THE UNIVERSITY OF LONDONCategory: Education
If one is walking in the theatre district of London’s West End near Leicester Square and Piccadilly, and wanders along Tottenham > Court Road toward Euston Station, on the skyline one sees an arresting sight — a towering, whitish, blunt-ended monolith among needle-like church towers. It’s impossible not to stop and stare at it, this — London’s tallest office building, the twenty-some storey library tower of Senate House, University of London. It’s this university I want to tell you about, hoping that some day you ;; yourself will come to London and complete my description.
But to begin at the beginning. In the early nineteenth century ‘ Oxford and Cambridge were the only two universities in England. The cost, of education at these universities was so high that only the sons of the wealthier classes could afford to attend. But more restrictive still were the religious tests; only Church of England members could attend. It was to overcome these limitations that in 1827, in Gower Street, London, a nondenominational college, “University College” was founded. Its first years were years of struggle for survival against hostile forces of Church and State. The “godless” college was opposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury,
Sir Robert Peel and the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, who in 1831 opened a rival institution, — King’s College.
In 1836 these two institutions, University College and King’s through a typically English compromise joined forces. Each retained the control of its own internal organisation, faculty, and teaching; a separate body, the University of London, was created to “conduct the examination of, and to confer degrees upon, their students”. Thus was born the University of London whose Senate House you’ll see.
In the early years a candidate for a University of London degree was forced to attend either University College or King’s, but in 1849 it became possible for an institution situated “anywhere in the British Empire (and recognized by the U. of L.) to present students for degrees” — a unique provision. In 1858 the regulations were further broadened so that now anyone anywhere may sit for U. of L. examination provided that he satisfies Matriculation requirements. Consequently there are Africans who have U. of L. degrees who have never seen London.
The long reign of Victoria saw many and rapid changes in the University. Medical schools of the various teaching hospitals, Bedford College for women, Imperial College of Science and Technology, and many other schools and colleges became a part of the federal university. The famed London School of Economics was a newcomer in 1895.
Up until 1900 the University was only an examining body but in that year an Act of Parliament permitted that “The Senate… may provide lecture rooms museums laboratories workshops, and other facilities for the purpose both of teaching and research.” This allowed the first actual teaching on any level; however the Senate has never invaded the undergraduate field, except specialized subjects.
Today the University has much the same form of organization adapted to accommodate its increased size and complexity. It is governed by a Vice-Chancellor, a Court, and a Senate. The Senate composed of representatives of the constituent colleges and schools, nominees of the crown, the London County Council, certain professional bodies and graduates, is the supreme academic authority. The Court, also a broadly representative body, allocates to the colleges money derived from the national government and the London County Council. In brief, the University of London is a federation of colleges, each largely independent, and the whole independent, of the British Parliament in academic matters.
The “Department of Extra-Mural Studies” enrolls nearly 12,000 persons. There are in London four faculties of Theology, thirteen of Arts, thirty-one of Medicine, ten of Science, etc., etc. At present there are ten “Institutes” of which the Institute of Education is one. Total London enrolments in 1954—55 were 18,201 full-time students, 5,315 part-time. About one-fifth of the university students in the United Kingdom are at the U. of L.
In the Malet Street Senate House one wing is occupied by the Institute of Education, itself a complex organization. All teacher training colleges in the London area — and there are many — are parts of this Institute. Then at Malet Street are over seven hundred students from all parts of the globe. Most of the English students here are taking a post-graduate course to fit themselves for secondary schools. In the Oversea Department many courses are available; M. Ed., Ph. D., Associateship, Diploma Courses, etc. Even within the Associate Course (designed for “more senior” students, the prospectus says) there is great variety of choice. All five Beaverbrooks are registered in this course in such diverse areas as “Teaching of History”, “Secondary Education”, and “Child Development”. Many of the lecturers are eminent authorities in their fields.
Next door to the Institute of Education is a plain brick building, dull of exterior and in the daytime almost lifeless. It is Birkbeck College one of the most interesting. At dusk it springs to life as its 1,300 students and professors arrive. Birkbeck is a full-fledged college accepting for undergraduate work “only part-time students who earn their living during the day”.
Standing near Birkbeck, one sees across the street the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, downstreet the sprawling mass of the British Museum, upstreet’ the ultramodern and still unfinished Student Union Building, six stories. Beyond that, against the sky, stands the dome of the original University College, itself as large as one Maritime University. This whole territory, bought from the Duke of Bedford, has since 1927 belonged to the University.
Besides this, University buildings and hostels are scattered the length and breadth of London.
For fear you should think that size is the only claim to fame, let rm? drop a few names associated with the U.of L.: Sir Alex Fleming, A. E. Housman, Thomas Huxley, Lord Lister, A. N. Whitehead, Thomas Arnold, Michael Faraday, Lord Beveridge, Sir Fred Clarke, Lord Macmillan, Harold Laski, Sidney Webb, J. B. S. Haldane.
In many ways the University has departed from the traditions of Oxford and Cambridge. London was the first to abolish religious tests, to admit women in England for degrees, to grant degrees without residence. Recently the Senate abolished — not without a stir — the requirement of English for entrance. The cap and gown are missing in classes here but the tradition of scholarship is strong.
(The Educational Review January — February 1957)