What John Wesley called 'the first rise of Methodism' occurred in a university setting, but, especially after he had resigned his Lincoln fellowship in 1751, the link between Methodism and Oxford University was severed and the expulsion of six (Calvinistic) Methodist students from St Edmund Hall in 1768 formalized the divorce. For several generations, Methodists, treated as Nonconformists, were effectively debarred from Oxford and Cambridge, and in the mid-nineteenth century parental fear of 'Tractarian perverting influence' deprived men like Robert N. Young and H.H. Fowler of a university education. When the restrictions were lifted in the 1870s, a case still had to be made for exposing young Methodists to the cultural and spiritual influence of university life and a Conference committee was appointed to consider what provision should be made for them. Methodist participation both at Oxford and Cambridge and in the new generation of universities and colleges increased steadily from then on.
A modern form of class meeting was discovered when W. Harold Beales invited Cambridge students, including Charles A. Coulson, to meet in preparation for Methodist Union in 1932. Groups flourished after the 1944 Education Act gave many more Methodists access to higher education. Student numbers, including ex-service people, increased in congregations near universities and student Methodist Societies were formed, often in comfortably furnished rooms in a local church. Methsoc groups, with duly appointed leaders, studied and prayed together, gave mutual support and affirmation, undertook preaching and social work and often held Easter missions. Many vocations to ordained ministry and lifelong Christian commitment occurred. In 1963 Conference decided to explore the possibility of a student chaplaincy service. As universities expanded following the Robbins Report (1963), Douglas A. Brown (1922- ; e.m. 1948), under the aegis of theHome Mission Department, established chaplaincies throughout the country. Ministers were appointed to pastoral care of Methodist students, some as part of full-time campus-based teams. From 1988 more new universities, and their variety, created a situation beyond the capacity of denominations to provide individual chaplains. Some universities appointed ecumenical or Free Church chaplains. In the Further Education sector, an Advisor appointed jointly with the Church of England in 1990 produced material to help the newly incorporated colleges consider values, religious and moral education and pastoral care.