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The university was established in 1881 as University College Liverpool. In 1884, it became part of the federal Victoria University. Following a Royal Charter and Act of Parliament in 1903, it became an independent university with the right to confer its own degrees called the University of Liverpool.

The University has produced eight Nobel prize winners, from the fields of science, medicine and peace. The nobel laureates include the physician Sir Ronald Ross, physicist Professor Charles Barkla,the physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington, physicist Sir James Chadwick, chemist Sir Robert Robinson, physiologist Professor Har Gobind Khorana, physiologist Professor Rodney Porter, and physicist Professor Joseph Rotblat.

The term red brick was first coined by a Liverpool professor to describe the red brick built civic universities that were built in the UK, mostly in the latter part of the 19th century; these were characterised by Victorian buildings of red brick, such as Victoria Building, which was historically the administrative heart of the University.

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