Where are London’s universities, and what are the implications for London’s city-regional geography?
London is a primary global city, home to 8.2 million people spread through an extended regional metropolis with deep infrastructural and functional connectivity across southeast England. As the capital of the United Kingdom, it concentrates political and financial power into a densely networked and multiscalar decision-making center. London is a major international draw for finance and cultural capital, as well as research and development across numerous high-end industries.
The higher education sector plays a fundamental role in driving and sustaining this activity. London hosts a major cluster of universities ranging from large multi-faculty and multi-campus comprehensive universities to niche, highly specialized colleges. Indicative of the scale and complexity of London’s university sector, the University of London (UoL) now incorporates 18 colleges, 10 research institutes and several central bodies within a federation of semi-independent schools (including UCL, Birkbeck, King’s College, LSE, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway, SOAS and until 2007, Imperial College).
These maps show the main campus location of universities in the Greater London area, and their relative 2014 student populations (undergraduate and graduate students. The scale of the capital’s higher education system, combined with the metropolitan area’s complexity as a global city-region, has led many researchers to consciously exclude London from studies examining the geography and politics of higher education in the United Kingdom: London “represents a fundamentally different case” (Goddard and Vallance 2013, 182). ‘Town and gown’ relationships, which can be negotiated on more personal levels in smaller single university cities are rendered fundamentally more complex here.
While there are opportunities for universities to collaborate, share facilities, and foster knowledge exchange through regional networks, they are engaged in an on-going competitive struggle to attract the best students, faculty, and grants. Moreover, London’s universities need to negotiate and sustain a potentially fractious set of relationships to access to governmental agencies, industry, and local communities for research and engagement purposes. Yet while there are distinct challenges for universities operating in such urban landscapes, London’s command and control functions, multiscalar connectivity, social diversity, and cultural amenities open a myriad of opportunities and possibilities to forge the new urban university as a place and process – moving beyond the spatial concentration of institutions centered on the Bloomsbury district of central London.
— Jean-Paul Addie