The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






University College London

The Front Quad
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. Within the Russell Group it is part of the 'G5' sub-group of 'super-elite' universities, and along with Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial, it accounts for more than 40% of the Russell Group's research funding. UCL consistently ranks among the top 10 universities in the UK league tables.

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 (UCL is not actually a university in its own right) thus postdates that of Durham (founded 1832); however because it was actually founded in 1826 it is often claimed to be the third oldest university in England, after Oxford and Cambridge. 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.

On 1 August 2003, Professor Malcolm Grant took the role of President and Provost (the principal of UCL), taking over from Sir Derek Roberts, who had been called out of retirement as a caretaker provost for the college.

Shortly after his inauguration, UCL began the 'Campaign for UCL' initiative, in 2004. It aimed to raise 300m from alumni and friends. This kind of explicit campaigning is traditionally unusual for UK universities, and is similar to US university funding

Jeremy Bentham

The Jeremy Bentham auto-icon
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 to 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 separate 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)
  • The UCL 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

Last updated: 06-01-2005 22:28:12
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