student unions. British university students were actively involved in these ventures; indeed, the very foundation of the National Union of Students (NUS) in 1922 was partly aimed at strengthening international links.

Even when not active in such organisations, many British students engaged in internationalism, for example by participating in study exchanges and travel schemes. The project examined how young adults with direct experience of war experienced and fostered international dialogue and understanding. Visit the blog webpage.


University College London

Dr Georgina Brewis, who is Associate Professor in the History of Education at UCL Institute of Education, was part of the ‘British students and the rebuilding of Europe, 1919-1926’ project. She also authored the revised and updated edition of The World of UCL (UCL Press, 2018) and has researched the impact of the First World War on life at UCL.

Over 2,600 members and former members of College served during the war. The UCL community experienced an intense sense of rupture. Part of the College was requisitioned as a military hospital, while the research activities of many academic departments were directed to the war effort.

Student numbers halved, but UCL also welcomed and supported several hundred Belgian refugee students and military personnel taking evening courses. Women formed a majority of the much-reduced student body, playing a leading role in College life. They set up UCL’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), which maintained an Ambulance Squad in St Pancras and sent students to nurse in military hospitals in France.

At the end of the war, the first government scholarship scheme for ex-service students helped produced a more socially diverse student body, while the fallen were commemorated around the UCL campus.

Visit the event webpage for more information.

Return to features