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Encyclopedia > University College, London
The Front Quad

University College London, commonly known as UCL, is one of the colleges that make up the University of London. It is one of the oldest higher education institutions in the United Kingdom and a member of the Russell Group of Universities.

The main part of the college is located in Bloomsbury, central London, on Gower Street. The nearest stations on the London Underground are Euston, Euston Square, and Warren Street.



UCL was founded in 1826 under the name "University of London" as an alternative to the strictly religious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. However it was not until 1836, when the University of London was established, that the college was legally recognised and granted the power to award degrees of the University of London. Its legal status as a university-level institution thus postdates that of Durham (founded 1832); however because it was actually founded in 1826 it is sometimes claimed to be the third oldest university in England, after Oxford and Cambridge. UCL is not actually a university in its own right, but can claim to be the third oldest higher education institution. It has also been said that, since the charter of King's College London (granted in 1829) predates that of UCL by five years, UCL should not even be regarded as the oldest college in the University of London.

The college was the first UK higher education institution to accept students of any race or religious or political belief. It was possibly the first to accept women on equal terms with men (the University of Bristol also makes this claim - as both were admitted students to University of London degrees at the time, it is quite possible that this was a simultaneous action), the first in England to establish a student union (although men and women had separate unions until 1945), and the first to have professorships in chemical engineering, chemistry, Egyptology, electrical engineering, English, French, geography, German, Italian, papyrology, phonetics, psychology, and zoology.

In 1907 the University of London was reconstituted and many of the colleges, including UCL, lost their separate legal existence. This continued until 1977 when a new charter restored UCL's independence. In 1985 the main Gower Street building was finally finished - 158 years after the foundations were laid.

In 1973, UCL became the first international link to the ARPANET, the precursor of today's internet.

In August 1998 the medical school at UCL merged with The Royal Free Hospital Medical School to create the new Royal Free and University College Medical School.

Even today UCL retains its strict secular position, and unlike most other UK universities has no Christian chaplaincy or Muslim prayer rooms. Due to this policy UCL has also been known as "the godless institution of Gower Street".

UCL Union repeats this policy, and is also constitutionally forbidden from being tied to a political party. Candidates for positions cannot campaign on party tickets, to which many might attribute the repeated descriptions of UCL as relatively 'apolitical', especially in contrast to nearby institutions like LSE. But we might equally pin this on social/cultural tendencies within the student body and university administration.

The UCL Library is famous in its own right, its collection including a first edition of Newton's Principia.

In October 2002, a plan to merge UCL with Imperial College London was announced by the universities. The merger was widely seen as a de facto takeover of UCL by Imperial College and was opposed by both staff and UCL Union, the students' union; but what particularly angered many staff and students was the perceived lack of consultation before the proposal was made. One month later after a vigorous campaign the merger was called off.

In 2004, UCL's most high-profile initiative has been the 'Campaign for UCL', which aims to raise 300m from alumni and friends. This aggressive advocacy of philanthropy has reminded some of US-style university funding, and can quite easily be seen as part of a shift towards an increasingly independent (if not completely privatised) university sector. UCL's management has already shown through its attempt at merging with Imperial and its Russell Group membership (both above) that it aims to be one of the most determined institutions in pursuing such strategies in the long term, even if universities remain nominally public in the short term.

The university's current President and Provost is Professor Malcolm Grant.

Jeremy Bentham

The Jeremy Bentham auto-icon

The philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) is considered to be the spiritual father of UCL, as he played a major role in the development of the college. Whilst he is often credited with founding the college, Jeremy Bentham played no part in the establishment of the institution.

Jeremy Bentham was a strong advocate for making higher education more widely available, and is often linked with the University's early adoption of a policy of making all courses available to anyone (who could pay the fees) regardless of sex, religion or political beliefs.

A further reason for Jeremy Bentham's fame within UCL is due to the fact that his body is on display to the public. Jeremy Bentham specified in his will that he wanted his body to be preserved as a lasting memorial, and this instruction was duly carried out. This 'Auto-Icon' has become famous. Unfortunately, when it came to preserving his head, the process went disastrously wrong and left the head badly disfigured. A wax head was made to replace it, but for many years the real head sat between his legs. However, this head was frequently stolen and subjected to many student pranks, with students from rival King's College London often the culprits. The head is said have at one time been found in a luggage locker at Aberdeen station, and to have been used as a football by students in the Quad. These events led to the head being removed from display and placed instead in the College vaults, where it remains to this day.

Other rumours surrounding the Auto-Icon are that the box containing his remains is wheeled into senior college meetings, and that he is then listed in minutes as 'present but not voting'. He is also said to have a vote on the council, but only when the vote is split, and that he always votes in favour of the motion.

When the Upper Refectory was refurbished in 2003, the room became renamed the Jeremy Bentham Room (sometimes abbreviated JBR) in tribute to the man.

Famous alumni

UCL buildings

UCL operates in many seperate buildings. Whilst most of the buildings are concentrated in the Bloomsbury area of Central London (near Euston station), others can be found as far away as Old Street. Some of the buildings have been acquired through mergers with other colleges, and others have been newly built. The newest include the Engineering Wing on Malet Place and the Andrew Huxley Building within the Gower Street Site. UCL's two newest buildings aimed for completion in 2006 are the London Center for Nanotechnology (on Gordon Street) and a new building for the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (currently at Senate House) Notable buildings:

  • The Main Building also known as the Octagon (building) including the Quad, Cloisters and the Wilkins building
  • The Cruciform Building - a red-brick building notable for being built in a cross shape (Medicine)
  • Foster Court (Languages)
  • Bloomsbury Theatre
  • UCL Hospital (recently re-built)
  • Rockefeller (Science)
  • 1-19 Torrington Place
  • DMS Watson
  • Medawar (named after Peter Medawar)
  • Drayton House
  • UCLU Gordon Street
  • Frances Gardner House and Langton Close (Gray's Inn Road)
  • Ifor Evans Student Residence
  • Campbell House East and West (Taviton Street)
  • Rayne Buildings
  • Chadwick House
  • DMS Watson Library
  • Engineering Building (Malet Place)
  • Wates House (Endsleigh Gardens)
  • Christopher Ingold Building (Gordon Street)
  • Bentham House (Endsleigh Street)
  • Bedford Way Buildings

Filming at UCL

Due to its position within London and the attractiveness of the front quad, UCL has been frequently used as a location for film and television recording.

Notable Professors

External links

  • UCL Online (http://www.ucl.ac.uk)
    • Academic Departments (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/departments/academic-departments/)
    • UCL Museums (http://www.museum.ucl.ac.uk/)
    • Affiliated Organisations (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/administration/affiliated-organisations/)
    • Commerical Organisations (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/administration/commercial/)

Recognized bodies of the University of London

Birkbeck | Goldsmiths | Heythrop | Imperial | Institute of Cancer Research | Institute of Education | King's | London Business School | LSE | London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine | Queen Mary | Royal Academy of Music | Royal Holloway | Royal Veterinary College | St George's | SOAS | School of Pharmacy | UCL

Listed bodies

British Institute in Paris | Courtauld Institute of Art | School of Advanced Study | University Marine Biological Station, Millport

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UCL was founded in 1826 under the name "University of London" as a secular alternative to the strictly religious universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
UCL's newest buildings include the London Centre for Nanotechnology on Gordon Street, aimed for completion in 2006 and a new building for the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (formerly at Senate House) which was opened (by Princess Anne and the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus) in October 2005 on Taviton Street.
Many UCL students are accommodated in the college's own halls of residence or other accommodation; UCL students are also eligible to apply for places in the University of London intercollegiate halls of residence, such as Connaught Hall.
  More results at FactBites »



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