Higher Education Postcard: University of London

Hugh Jones' Higher Education Postcard arrives from England's capital this week.

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

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Greetings from London! Here’s a postcard of the University of London Senate House, on Russell Square.

To the north-east is the British Museum; to the south-east is the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; to the south-west is a little bit of Birkbeck College and a little bit of the School of Oriental and African Studies and to the north-west is Russell Square itself.

There’s still building work going on to the Russell Square side, which dates the photo probably to just after WW2.

Senate House is the location of the federal university’s leadership and administration, and nowadays the specialist research institutes and the international programme. Built in the 1930’s, it was part of a grand architectural plan for a university precinct in Bloomsbury – not all of the plan was built, but there is definitely a university precinct nonetheless.

London was established as a federal University in 1836. The UK has had a thing about federal universities – Wales, Victoria, Queens University of Ireland, Surrey – but the University of London was the forerunner of them all, and arguably the most successful. (Essay topic: what makes a university successful?)

The member colleges are now fully-functioning, autonomous institutions, many with their own degree-awarding powers – but the university provides an additional central hub for research, scholarship, and ongoing arguments about money and estates.

A disclaimer is in order – your author is a double graduate of the University of London, and worked at Senate House early in his career. I’m almost tempted to mark with an X the office windows I have looked out of, but that would be to deface the card …

You’ll perhaps recognise Senate House from film and TV. Two which show my age – it was the Stuyvesant Hotel in the Fry and Laurie version of Jeeves and Wooster (filmed while I worked there), and appeared in the 1980’s BBC adaptation of Day of the Triffids, playing itself.

Its Senate Room has played parliament and court, and its magnificent marble staircase in the Crush Hall is crying out to star in a Busby Berkeley musical.

If you want to know more, Negley Harte’s “The University of London, 1836-1986: An Illustrated History” is both scholarly and readable, and thoroughly recommended, and will tell you more truths, more entertainingly, than I can do in this short blog post.

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