In 1870/1, the governance of Owens College was completely reformed with the creation of the Court, Council and Senate. The Court of Governors was the supreme governing body, the Council was the chief executive committee of the College, and the Senate had responsibility for academic policy. It was a requirement that the Council had to submit an annual report and statement of accounts to the Court for approval; once agreed, published copies of these documents were issued.
The Reports were submitted each autumn for the previous academic session , and included a detailed statement of financial accounts, and a general report of the University's activities in the preceding year. Until 1905 an interim report was also submitted each Spring. In 1903 the Victoria University of Manchester was established, with the University first issuing a Report of Council for the 1904/5 session. The earliest Owens reports include reports of the Principal (also published in the calendars) and the Treasurer about such matters as College income and expenditure academic activities, new appointments, building projects, major benefactions and donations, and basic statistics about student numbers. Increasingly, from the late 1870s, this information became more detailed, with senior academic departments issuing their own reports (compiled by the head of department). By the early twentieth century, it was the norm for faculties and departments to provide a short report on appointments, promotions, resignations, research activities and publications in their area (the smaller faculties issued a general report on behalf of their constituent departments). Reports were also issued by some allied University bodies such as the Library, the Museum, Appointments Board, University Press, and the halls of residence).
In 1920/1, the report was divided into two volumes: part I containing the accounts; and Part II the reports of faculties, departments, halls and other bodies. In 1939, wartime restrictions saw the report revert to a one volume document, and until 1948 the faculty/departmental reports were not published (although they were compiled). Post-war expansion saw the Report adopt a three volume format in 1967, with Part I comprising a general annual report, Part II the accounts and Part III the detailed faculty and departmental reports. Part I would include typically the Vice-Chancellor's statement, reports on staff changes, benefactions and gifts, grants received, honorary degrees conferred, endowed and special lectures delivered and obituaries. It also included information on other University units such as the Library, the Museum , Whitworth Art Gallery, Darbishire House Health Centre, University medical and dental services, the University Theatre, the Athletic Unions, Officer Training Corps, Careers Service, and the halls of residence.
From 1984, Part I of the Report , was produced as a glossy annual report, including, for the first time, photographs and general news features. By 1995, the annual report had become more akin to an annual University magazine, with a focus on news features. The former Part III was issued as an increasingly bulky Supplement from 1984 (being divided into two volumes from 1992, and three in 1996), including the non-academic units formerly included in Part I. Publication of the Supplement ceased after 1996 , largely because of the amount of time needed to compile these annual reports. In 2001 the Accounts (formerly Part II of the Report) were replaced by a Financial Statement.
The Reports are a very valuable research resource, particularly in relation to the information they provide on academic and related departments of the University. Although such reports are far from comprehensive, they provide essential background on teaching and research work and personnel, which can be developed by using more detailed information to be found in Council and Senate minutes, Faculty and departmental board minutes and in relevant files of the Vice-Chancellor's Archive or departmental archive.