This paper focuses on the Colleges of Advanced Technology (CATs), specialist providers of advance science and technology which existed in England and Wales for ten years after the 1956 White Paper Technical Education. Its central argument is that recasting the CATs as broader-based universities following the 1963 Robbins Report was a significant error which attenuated the progress of science and technology, and prevented the Colleges’ development as viable providers of higher education (HE) outside the university sector. This decision, it is argued, was shaped by typically English views about the relative value of different forms of learning, the nature and purpose of HE, and particular beliefs about the primacy of the university. It also conflated the general desire to increase participation in higher education with the wish to promote science and technology in particular. A bolder option, it is proposed, would have been to build the CATs up as prestigious institutes of technology, along the lines of those found in the USA and continental Europe – although this, it is recognised, would have entailed a substantial shift in the role of the state and reduced the individual and collective autonomy of HE institutions in England and Wales.