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University of London

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Background Information

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University of London

University of London Coat of Arms
Latin: Universitas Londiniensis
Established 1836
Type Public
Chancellor HRH The Princess Royal
Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Adrian Smith
Visitor The Rt Hon Nick Clegg
As Lord President of the Council
Students 135,090 internal (2005-2006)
50,000 International Programmes
Location London, England, United Kingdom
UofLondon logo.png

The University of London is a federal public university in London, United Kingdom. It comprises 18 constituent colleges, 10 research institutes and a number of central bodies. It is the second-largest university in the United Kingdom by number of full-time students, with around 135,000 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, which brought together in federation London University (now University College London) and King's College (now King's College London).

For most practical purposes, ranging from admissions to funding, the constituent colleges operate as individual universities, and some have recently obtained the power to award their own degrees whilst remaining in the federation. The nine largest colleges of the University are University College London, Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, King's College London, the London Business School, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway, the School of Oriental and African Studies and London School of Economics and Political Science. Formerly a constituent college, Imperial College London left the University of London in 2007.

Graduates of the University of London often use the post-nominal letters 'Lond.' or, more rarely, 'Londin.' (both from Londiniensis) after their degree abbreviations (see post-nominal abbreviations).


19th century

Founded in 1836, the University at first comprised just two colleges: University College London, which previously had no official chartered status and did not apply religious tests to its students, and King's College, which had been chartered since 1829 and which admitted only members of the Church of England. Both King's (founded 1829) and University College London (founded 1826) pre-date the University of London, which initially served solely as an examining body for the constituent colleges.

In 1858, the University expanded its role by offering the University of London International Programmes to candidates outside of the colleges, the first of its kind in the country. A new headquarters at 6 Burlington Gardens, providing the university with exam halls and offices, was built to accommodate the new role. In 1878, the University set another first when it became the first university in the UK to admit women on equal terms with men. 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 1898, in part as a response to criticisms of universities which merely served as centres for the administration of tests, and calls for research and education to be more central functions of universities, the first University of London Act was passed, reforming the University and giving it responsibility for monitoring course content and academic standards within its institutions. The monitoring was conducted through newly formed centralised faculties and Boards of Studies, and King's and UCL now became constituent parts of the University of London. A symbolic element to the new centralisation of the University was the fact that UCL property became property of the University of London. This significant expansion of role meant the University again needed more space, and so 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated in 1899.

King William IV, who granted the University of London its royal charter in 1836. 
The London University as drawn by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd and published in 1827/28. This building is now part of University College London, which today is one of the many constituent colleges and institutes of the University of London. 
An illustration of 6 Burlington Gardens, home to the university administration from 1870 to 1899. 

20th century

Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900; Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841, became an official divinity school of the university in 1901; 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 joined in 1920. This rapid expansion meant that the University's new premises would prove insufficient 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. Nevertheless, some of the larger colleges (most notably UCL, King's, LSE and Imperial) periodically put forward the possibility of their departure from the university. There was a marked transference of academic and financial power in this period from the central authorities in Senate House to the individual colleges. There was also a tendency for smaller colleges to be amalgamated into larger "super-colleges". A significant development in this process was the closing down of the Convocation of all University of London alumni in October 2003; this recognised that individual college alumni associations were now increasingly the centre of focus for alumni.

21st century

In 2002, Imperial College and UCL mooted the possibility of a merger, raising a question mark over 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.

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 does 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'. However, the University continues to grow and, in 2005, admitted the Central School of Speech and Drama.

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.


The Senate House, the headquarters of the University of London

The University of London owns a considerable central London estate of 180 buildings 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 Senate House Library, 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 which formed part of the Bedford Estate, including Gordon Square, Tavistock Square, Torrington Square and Woburn Square.

The estate includes several properties outside Bloomsbury also, with many of the University's colleges and institutes occupying their own estates across London. Clare Market and part of Aldwych where the London School of Economics and Political Science is based, as well as the West Wing of Somerset House, the location for the Courtauld Institute of Art and King's College London, St Bart's Hospital, the University of London Boat Club in Chiswick and the Egham campus of Royal Holloway with its historic Founder's Building are also examples of properties which form part of the University's estate.

In addition, there are several properties outside London, including the University Marine Biological Station, Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae, 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.

Organisation and administration

The nine 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, the School of Oriental and African Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science and University College London (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 have the university award them degrees. Some colleges have recently obtained the power to award their own degrees and the University has amended its statutes to allow them to do so and yet remain in the University federation. For instance, beginning in the 2007/08 academic year, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), King's College London, the Institute of Education, and University College London began awarding their own degree certificates while retaining their constituent-college status within the University of London.

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 academic institutes offer courses to support students registered for the University of London International Programmes's diplomas and degrees and a new Institutions Policy Framework is currently being developed to accommodate these institutions. Up to now, no accreditation from London for these schools has existed other than the final examinations administered by the University of London which all pupils take.


The constituent colleges of the University of London are currently divided as follows, in alphabetical order:

  • Birkbeck, University of London (BBK) [entered in 1920]
  • Courtauld Institute of Art [created and admitted in 1932]
  • Goldsmiths, University of London (GUL) [entered in 1904]
  • Heythrop College (HEY) [entered in 1971]
  • Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) [entered in 2003]
  • Institute of Education (IoE) [entered in 1909]
  • King's College London (KCL) [founding college]
  • London Business School (LBS) [created and admitted in 1964]
  • The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) [entered in 1900]
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) [entered in 1924]
  • Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) [entered in 1915]
  • Royal Academy of Music (RAM) [entered in 2003]
  • Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD) [entered in 2005]
  • Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL) [entered in 1900]
  • Royal Veterinary College (RVC) [entered in 1915]
  • St George's, University of London (SGUL) [affiliated in the 19th century]
  • School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) [created and entered in 1916]
  • University College London (UCL) [founding college]

Central academic bodies

The University of London Institute in Paris, located on the Esplanade des Invalides in central Paris
  • the University of London Institute in Paris, formerly known as the British Institute in Paris
  • the School of Advanced Study comprising the following institutes:
    • the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
    • the Institute of Classical Studies
    • the Institute of Commonwealth Studies
    • the Institute of English Studies (including the Centre for Manuscript and Print Studies),
    • the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies
    • the Institute of Historical Research
    • the Institute of Musical Research
    • the Institute of Philosophy
    • the Institute for the Study of the Americas
    • the Warburg Institute
  • the University Marine Biological Station, Millport
  • University of London International Programmes

Former colleges and schools

Some colleges and schools of the University of London have been amalgamated into larger colleges or left the University of London. These include:

  • Bedford College - Inner Circle Regent's Park; now part of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (the registered Royal Charter title of Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Chelsea College - Manresa Road, Chelsea; now part of King's College
  • Imperial College London - became independent in July 2007
  • The Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, Chelsea, London founded 1891. In 1978 became a science funding body
  • Queen Elizabeth College - Campden Hill Road, Kensington; now part of King's College
  • The School of Pharmacy, University of London; merged with UCL on 1 January 2012
  • Westfield College - Kidderpore Avenue, Hampstead; now part of Queen Mary and Westfield College (the registered Royal Charter title of Queen Mary, University of London)
  • Wye College - Wye, Kent; Wye courses are now run by the University of Kent in partnership with Imperial College London, and graduating students receive a University of Kent degree and an Imperial Associateship of Wye College
  • Royal Postgraduate Medical School; now part of the Imperial College School of Medicine
  • St Thomas's Hospital Medical School; now part of King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry
  • New College London, was closed in 1980. Despite the name the college never had any association with Royal Holloway and Bedford New College.
  • School of Slavonic and East European Studies although formerly an Institute of the University of London, rather than a college, is now part of University College London
  • Regent's Park College moved to Oxford in 1927, becoming a Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford from 1957

University colleges in the International degree programme

A number of major universities originated as university colleges teaching the degrees of the University of London International Programmes. After developing the ability to function fully, these colleges became able to award their own degrees.

  • University College Lahore, UCL Lahore.
  • University College Colombo, established by the Ceylon University Ordinance Act in 1942 as the University of Ceylon.
  • University College Nottingham, awarded a Royal Charter in 1948 as the University of Nottingham.
  • University College Southampton, awarded a Royal Charter in 1952 as the University of Southampton.
  • University College Leicester, awarded a Royal Charter in 1957 as the University of Leicester.

A number of other colleges had degrees validated and awarded by the University of London.

  • St. Patrick's, Carlow College, Ireland - from 1840 to 1892 students studied for primary degrees in Arts (BA) and Law(BLL).
  • St. Patrick's College, Thurles, Ireland - from 1849 the University of London, allowed Thurles to offer degrees.
  • Huddersfield College
  • Queen's College, Birmingham
  • Stonyhurst College, a Catholic college in Lancashire.
  • Wesleyan Collegiate Institution, Taunton, which became Queen's College, Taunton.
  • Ceylon Technical College, 1933 - 1950 students studied for engineering degrees in BSc in Engineering.
  • Podar World College

Colleges in special relation

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.

  • 1946 - The University College of the West Indies, until 1961. (Now the University of the West Indies)
  • 1948 - University College, Ibadan, until 1967. (Now the University of Ibadan)
  • 1956 - University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now the University of Zimbabwe).
  • 1961 - Royal College Nairobi (now the University of Nairobi).
  • 1963 - University of East Africa

In 1970, the 'Schemes of Special Relation' were phased out.

Coat of arms

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.

In terms of heraldry the arms would be described as:

Argent, the Cross of St George, thereon the Union Rose irradiated and ensigned with the Imperial Crown proper, a Chief Azure, thereon an open Book also proper, Clasps gold

Academic dress

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, the Institute of Education, 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. The remaining colleges of the University continue to use the University of London academic dress.

Student life

The main building of the University of London Union

Some 135,090 students (approximately 5% of all UK students) attend one of the University of London's affiliated schools. Additionally, over 45,000 students follow the University of London International Programmes.

The ULU building on Malet Street (close to Senate House) is home to the University of London Union, which acts as the student union for all University of London students alongside the individual college and institution unions. As well as representing students, the union plays host to a number of shops and bars (including a nightclub and live music venue), owns London Student (the largest student newspaper in Europe) and offers its own gym and swimming pool for student use.

Sports, clubs and traditions

Though most sports teams are organised at the college level, ULU does run a number of sports clubs of its own, some of which (for example the basketball team) compete in BUCS leagues. The union also organises 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 caters 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.

By far the most successful ULU is the Dragons, the Universities Ice Hockey team who continue time and time again win in the British Universities Ice Hockey Association Division 1 and Division 2. The Dragons have also previously competed in tourney's including professional teams and have come away with several gold and silver medals from these events.

ULU also organises 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 famous University of London Boat Club, which is considered along with the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club to be one of the three best university rowing clubs in the country.

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.

Student housing

Connaught Hall, located in Tavistock Square

The University operates the following eight intercollegiate halls of residence, which accommodate students from most of its colleges and institutions:

  • College Hall, Malet Street, WC1
  • Connaught Hall, Tavistock Square, WC1
  • International Hall, Brunswick Square, WC1
  • Lillian Penson Hall, Talbot Square, W2 (postgraduate students only)
  • Nutford House, Brown Street, W1

The Garden Halls

  • Canterbury Hall, Cartwright Gardens, WC1
  • Commonwealth Hall, Cartwright Gardens, WC1 (paired with Hughes-Parry Hall for administration)
  • Hughes Parry Hall, Cartwright Gardens, WC1 (paired with Canterbury Hall for administration)

Notable people

Notable alumni, faculty and staff

Thomas Hardy

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, 72 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, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Taro Aso, 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, 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), and leading businessmen ( Michael Cowpland, George Soros).

Among the more controversial alumni and professors can be included the pornographer David Sullivan, the international terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the Soviet double agent Anthony Blunt.


Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery
Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone

The Chancellors of the University of London since its founding are as follows:

  • William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Burlington 1836–1856
  • Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville 1856–1891
  • Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby 1891–1893
  • Farrer Herschell, 1st Baron Herschell 1893–1899
  • John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley 1899–1902
  • Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery 1902–1929
  • William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp 1929–1931
  • Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone 1932–1955
  • Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother 1955–1981
  • The Princess Anne ( The Princess Royal from 1987) 1981–present

Vice Chancellors

  • See: List of Vice-Chancellors of the University of London
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