1826 to 1836 – London University
UCL was founded on 11 February 1826 under the name London University, as an alternative to the Anglican universities of Oxford and Cambridge. London University's first Warden was Leonard Horner, who was the first scientist to head a British university.
Despite the commonly held belief that the philosopher Jeremy Bentham was the founder of UCL, his direct involvement was limited to the purchase of share No. 633, at a cost of £100 paid in nine instalments between December 1826 and January 1830. In 1828 he did nominate a friend to sit on the council, and in 1827 attempted to have his disciple John Bowring appointed as the first professor of English or History, but on both occasions his candidates were unsuccessful. This suggests that while his ideas may have been influential, he himself was less so. However, Bentham is today commonly regarded as the "spiritual father" of UCL, as his radical ideas on education and society were the inspiration to the institution's founders, particularly the Scotsmen James Mill (1773–1836) and Henry Brougham (1778–1868).
In 1827, the Chair of Political Economy at London University was created, with John Ramsay McCulloch as the first incumbent, establishing one of the first departments of economics in England. In 1828 the university became the first in England to offer English as a subject and the teaching of Classics and medicine began. In 1830, London University founded the London University School, which would later become University College School. In 1833, the university appointed Alexander Maconochie, Secretary to the Royal Geographical Society, as the first professor of geography in the UK. In 1834, University College Hospital (originally North London Hospital) opened as a teaching hospital for the university's medical school.
1836 to 1900 – University College, London
In 1836, London University was incorporated by royal charter under the name University College, London. On the same day, the University of London was created by royal charter as a degree-awarding examining board for students from affiliated schools and colleges, with University College and King's College, London being named in the charter as the first two affiliates.
The Slade School of Fine Art was founded as part of University College in 1871, following a bequest from Felix Slade.
In 1878, the University of London gained a supplemental charter making it the first British university to be allowed to award degrees to women. The same year, UCL admitted women to the faculties of Arts and Law and of Science, although women remained barred from the faculties of Engineering and of Medicine (with the exception of courses on public health and hygiene). While UCL claims to have been the first university in England to admit women on equal terms to men, from 1878, the University of Bristol also makes this claim, having admitted women from its foundation (as a college) in 1876. Armstrong College, a predecessor institution of Newcastle University, also allowed women to enter from its foundation in 1871, although none actually enrolled until 1881. Women were finally admitted to medical studies during the First World War in 1917, although limitations were placed on their numbers after the war ended.
In 1898, Sir William Ramsay discovered the elements krypton, neon and xenon whilst professor of chemistry at UCL.
1900 to 1976 – University of London, University College
In 1900, the University of London was reconstituted as a federal university with new statutes drawn up under the University of London Act 1898. UCL, along with a number of other colleges in London, became a school of the University of London. While most of the constituent institutions retained their autonomy, UCL was merged into the University in 1907 under the University College London (Transfer) Act 1905 and lost its legal independence. Its formal name became University of London, University College, although for most informal and external purposes the name "University College, London" (or the initialism UCL) was still used.
1900 also saw the decision to appoint a salaried head of the college. The first incumbent was Carey Foster, who served as Principal (as the post was originally titled) from 1900 to 1904. He was succeeded by Gregory Foster (no relation), and in 1906 the title was changed to Provost to avoid confusion with the Principal of the University of London. Gregory Foster remained in post until 1929. In 1906, the Cruciform Building was opened as the new home for University College Hospital.
UCL sustained considerable bomb damage during the Second World War, including to the Great Hall and the Carey Foster Physics Laboratory. The first UCL student magazine, Pi Magazine, was published for the first time on 21 February 1946. The Institute of Jewish Studies relocated to UCL in 1959.
The Mullard Space Science Laboratory was established in 1967. In 1973, UCL became the first international node to the precursor of the internet, the ARPANET.
Although UCL was among the first universities to admit women on the same terms as men, in 1878, the college's senior common room, the Housman Room, remained men-only until 1969. After two unsuccessful attempts, a motion was passed that ended segregation by sex at UCL. This was achieved by Brian Woledge (Fielden Professor of French at UCL from 1939 to 1971) and David Colquhoun, at that time a young lecturer in pharmacology.
1976 to 2005 – University College London
The Wilkins Building in 1956
In 1976, a new charter restored UCL's legal independence, although still without the power to award its own degrees. Under this charter the college became formally known as University College London. This name abandoned the comma used in its earlier name of "University College, London".
In 1986, UCL merged with the Institute of Archaeology. In 1988, UCL merged with the Institute of Laryngology & Otology, the Institute of Orthopaedics, the Institute of Urology & Nephrology and Middlesex Hospital Medical School.
In 1993, a reorganisation of the University of London meant that UCL and other colleges gained direct access to government funding and the right to confer University of London degrees themselves. This led to UCL being regarded as a de facto university in its own right.
In 1994, the University College London Hospitals NHS Trust was established. UCL merged with the College of Speech Sciences and the Institute of Ophthalmology in 1995, the Institute of Child Health and the School of Podiatry in 1996 and the Institute of Neurology in 1997. In 1998, UCL merged with the Royal Free Hospital Medical School to create the Royal Free and University College Medical School (renamed the UCL Medical School in October 2008). In 1999, UCL merged with the School of Slavonic and East European Studies and the Eastman Dental Institute.
The UCL Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, the first university department in the world devoted specifically to reducing crime, was founded in 2001.
Proposals for a merger between UCL and Imperial College London were announced in 2002. The proposal provoked strong opposition from UCL teaching staff and students and the AUT union, which criticised "the indecent haste and lack of consultation", leading to its abandonment by the UCL provost Sir Derek Roberts. The blogs that helped to stop the merger are preserved, though some of the links are now broken: see David Colquhoun's blog and the Save UCL blog, which was run by David Conway, a postgraduate student in the department of Hebrew and Jewish studies.
The London Centre for Nanotechnology was established in 2003 as a joint venture between UCL and Imperial College London.
Since 2003, when UCL professor David Latchman became master of the neighbouring Birkbeck, he has forged closer relations between these two University of London colleges, and personally maintains departments at both. Joint research centres include the UCL/Birkbeck Institute for Earth and Planetary Sciences, the UCL/Birkbeck/IoE Centre for Educational Neuroscience, the UCL/Birkbeck Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, and the Birkbeck-UCL Centre for Neuroimaging.
2005 to 2010
In 2005, UCL was finally granted its own taught and research degree awarding powers and all UCL students registered from 2007/08 qualified with UCL degrees. Also in 2005, UCL adopted a new corporate branding under which the name University College London was replaced by the initialism UCL in all external communications. In the same year, a major new £422 million building was opened for University College Hospital on Euston Road, the UCL Ear Institute was established and a new building for the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies was opened.
In 2007, the UCL Cancer Institute was opened in the newly constructed Paul O'Gorman Building. In August 2008, UCL formed UCL Partners, an academic health science centre, with Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. In 2008, UCL established the UCL School of Energy & Resources in Adelaide, Australia, the first campus of a British university in the country. The School was based in the historic Torrens Building in Victoria Square and its creation followed negotiations between UCL Vice Provost Michael Worton and South Australian Premier Mike Rann.
In 2009, the Yale UCL Collaborative was established between UCL, UCL Partners, Yale University, Yale School of Medicine and Yale – New Haven Hospital. It is the largest collaboration in the history of either university, and its scope has subsequently been extended to the humanities and social sciences.
2010 to 2015
In June 2011, the mining company BHP Billiton agreed to donate AU$10 million to UCL to fund the establishment of two energy institutes – the Energy Policy Institute, based in Adelaide, and the Institute for Sustainable Resources, based in London.
In November 2011, UCL announced plans for a £500 million investment in its main Bloomsbury campus over 10 years, as well as the establishment of a new 23-acre campus next to the Olympic Park in Stratford in the East End of London. It revised its plans of expansion in East London and in December 2014 announced to build a campus (UCL East) covering 11 acres and provide up to 125,000m2 of space on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. UCL East will be part of plans to transform the Olympic Park into a cultural and innovation hub, where UCL will open its first school of design, a centre of experimental engineering and a museum of the future, along with a living space for students.
The School of Pharmacy, University of London merged with UCL on 1 January 2012, becoming the UCL School of Pharmacy within the Faculty of Life Sciences. In May 2012, UCL, Imperial College London and the semiconductor company Intel announced the establishment of the Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities, a London-based institute for research into the future of cities.
In August 2012, UCL received criticism for advertising an unpaid research position; it subsequently withdrew the advert.
UCL and the Institute of Education formed a strategic alliance in October 2012, including co-operation in teaching, research and the development of the London schools system. In February 2014, the two institutions announced their intention to merge, and the merger was completed in December 2014.
In September 2013, a new Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) was established within the Faculty of Engineering, one of several initiatives within the university to increase and reflect upon the links between research and public sector decision-making.
In October 2013, it was announced that the Translation Studies Unit of Imperial College London would move to UCL, becoming part of the UCL School of European Languages, Culture and Society. In December 2013, it was announced that UCL and the academic publishing company Elsevier would collaborate to establish the UCL Big Data Institute. In January 2015, it was announced that UCL had been selected by the UK government as one of the five founding members of the Alan Turing Institute (together with the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford and Warwick), an institute to be established at the British Library to promote the development and use of advanced mathematics, computer science, algorithms and big data.
2015 to present
In August 2015, the Department of Management Science and Innovation was renamed as the School of Management and plans were announced to greatly expand UCL's activities in the area of business-related teaching and research. The school moved from the Bloomsbury campus to One Canada Square in Canary Wharf in 2016.
UCL established the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) in 2015 to promote interdisciplinary research in humanities and social sciences. The prestigious annual Orwell Prize for political writing moved to the IAS in 2016.
In June 2016 it was reported in the Times Higher Education that as a result of administrative errors hundreds of students who studied at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute between 2005–6 and 2013–14 had been given the wrong marks, leading to an unknown number of students being attributed with the wrong qualifications and, in some cases, being failed when they should have passed their degrees. A report by UCL's Academic Committee Review Panel noted that, according to the Institute's own review findings, senior members of UCL staff had been aware of issues affecting students' results but had not taken action to address them. The Review Panel concluded that there had been an apparent lack of ownership of these matters amongst the Institute's senior staff.
In December 2016 it was announced that UCL would be the hub institution for a new £250 million national dementia research institute, to be funded with £150 million from the Medical Research Council and £50 million each from Alzheimer's Research UK and the Alzheimer's Society.
In May 2017 it was reported that staff morale was at "an all time low", with 68% of members of the academic board who responded to a survey disagreeing with the statement "UCL is well managed" and 86% with "the teaching facilities are adequate for the number of students". Michael Arthur, the Provost and President, linked the results to the "major change programme" at UCL. He admitted that facilities were under pressure following growth over the past decade, but said that the issues were being addressed through the development of UCL East and rental of other additional space.
In October 2017 UCL's council voted to apply for university status while remaining part of the University of London. UCL's application to become a university is subject to Parliament passing a bill to amend the statutes of the University of London, which is, as of July 2018, held up by procedural issues in the House of Commons. The bill received royal assent on 20 December 2018, allowing UCL's application for university status to proceed.
The UCL Adelaide satellite campus closed in December 2017, with academic staff and student transferring to the University of South Australia. As of 2019 UniSA and UCL are offering joint master qualifications in Science in Data Science (international) or Science in Sustainable Energy Systems.
In 2018, UCL opened UCL at Here East, at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, offering courses jointly between the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment and the Faculty of Engineering Sciences. The campus offers a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate master's degrees, with the first undergraduate students, on a new Engineering and Architectural Design MEng, starting in September 2018. It was announced in August 2018 that a £215 million contract for construction of the largest building in the UCL East development, Marshgate 1, had been awarded to Mace, with building to begin in 2019 and be completed by 2022.
In 2017 UCL disciplined an IT administrator who was also the University and College Union (UCU) branch secretary for refusing to take down an unmoderated staff mailing list. An employment tribunal subsequently ruled that he was engaged in union activities and thus this disciplinary action was unlawful. As of June 2019 UCL is appealing this ruling and the UCU congress has declared this to be a "dispute of national significance".