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The Universities Tests Act 1871[a] was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It abolished religious "Tests" and allowed Roman Catholics, non-conformists and non-Christians to take up professorships, fellowships, studentships and other lay offices at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham. It also forbade religious tests for "any degree (other than a degree in divinity)".
The Act built upon earlier acts that had limited religious tests in the universities concerned. The Oxford University Act 1854 had abolished tests for the degree of BA, but not for higher degrees. The Cambridge University Act 1856 abolished tests for all degrees in Arts, Law, Music and Medicine, but stated that the degree would not enable the holder to become a member of senate or hold "any Office … which has been heretofore always held by a Member of the United Church of England and Ireland" unless they made a declaration that they were "bona fide a Member of the Church of England" (the latter provisions were abolished by the 1871 Act). The Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral (the governing body of Durham University at that time) changed the university's regulations in 1865 to remove religious tests on degrees (except in theology).
Passed during the course of William Ewart Gladstone's first ministry, the act was to obtain support from the non-conformists since these were a major support group for the Liberal Party.
The direct instigation for this legislation was the widely publicised case of Numa Edward Hartog, the first Jewish Senior Wrangler in the history of Cambridge University, who could not accept the fellowship that would otherwise routinely be offered, because he could not subscribe to the required test on account of his religion. His testimony before the House of Lords helped secure passage of the bill, after the Lords had twice blocked similar legislation in 1869 and 1870.
Numa Hartog would have been the first Jew after the passing of this act to be elected a fellow at the University of Cambridge, but he died of smallpox. The first Jew to be elected a fellow was Samuel Alexander at Lincoln College, University of Oxford in 1882.
- "Universities Tests Act 1871 - Section 1: Short Title". legislation.gov.uk.
- Universities Tests Act 1871 Archived 15 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine, UK Government.
- Bernard Lord Manning (1952). The Protestant Dissenting Deputies. Cambridge University Press. p. 373.
- "Cambridge University Act 1856 – Text as originally enacted" (PDF). 29 July 1856. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
- Queen's Printer (29 July 1856). "Cambridge University Act 1856". Retrieved 19 June 2019.
- The Durham University Calendar 1868. Durham University. 1868. p. 31.
- Geoffrey Cantor (2005). Quakers, Jews, and Science: Religious Responses to Modernity and the Sciences in Britain, 1650–1900. Oxford University Press. pp. 85–87. ISBN 0-19-927668-4.
- Laird, John. 1938. Memoir. In Philosophical and Literary Pieces by Samuel Alexander. London: Macmillan, p. 12.