The University of London is a collegiate research university located in London, England, consisting of 18 constituent colleges, nine research institutes and a number of central bodies.
The university is the second largest university by number of full-time students in the United Kingdom, with 161,270 campus-based students and over 50,000 distance learning students in the University of London International Programmes. The university was established by royal charter in 1836, as a degree-awarding examination board for students holding certificates from University College London (UCL) (previously called London University) and King’s College London and „other such other Institutions, corporate or unincorporated, as shall be established for the purpose of Education, whether within the Metropolis or elsewhere within our United Kingdom“. The university moved to a federal structure in 1900.
For most practical purposes, ranging from admissions to funding, the constituent colleges operate on an independent basis, with some recently obtaining the power to award their own degrees whilst remaining in the federal university. The ten largest colleges of the university are UCL, King’s College London, Queen Mary, City, University of London (City), Birkbeck, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Royal Holloway, Goldsmiths, SOAS, and St George’s. The specialist colleges of the university include the London Business School, the Royal Veterinary College and Heythrop College, specialising in philosophy and theology. Imperial College London was formerly a member before leaving the university in 2007. City is the most recent constituent college, having joined on 1 September 2016.
Many notable individuals have passed through the university, either as staff or students, including at least four monarchs, 52 presidents or prime ministers, 74 Nobel laureates, six Grammy winners, two Oscar winners and three Olympic gold medalists.
In post-nominals, the University of London is commonly abbreviated as Lond. or, more rarely, Londin., from the Latin Universitas Londiniensis, after its degree abbreviations.
University College London (UCL) was founded under the name London University in 1826 as a secular alternative to the religious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In response to the theological controversy surrounding such educational establishment, King’s College London (KCL) was founded and was the first to be granted a royal charter (in 1829).
Yet to receive a royal charter, UCL in 1834 renewed its application for a royal charter as a university (originally applied for in 1830), which would grant it the power to confer degrees. In response to this, opposition to „exclusive“ rights grew among the London medical schools. The idea of a general degree awarding body for the schools was discussed in the medical press. and in evidence taken by the Select Committee on Medical Education. However, the blocking of a bill to open up Oxford and Cambridge degrees to dissenters led to renewed pressure on the Government to grant degree awarding powers to an institution that would not apply religious tests, particularly as the degrees of the new University of Durham were also to be closed to non-Anglicans.
In 1835, the government announced the response to UCL’s petition for a charter. Two charters would be issued, one to UCL incorporating it as a college rather than a university, without degree awarding powers, and a second „establishing a Metropolitan University, with power to grant academical degrees to those who should study at the London University College, or at any similar institution which his Majesty might please hereafter to name“.
Following the issuing of its charter on 28 November 1836, the university started drawing up regulations for degrees in March 1837. The death of William IV in June, however, resulted in a problem – the charter had been granted „during our Royal will and pleasure“, meaning it was annulled by the king’s death. Queen Victoria issued a second charter on 5 December 1837, reincorporating the university. The university awarded its first degrees in 1839, all to students from UCL and KCL.
The university established by the charters of 1836 and 1837 was essentially an examining board with the right to award degrees in arts, laws and medicine. However, the university did not have the authority to grant degrees in theology, considered the senior faculty in the other three English universities. In medicine, the university was given the right to determine which medical schools provided sufficient medical training. In arts and law, by contrast, it would examine students from UCL, King’s College, or any other school or college granted a royal warrant, effectively giving the government control of which colleges could affiliate to the university. Beyond the right to submit students for examination, there was no other connection between the affiliated colleges and the university.
In 1849 the university held its first graduation ceremony at Somerset House following a petition to the senate from the graduates, who had previously received their degrees without any ceremony. About 250 students graduated at this ceremony. The London academic robes of this period were distinguished by their „rich velvet facings“.
The list of affiliated colleges grew by 1858 to include over 50 institutions, including all other British universities. In that year, a new charter effectively abolished the affiliated colleges system by opening up the examinations to everyone whether they attended an affiliated college or not. This led the Earl of Kimberley, a member of the university’s senate, to tell the House of Lords in 1888 „that there were no Colleges affiliated to the University of London, though there were some many years ago“. The reforms of 1858 also incorporated the graduates of the university into a convocation, similar to those of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, and authorised the granting of degrees in science, the first BSc being awarded in 1860.
The expanded role meant the university needed more space, particularly with the growing number of students at the provincial university colleges. Between 1867 and 1870 a new headquarters was built at 6 Burlington Gardens, providing the university with exam halls and offices.
In 1863, via a fourth charter, the university gained the right to grant degrees in surgery. This 1863 charter remains the authority under which the university is incorporated, although all its other provisions were abolished under the 1898 University of London Act.
In 1878, the university set another first when it became the first university in the UK to admit women to degrees, via the grant of a supplemental charter. Four female students obtained Bachelor of Arts degrees in 1880 and two obtained Bachelor of Science degrees in 1881, again the first in the country.
In the late 19th century, the university came under criticism for merely serving as a centre for the administration of tests, and there were calls for a „teaching university“ for London. UCL and KCL considered separating from the university to form a separate university, variously known as the Albert University, Gresham University and Westminster University. Following two royal commissions the University of London Act 1898 was passed, reforming the university and giving it a federal structure with responsibility for monitoring course content and academic standards within its institutions. This was implemented in 1900 with the approval of new statutes for the university.
Somerset House in 1836. The university had its offices here from 1837 to 1870.
King William IV, who granted the University of London its original royal charter in 1836.
An illustration of 6 Burlington Gardens, home to the university administration from 1870 to 1900.
The reforms initiated by the 1898 act came into force with the approval of the new federal statutes in 1900. Many of the colleges in London became schools of the university, including UCL, KCL, Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics. Regent’s Park College, which had affiliated in 1841, became an official divinity school of the university in 1901 (the new statutes having given London the right to award degrees in theology); Goldsmiths College joined in 1904; Imperial College was founded in 1907; Queen Mary College joined in 1915; the School of Oriental and African Studies was founded in 1916; and Birkbeck College, which was founded in 1823, joined in 1920.
The previous provision for colleges outside London was not abandoned on federation, instead London offered two routes to degrees: „internal“ degrees offered by schools of the university and „external“ degrees offered at other colleges (now the University of London International Programmes).
UCL and KCL, whose campaign for a teaching university in London had resulted in the university’s reconstitution as a federal institution, went even further than becoming schools of the university and were actually merged into it. UCL’s merger, under the 1905 University College London (Transfer) Act, happened in 1907. The charter of 1836 was surrendered and all of UCL’s property became the University of London’s. KCL followed in 1910 under the 1908 King’s College London (Transfer) Act. This was a slightly more complicated case, as the theological department of the college (founded in 1846) did not merge into the university but maintained a separate legal existence under KCL’s 1829 charter.
The expansion of the university’s role meant that the Burlington Garden premises were insufficient, and in March 1900 it moved to the Impetial Institute in South Kensington. However, its continued rapid expansion meant that it had outgrown its new premises by the 1920s, requiring yet another move. A large parcel of land in Bloomsbury near the British Museum was acquired from the Duke of Bedford and Charles Holden was appointed architect with the instruction to create a building „not to suggest a passing fashion inappropriate to buildings which will house an institution of so permanent a character as a University.“ This unusual remit may have been inspired by the fact that William Beveridge, having just become director of LSE, upon asking a taxi driver to take him to the University of London was met with the response „Oh, you mean the place near the Royal School of Needlework“. Holden responded by designing Senate House, the current headquarters of the university, and at the time of completion the second largest building in London.
During the Second World War, the colleges of the university (with the exception of Birkbeck) and their students left London for safer parts of the UK, while Senate House was used by the Ministry of Information, with its roof becoming an observation point for the Royal Observer Corps. Though the building was hit by bombs several times, it emerged from the war largely unscathed; rumour at the time had it that the reason the building had fared so well was that Adolf Hitler had planned to use it as his headquarters in London.
The latter half of the last century was less eventful. In 1948, Athlone Press was founded as the publishing house for the university, and sold to the Bemrose Corporation in 1979, subsequent to which it was acquired by Continuum publishing. However, the post-WWII period was mostly characterised by expansion and consolidation within the university, such as the acquisition as a constituent body of the Jesuit theological institution Heythrop College on its move from Oxfordshire in 1969.
The 1978 University of London Act saw the university defined as a federation of self-governing colleges, starting the process of decentralisation that would lead to a marked transference of academic and financial power in this period from the central authorities in Senate House to the individual colleges. In the same period, UCL and KCL regained their legal independence via acts of parliament and the issuing of new royal charters. UCL was reincorporate in 1977, while KCL’s new charter in 1980 reunited the main body of the college with the corporation formed in 1829. One of the largest shifts in power of this period came in 1993, when HEFCE switched from funding the University of London, which then allocated money to the colleges, to funding the colleges directly and them paying a contribution to the University.
There was also a tendency in the late 20th century for smaller colleges to be amalgamated into larger „super-colleges“. Some of the larger colleges (most notably UCL, KCL, LSE and Imperial) periodically put forward the possibility of their departure from the university, although no steps were taken to actually putting this into action until the early 21st century.
In 2002, Imperial College and UCL mooted the possibility of a merger, raising the question of the future of the University of London and the smaller colleges within it. Subsequently, considerable opposition from academic staff of both UCL and Imperial led to a rejection of the merger.
Despite this failure, the trend of decentralising power continued. A significant development in this process was the closing down of the Convocation of all the university’s alumni in October 2003; this recognised that individual college alumni associations were now increasingly the centre of focus for alumni. However, the university continued to grow even as it moved to a looser federation, and, in 2005, admitted the Central School of Speech and Drama.
On 9 December 2005, Imperial College became the second constituent body (after Regent’s Park College) to make a formal decision to leave the university. Its council announced that it was beginning negotiations to withdraw from the university in time for its own centenary celebrations, and in order to be able to award its own degrees. On 5 October 2006, the University of London accepted Imperial’s formal request to withdraw from it. Imperial became fully independent on 9 July 2007, as part of the celebrations of the college’s centenary.
The Times Higher Education Supplement announced in February 2007 that the London School of Economics, University College London and King’s College London all planned to start awarding their own degrees, rather than degrees from the federal University of London as they had done previously, from the start of the academic year starting in Autumn 2007. Although this plan to award their own degrees did not amount to a decision to leave the University of London, the THES suggested that this „rais[ed] new doubts about the future of the federal University of London“.
The School of Pharmacy, University of London, merged with UCL on 1 January 2012, becoming the UCL School of Pharmacy within the Faculty of Life Sciences. This was followed on 2 December 2014 by the Institute of Education also merging with UCL, becoming the UCL Institute of Education.
Since 2010, the university has been outsourcing support services such as cleaning and portering. This has prompted industrial action by the largely Latin American workforce under the „3Cosas“ campaign (the 3Cosas – 3 causes –being sick pay, holiday pay, and pensions for outsourced workers on parity with staff employed directly by the university). The 3Cosas campaigners were members of the UNISON trade union. However, documents leaked in 2014 revealed that UNISON representatives tried to counter the 3Cosas campaign in meetings with university management. The 3Cosas workers subsequently transferred to the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.
Following good results in the Research Excellence Framework in December 2014, City University London said that they were exploring the possibility of joining the University of London. It was subsequently announced in July 2015 that City would join the University of London in August 2016. It will cease to be an independent university and become a college as „City, University of London“.
The university owns a considerable central London estate 12 hectares freehold land in Bloomsbury, near Russell Square tube station.
Some of the university’s colleges have their main buildings on the estate. The Bloomsbury Campus also contains eight Halls of Residence and Senate House, which houses the , the chancellor’s official residence and previously housed the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of University College London (UCL) and housed in its own new building. Almost all of the School of Advanced Study is housed in Senate House and neighbouring Stewart House.
The university also owns many of the squares that formed part of the Bedford Estate, including Gordon Square, Tavistock Square, Torrington Square and Woburn Square, as well as several properties outside Bloomsbury, with many of the university’s colleges and institutes occupying their own estates across London:
The university also has several properties outside London, including a number of residential and catering units further afield and the premises of the University of London Institute in Paris, which offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in French and historical studies.
The ten largest institutions of the federal university, usually termed the colleges, are Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, King’s College London, the London Business School, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway, SOAS, City, LSE and UCL. Formerly a constituent college, Imperial College London left the University of London in 2007.
For most practical purposes, ranging from admission of students to negotiating funding from the government, the 18 constituent colleges are treated as individual universities. Legally speaking they are known as Recognised Bodies, with the authority to examine students and award them degrees of the university. Some colleges have the power to award their own degrees instead of those of the university; those which exercise that power include:
Most decisions affecting the constituent colleges and institutions of the University of London are made at the level of the colleges or institutions themselves. The University of London does retain its own decision-making structure, however, with the Collegiate Council and Board of Trustees, responsible for matters of academic policy. The Collegiate Council is made up of the Heads of Colleges of the university.
The 12 institutes, or Listed Bodies, within the University of London offer courses leading to degrees that are both examined and awarded by the University of London. Additionally, twelve universities in England, several in Canada and many in other Commonwealth countries (notably in East Africa) began life as associate colleges of the university offering such degrees. By the 1970s, almost all of these colleges had achieved independence from the University of London. An increasing number of overseas and UK-based academic institutes offer courses to support students registered for the University of London International Programmes’s diplomas and degrees and the Teaching Institutions Recognition Framework enables the recognition of these institutions.
The current constituent colleges of the University of London are as follows:
Some colleges and schools of the University of London have been amalgamated into larger colleges or left the University of London. These include:
Imperial College London
Royal Holloway, University of London
King’s College London
University College London
Queen Mary, University of London
A number of major universities originated as university colleges teaching the degrees of (what is now) the University of London International Programmes.
A number of other colleges had degrees validated and awarded by the University of London.
Between 1946 and 1970, the university entered into ’schemes of special relation‘ with university colleges in the Commonwealth of Nations. These schemes encouraged the development of independent universities by offering a relationship with the University of London. University colleges in these countries were granted a Royal Charter. An Academic Board of the university college negotiated with the University of London over the entrance requirements for the admission of students, syllabuses, examination procedures and other academic matters. During the period of the special relationship, graduates of the colleges were awarded University of London degrees.
Some of the colleges which were in special relation are listed below, along with the year in which their special relation was established.
In 1970, the ‚Schemes of Special Relation‘ were phased out.
The University of London first received a grant of arms in April 1838. The arms depict a cross of St George upon which there is a Tudor rose surrounded by detailing and surmounted by a crown. Above all of this there is a blue field with an open book upon it.
The arms are described in the grant as:
The University of London had established a rudimentary code for academic dress by 1844. The university was the first to devise a system of academic dress based on faculty colours, an innovation that was subsequently followed by most other universities.
Since their being granted autonomous degree awarding powers, King’s College London, The London School of Economics and Political Science and University College London have each introduced their own form of academic dress. Queen Mary, University of London will, as of 2014, introduce its own form of academic dress to reflect its autonomous degree awarding powers. The remaining colleges of the university continue to use the University of London academic dress.
As of 2014/15, 142,990 students (approximately 5% of all UK students) attended one of the University of London’s affiliated schools. Additionally, over 50,000 students follow the University of London International Programmes.
The ULU building on Malet Street (close to Senate House) was home to the University of London Union, which acted as the student union for all University of London students alongside the individual college and institution unions. The building is now rebranded as ‚Student Central, London‘, offering full membership to current University of London students, and associate membership to students at other universities, and other groups. The union previously owned London Student, the largest student newspaper in Europe, which now runs as a digital news organisation
Though most sports teams are organised at the college level, ULU ran a number of sports clubs of its own, some of which (for example the basketball team) compete in BUCS leagues. The union also organised its own leagues for college teams to participate in. These leagues and sports clubs are supported by Friends of University of London Sport which aims to promote them.
In addition to these, ULU catered for sports not covered by the individual colleges through clubs such as the University of London Union Lifesaving Club, which helps students gain awards and learn new skills in lifesaving as well as sending teams to compete throughout the country in the BULSCA league.
The university’s ice hockey squad, the ULU Dragons, have been successful in the British Universities Ice Hockey Association Division 1 and Division 2. The Dragons have also previously competed in tournaments including professional teams and have come away with several gold and silver medals from these events.
ULU also organised a number of societies, ranging from Ballroom and Latin American Dance to Shaolin Kung Fu, and from the University of London Big Band to the Breakdancing Society. Affiliated to the university is the University of London Society of Change Ringers, a society for bellringers at all London universities.
The university runs the University of London Boat Club.
The university also has a representative football team, which dates back to 1913 and is a collection of the best players from the various colleges. The team plays games against sides such as Cambridge’s and Oxford’s ‚Blues‘ sides as well as the R.A.F, Navy and Army. Currently the team has use of both Motspur Park Athletics Stadium (Fulham F.C.’s training ground, and a former University of London property) and the Honourable Artillery Company’s grounds for training and home match purposes. Former players and managers of the team include Bobby Robson and Jimmy Hill.
University of London Orienteering Club is an umbrella club for all University of London orienteering groups. Members participate in orienteering events across the UK, and occasionally further afield. In 1997, the club sent a team to participate in the US championships in Colorado.
The University of London Symphony Orchestra (ULSO) is a leading student orchestra within the UK. It comprises approximately 70 – 100 students from the University of London annually and welcomes world-renowned conductors and soloists. ULSO dates back to 1955 is well known for performing some of the most challenging works in the repertoire. The orchestra has played in some of London’s foremost concert halls including Cadogan Hall, St. John’s Smith Square, Duke’s Hall and has been on tour in Hong Kong and Italy in recent years.
The university operates the following eight intercollegiate halls of residence, which accommodate students from most of its colleges and institutions:
The Garden Halls
A large number of famous individuals have passed through the University of London, either as staff or students, including at least 4 monarchs, 52 presidents or prime ministers, 74 Nobel laureates, 6 Grammy winners, 2 Oscar winners and 3 Olympic gold medalists.
Staff and students of the university, past and present, have contributed to a number of important scientific advances, including the discovery of vaccines by Edward Jenner and Henry Gray (author of Gray’s Anatomy). Additional vital progress was made by University of London people in the following fields: the discovery of the structure of DNA (Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin); the invention of modern electronic computers (Tommy Flowers); the discovery of penicillin (Alexander Fleming and Ernest Chain); the development of X-Ray technology (William Henry Bragg and Charles Glover Barkla); discoveries on the mechanism of action of Interleukin 10 (Anne O’Garra); the formulation of the theory of electromagnetism (James Clerk Maxwell); the determination of the speed of light (Louis Essen); the development of antiseptics (Joseph Lister); the development of fibre optics (Charles K. Kao); and the invention of the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell). Notable political figures who have passed through the University of London include Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal, Romano Prodi, Junichiro Koizumi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ramsay MacDonald, Desmond Tutu, Taro Aso, Walter Rodney, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi.
In the arts field the university has produced the novelists Malcolm Bradbury, G. K. Chesterton, H. G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, Arthur C. Clarke, J.G. Ballard and the poet John Keats. Many artists have been associated with the university, including Jonathan Myles-Lea, and several of the leading figures in the Young British Artists movement (including Ian Davenport, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst). Outstanding musicians across a wide range include the conductor Sir Simon Rattle, the soprano Felicity Lott and both members of Gilbert and Sullivan to Mick Jagger, Elton John, Dido, and members of the bands Coldplay, Keane, Suede, The Velvet Underground, Blur, Iron Maiden, Placebo, The Libertines, Queen, and Hong Kong singer-actress Karen Mok.
The University of London has also played host to film directors (Christopher Nolan, Derek Jarman), philosophers (Karl Popper, Roger Scruton), explorers (David Livingstone), international academics (Sam Karunaratne), Riccarton High School Head of Commerce, Tom Neumann and leading businessmen (Michael Cowpland, George Soros).
The Chancellors of the University of London since its founding are as follows: