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All Square – it’s the all new Registrarism UK University Quad ranking

Who doesn't love a good quad? Paul Greatrix shares his favourites.
This article is more than 2 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

Everyone loves a university quad. It was interesting then to see this new ranking of US university quadrangles which orders 50 of the best over there and, as they say, reflects the fact that quads can be an essential part of the campus experience and one that is central to a university’s image.

But what is a quad? Let’s see what College Rank says:

Traditionally, a campus quad is a central courtyard at the institution, anchored by a major building that the university boasts about its architecture. The quad is usually in the shape of a square, rectangle or an oblong and is located as a central point of the university.

The quad is commonly used as a gathering location for events, major photo opportunities on the campus by students, alums and others for marketing purposes, and is usually very well maintained by University landscapers for offering an aesthetic appeal to all who visit campus. The quad also works as a focal point for building university buildings around it, so it gives shape to the overall campus.

The beauty and charm of a campus quad give students and staff something pleasant to take in whenever they step foot on institutional grounds. Quads also function as great event spaces for festivals, concerts, gatherings, and performances.

Hard to argue with any of that and it obviously reinforces what an important indicator a quad can be of a university’s reputation and standing (regardless of less important matters such as its education offer and research track record).

Given all of this then and in response to the US league table it seemed about time we had a ranking of these four-sided marvels. There is an extremely complicated methodology behind all of this covering every aspect of the quadrangle – it’s not just about size, age, brick colour, garden and lawn design and instagrammability. We also have to take in to account all of the history and interesting stories relating to each one. All pretty far from straightforward and just too intricate to describe here so don’t fret. Here then is your ranking of some of the very best quadrangles in UK higher education. Let the arguments begin.

Note that we have, arbitrarily, restricted entries in the ranking to one per university to prevent Oxford and Cambridge hogging pretty much every place. And, although Cambridge prefers to call its quads Courts, we are still including them because they are unquestionably quadrangular, regardless of nomenclature.

Here are the lower placings then

15 York St John – small but very nicely formed (see picture above)
14 UCL – a big and famous one at the heart of Bloomsbury
13 Aberdeen – 500 years of fun
12 Middlesex – all covered up
11 Newcastle – also a memorial garden

And the all new Top 10

10 Bangor inner – a very attractive location

9 St Andrews – St Salvator’s quad, more ancient Scottish quality

8 University of Nottingham – the Trent Building quad at Nottingham. Of Course.

7 University of Edinburgh – another big Scottish player

6 Greenwich University – a distinctive collection of quads (though admittedly not originally built as a university quadrangle).

5 Queen’s University Belfast – a top drawer entry from Northern Ireland

4 Glasgow University – arguably the grandest of the ancient Scottish university quads

3  Oxford University – Mob Quad Merton College, the oldest of all university quads (Corpus Christi in Cambridge disputes this, claiming that its Old Court, started in the 14th Century is older but that would be dull).

2 Royal Holloway – A wonderful pair of quads, North and South, at this Egham-based institution. The university structures here were described by Pevsner as “the most ebullient Victorian building in the Home Counties” apparently.

1 Trinity College Cambridge – Trinity Great Court.

This is undoubtedly the biggest and the best of the quadrangles, despite its name, and despite the ancient Cambridge tradition of noisily claiming not to have a quad. Also, it has a very exciting tradition – the Great Court Run. The Great Court Run involves attempting to run around Great Court within the length of time that it takes the College clock to strike the hour of twelve, which takes about 44 seconds. The Great Court Run forms a central scene in the film Chariots of Fire (although it was not in fact filmed at Trinity). In October 1988 the race was recreated for charity by Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram with Seb Coe the winner but not managing to beat the clock. Apparently the course is now generally a bit shorter making the run a little more achievable.

So, there you have it, your top 10 UK university quads. The most authoritative university ranking you will see this summer.

6 responses to “All Square – it’s the all new Registrarism UK University Quad ranking

  1. I’d chuck in the stunning Francis Close Hall at the University of Gloucestershire, and some northern charm at the University of Sheffield’s Frith Close – which includes a novelty I know our author will enjoy… the registrar has his office in a semi-fortified rotunda!

  2. Can anyone explain to me the difference between a rectangle and an oblong??

    Also, can’t believe you’ve not included University of Manchester Paul!!

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