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The diploma in community nursing was set up in the University of Manchester in 1959 and was unique in the United Kingdom (UK) as an experimental course in nurse education in which nursing was taught as a university subject. It sought to provide a university education in nursing, demonstrating also that integration of hospital and community nursing was possible in the basic course. It was thought that this might prove a better preparation for health visiting than the conventional method of following nurse training by a special course in public health nursing. In 1964, at the end of the experimental period, the course was revised and better integration of practical experience was achieved. The student also had greater opportunity to participate in university activities, an essential aspect of university education. Recruitment to the course increased considerably over the years and it was evident that there were sufficient entrants of high calibre whose work was of a quality comparable to that in degree courses. The revised course therefore became the prototype for a degree course and, in 1969, the first group of students graduated bachelor of nursing.

Miss Jean K. McFarlane was appointed head of nursing studies in 1971, becoming the first professor of nursing in England and Wales in 1974. Since 1972, the annual intake of students has been increased from 12 to 25, though this number has been exceeded (153 students in the years 1972–1976). Courses have also been developed for qualified and experienced nurses–a diploma in advanced nursing studies and a master of science degree course (nursing option). Since 1970, research fellows have also been appointed, firstly in the department of social and preventive medicine and secondly, since its inception, in the department of nursing.