Students looking for universities in London will encounter a range of options as vibrant and varied as the city itself. Whether you want a specialist or multidisciplinary institution, central or more suburban surroundings, or the option to combine a flexible study schedule with your career, your chances of finding a good match in the UK capital are high.
For a taste of what’s on offer, here’s a look at the top 10 universities in London, based on the QS World University Rankings® 2015/16.
University College London – known as UCL – has overtaken Imperial College London as the highest ranking university in London this year, ranking 7th in the world. UCL is extremely popular with international students, who account for more than a third of its student body. A multidisciplinary institute, it covers a broad spectrum of subjects (this is one of the main points of difference between UCL and Imperial), and has a high percentage of postgraduate students (around 52%). Its faculties and teaching hospitals are all located in the heart of central London, close to the British Library and a cluster of other leading London universities – SOAS and Birkbeck (see below) are both close neighbors. The main Gower Street campus is also just a short walk from the party atmosphere of Soho, London’s entertainment center, and famous shopping district, Oxford Street.
Imperial College London is 8th in the world this year, having fallen from its position in joint 2nd place last year. This science and technology-focused institution is well known for its leadership in engineering and natural sciences, as well as having a prestigious business school and one of the UK’s largest medical faculties. As is the case with UCL, Imperial College London has a strong global appeal which is reflected in high international student numbers (just under a third of the student body). Its main campus is in South Kensington, not far from the city center. Students will find themselves close to the huge green space of Hyde Park, the monumental Royal Albert Hall, luxury superstore Harrods, and several of the city’s biggest museums.
King’s College London is one of the largest and oldest colleges of the University of London collegiate. It maintains its place in the global top 20 this year, ranking joint 19th in the world alongside Australian National University (ANU). Again, this comprehensive research-led university is a popular choice for international students, who comprise around one in five of the student body, while postgraduates make up around 40% of its 26,000 enrolments. It has a particularly good reputation for courses in the humanities, law and the sciences, including health sciences. Claiming to be “the most central university in London”, King’s College London has five London campuses, four of which are situated fairly close together by the River Thames, close to iconic landmarks such as Tower Bridge, the London Eye and Big Ben.
The UK’s only university specializing in the social sciences, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has climbed an impressive 36 places in the rankings this year, to place 35th in the world. It gets an even higher position in many of the individual subject rankings, reflecting its role as a world-leading pioneer in subjects such as international relations, politics, sociology, law and accounting. Another highly international institution, LSE boasts more than 100 languages spoken on campus. Again, it occupies a location close to the heart of the city – in the Chancery Lane area, historically associated with the legal professions. Just to the north of the river, it’s within walking distance of the British Library, and close to the cultural institutions of Trafalgar Square and the nightlife of the West End (also known as “theatreland”).
Ranking 109th in the world this year, Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) offers teaching and research across a wide range of subjects, including medicine and dentistry at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Of QMUL’s 20,260 students, around 10% are from EU countries other than the UK, and 30% from beyond the EU, with 151 nationalities in total. The university’s main campus is in Mile End, set along the Regent’s Canal and close to many of the recently regenerated and increasingly trendy parts of the “East End” – including the curry houses of Brick Lane, art galleries of Whitechapel and Hoxton, and gritty-but-trendy bars and music venues of Shoreditch. In August 2015, QMUL announced plans to launch a free business advice scheme for UK start-ups in the financial and technology industries.
While many of the top universities in London are centrally located, some are a little further out. Though still within the London area, Royal Holloway, University of London is actually located in the nearby town of Egham – less than an hour’s train journey from central London. It has climbed 44 places this year, to rank 231st in the world. Another global university, it has students from over 100 countries, and offers courses in a broad range of subjects, being particularly strong in arts and humanities. Perfect for students looking to combine a more suburban experience with the choice of popping into the city for nights out or day trips, Royal Holloway offers one of the most beautiful and historic campuses in the UK.
Currently ranked joint 275th in the world (having climbed 56 spaces since last year), the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) focuses on the languages, cultures and societies of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East – the only institution in Europe specialized in this field. Just over half of its students come from outside the UK, representing 133 countries. Like UCL and Birkbeck, SOAS is in the Bloomsbury area of London, known for its attractive garden squares, history of artistic and intellectual inhabitants (look up “the Bloomsbury Group”), and high concentration of academic resources – including the extensive Senate House Library and the British Library (the UK’s national library). Founded in 1916 as the School of Oriental Studies, SOAS will celebrate its centenary next June with a year of events to mark its achievements over the last 100 years.
Birkbeck College, University of London has made an impressive leap in the rankings this year, climbing more than 100 places to rank 290th in the world. It is the only university in London that allows students to complete full-length degrees during evening courses, with all the visa and loan privileges of daytime study. Birkbeck is again located in the Bloomsbury area, close to UCL and SOAS and within walking distance of many central London attractions, and it schedules its programs with the aim of allowing students to complete a day’s work before attending class. The majority of students study part-time, taking advantage of the university’s flexible ethos, and are enrolled on a wide range of programs at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
City University London has also improved in the rankings this year, climbing 40 places to rank 301st in the world. It is named to reflect its close relationship with ‘The City’ – London’s historic financial district, also known as ‘the square mile’. It prides itself on having strong links with leading companies in this competitive district, ranging from giants of the financial services sector to media companies and medical research centers. It also marks its special links to the city by having the Lord Major of London as its Chancellor. City University London offers a broad spectrum of courses, but is perhaps best known for its Cass Business School, City Law School and the School of Health Sciences. Of its 17,000 students, 16% are from EU countries other than the UK, and 28% are from countries outside of the EU. Looking to the future, in July 2015 it was announced that City University would join the University of London, becoming a constituent college from August 2016.
Named after the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Brunel University (ranked joint 331st in the world) is aptly known for its engineering and design courses, but also offers a range of courses in arts, business, law, health and social sciences, information systems and sport. Again, it boasts an internationally diverse student community, with more than 15,000 students from over 100 countries. All courses are based at Brunel’s campus in Uxbridge, West London, which is just under an hour from the city center on the London Underground. As a campus-based university, it provides a complete student community all within walking distance, including accommodation, libraries and study facilities, a selection of bars and restaurants, sports center and plenty of green spaces.
Image credits: Alun Salt (School of Oriental and African Studies); City University London; Birkbeck College
This article was originally published in October 2013. It was updated in September 2015 to reflect the latest QS World University Rankings® results.