University College London, commonly known as UCL, is one of the colleges that make up the University of London. There are 21,800 staff and students at UCL, making the college larger than most universities in the United Kingdom. It is a member of the Russell Group of Universities, and a part of the ‘G5’ super-elite sub-group along with Oxford, Cambridge, LSE and Imperial. UCL consistently ranks among the top five universities in the UK league tables and in the top thirty global universities. It has an annual turnover of over £550m, and accounts for more than 40% of the Russell Group’s research funding. On September 27, 2005 UCL was granted the power to award its own degrees, although it continues to award degrees of the University of London.
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.
Founding and Development
UCL was founded in 1826 under the name "University of London" as a secular alternative to the strictly religious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It was founded from the beginning as a University, not a College or Institute. However its founders encountered strong opposition from the Church of England which prevented them from securing the Royal Charter that was necessary for the award of degrees, and 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[1].
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 admitting 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 students’ 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. This, together with the incorporation of several major postgraduate medical institutes (Institute of Child Health, Institute of Neurology, Eastman Dental Institute and the Institute of Ophthalmology) make UCL one of the leading centres for biomedical research in the world. Indeed, 65% of UCL’s turnover resides within biomedicine. 10 Nobel Laureates in Physiology and Medicine either studied at or carried out their research at UCL. UCL is particularly strong in cell biology, neuroscience, physiology, pediatrics, neurology and ophthalmology. UCL’s strengths in biomedicine will be significantly augmented with the move of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) from Mill Hill to UCL. Founded in 1913 and the Medical Research Council’s first and largest laboratory, its scientists have garnered five Nobel prizes. NIMR today employs over 700 scientists and has an annual budget of £27 million.
Even today UCL retains its strict secular position, and unlike most other UK universities has no designated Muslim prayer rooms, although it has recently (2005) gained a Christian chaplaincy. Due to this, in general, secularistic attitude, UCL has also been known as "the godless institution of Gower Street". However, there is no restriction on religious groups among students, and a quiet room allows prayer for staff and students of all faiths. The very reason for secularity was that students of different denominations (specifically Catholics and Protestants) could study alongside each other without conflict. The tradition is continued today, where many of the students who attend UCL come from London, and reflect both its ethnic and religious diversity.
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. At an Emergency meeting organised by University College London Union to discuss the merger and the union´s stance on it, the then provost Sir Derek Roberts stormed out of the Bloomsbury theatre, refusing to listen to a speaker who opposed the merger. He himself had just finished delivering a speech in favour. 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. UCL had a financial endowment in the top ten among UK universities at £81m, according to the Sutton Trust (2002). Professor Malcolm Grant has also aimed to enhance UCL’s global links, declaring UCL London’s Global University. Significant interactions with France’s Ecole Normale, Columbia University, NYU, University of Texas and universities in Osaka, Japan have developed during the first few years of his tenure as provost.
UCL was named Sunday Times University of the Year in 2004. The Sunday Times 2005 University Guide describes UCL as "physically and academically at the centre of the University of London. Mergers with a number of medical and other academic schools have created a multidisciplinary college that rivals Oxford and Cambridge for breadth, exclusivity and cutting-edge teaching and research."
Following a similar move by Imperial College, UCL applied to the Privy Council for the power to award degrees in its own right. This was granted in September 2005 although the powers are being held in reserve and will only be used should the college find it necessary to change its status within the federation of the University of London.
In January 2006, UCL decided to become a member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), a network of research-intensive universities with common viewpoints on higher education and research policy. Membership of LERU, which is by invitation, is periodically evaluated against a broad set of quantitative and qualitative criteria, such as research volume, impact and funding, strengths in PhD training, size and disciplinary breadth, and peer-recognised academic excellence. Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of UCL, said: “European research universities have common values and common cause, and we welcome this opportunity to become part of so outstanding a network of research institutions. I think that groupings such as this are particularly important at a time when the EU is thinking seriously about the function of research-intensive universities, about the European Research Commission and a possible European Institute of Technology. It also reflects UCL’s global vision and our extensive collaborative engagement with continental universities through research and student exchanges, including the recently announced programme in neurosciences with three Parisian institutions.”
Famous alumni
UCL alumni include legions of the "Great and Good", ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to the members of Coldplay. A historical bent towards the arts has tended to mean a higher output of authors, including Robert Browning and Raymond Briggs, than scientists and engineers, although it still has its fair share, such as Francis Crick, John Ambrose Fleming, Colin Chapman, and perhaps most notably Alexander Graham Bell. Politicians figure highly in the lists, notably both the first prime minister of Japan, Hirobumi Ito and the current prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Campus networking
UCL provides students and staff with wired and wireless internet access at a number of locations on campus, through a service called RoamNet. However, access to this service requires the use of a proprietary Cisco VPN client, which is not supported on handhelds, non-Intel Linux systems, or other alternative platforms.
UCL user names are seemingly random: e.g. "ucxxxxx". According to the UCL Education and Information Support Division, network users in student halls are not allowed to participate in IRC, network game playing, or chain mail; or host services such as HTTP, mail, FTP, NNTP, or telnet; or run software that uses RPC-based services (such as NFS) or IP multicast services; connect more than one machine at a time to a single network jack, or attach any device other than their personal workstation to the jack. Plugging a machine into another active port without authorization will cause a security violation, and the port will be disabled. As of September 2005, the fee for activating a port in a room is 70 GBP per year, and cannot be refunded or issued at a discount for intervals of less than one year.
Students’ accommodation
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.
Most students in college or university accommodation are first-year undergraduates. The majority of second and third-year students and postgraduates find their own accommodation in the private sector.
There is also limited UCL accommodation available for married students and those with children at Bernard Johnson House, Hawkridge, Neil Sharp House and the University of London’s Lilian Penson Hall.
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.
Spooks (Series III, episode II) features the front quad and the Gustav Tuck Lecture Theatre
The Mummy Returns uses bits of UCL (mainly the Main Quad) to masquerade as the British Museum
Agatha Christie’s Poirot, 9th series, 5 Little Pigs episode, filmed in old main library entrance and in main quad. Also used British Museum Reading Room, and Room 34 whilst in the area.
Batman Begins features the DMS Watson library as "Gotham Print Room".
Thunderbirds used the main Quad and Building as the "Bank of London".
Doctor in the House used the Portico as the entrance to "St Swithin’s Hospital"
Gladiator used the main Quad as a model for ancient Rome.
Silent Witness uses the main Quad (carefully avoiding the Observatories), the main door, and the South and North Cloisters as well as the Octagon. And, while they were in the area, they used the ULU and Senate House (University of London) buildings/ surrounding areas for good measure!
Derren Brown: The Heist, shown at 9.00p.m. on Channel 4 on Wednesday 4th January 2006, featured brief exterior shots of the main Quad and University Street. It was implied one experiment conducted was filmed inside one UCL building, although which one was not established, it was most likely to be the Cruciform Building which is located opposite the Front Quad.
Eyes Wide Shut uses the UCL GP practice as the clinic for Tom Cruise’s character.