Finding the five best universities in London is a difficult task, especially when we’re thinking about it with your Erasmus year in mind.
The best university in London is a pretty subjective idea anyway. What is it that really counts the most? Is it the teaching? The student satisfaction? The nights out? The university’s international reputation?
What makes something “The Best”?
London has a lot of universities, too. Many international institutions have branches here, combined with hundreds of tiny little educational colleges or specialised academies. This top five is made from the big institutions, not specific schools like the Royal College of Art or regional exiles like Loughborough University London. We are also counting the different colleges of the federal University of London, such as UCL or SOAS, as separate.
(For a quick overview of the ten main unis in London, take a look here)
UCL, located in Bloomsbury, near Soho and Oxford Street, is one of the best universities in the world. It’s extremely popular with foreign students, with 30% of its student body coming from abroad. The university is also the largest in the UK for postgraduates, with a massive 52% of its students being involved in further studies.
Despite having such a good academic reputation, the traditional UK student life of drinking and sleeping is still in large supply. You’re close enough to many of London’s major drinking spots in their central halls of residence to make it very easy to strike out on your own. As one of the UK’s top universities, you might find a few hard-working types or the odd ‘Rah‘ there, but it’s a big enough place to avoid them for the year.
Positives: Very international, central, great reputation.
Negatives: Very expensive location if you want to live nearby, hard to get a place.
Best Subjects: 1st in the UK for: Fine Arts, English, Law, Archaeology, and Architecture. Strong in most other areas.
UK Rankings: Guardian (12th), Times (9th).
QS World Rankings: (7th).
Up until 2007, Imperial College London was part of the University of London’s giant federal umbrella. Now independent, Imperial is another very international institution. Like its rival UCL, Imperial has around one third of its student body from overseas. The university specialises in science and technology, with its business and medical schools also highly regarded.
Based in South Kensington, in one of London’s richest areas, the university is close to Harrods, Hyde Park and a glut of the city’s biggest museums. Imperial is a bit ‘nerdier’ than other unis, attracting a slightly harder working type of student onto its less artsy degrees. There is also a significant, and inevitable cliquey, Chinese population on campus.
Positives: Incredible (if very expensive) location, very good reputation.
Negatives: Extremely expensive location (as mentioned), a little sterile atmosphere, hard-working courses, a few too many public school educated students (see – Rah).
Best Subjects: 1st in the UK for: Computing, Civil Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering.
UK Rankings: Guardian (8th), Times (5th).
QS World Rankings: (8th).
SOAS is another school with a great number of international students. Pronounced “soh-as”, not “S.O.A.S”, 56% of their student body comes from outside the UK. Although it isn’t one of the strongest universities in the country in terms of rankings, it makes our list because of its international feel and great, central location.
The university is, in many ways, a window for the British to look out onto the world. Still, as an Erasmus student you’ll be able to brush up on vast array of modern languages alongside an ample amount of good Humanities courses. The university generates international people more than it gives you a taste of the real UK.
Positives: Central location in Bloomsbury, very international, skilled in languages, halls in Kings Cross.
Negatives: Not very ‘British’ in a sense, not as prestigious as other London universities.
Best Subjects: Languages (50 non-European languages available), African, Asian and the Middle Eastern studies.
UK Rankings: Guardian (26th), Times (24th).
QS World Rankings: (275th).
Having a lot of international students doesn’t necessarily make a university the best place to study for your Erasmus. If you want to experience something a little more ‘British’, then the next two universities, which are not as prestigious, will let you save a little cash and avoid living like a tourist for a year.
The University of Roehampton, out in the west of London, by Richmond Park, is a mixture of four separate 100 year old colleges. Officially only a university since 2004, Roehampton is the smallish school with a growing reputation. It was recently ranked “Best Modern University in The UK”.
With many of the UK’s newest universities, you can usually get a more progressive or practical attitude to learning and study, often in a more relaxed environment. This isn’t guaranteed at Roehampton, but it’s a good general rule. You’re only about 30 minutes to an hour away from central London, or areas like Hammersmith, so you can get the ‘student life’ whilst also still experiencing London.
Positives: Cheaper to live, more local feel, modern university
Negatives: Aside from student activities, the nearby area is a little dull.
Best Subjects: Dance and Biological Anthropology.
UK Rankings: Guardian (78th), Times (80th).
QS World Rankings: (Unranked).
Middlesex University, in the London Borough of Barnet, is out in the far north of the city. In a place like this you will get much more of a sense of what it is like to live in a typical British university lifestyle, with all the organised “uni nights out” and drinking at the uni bar rather than down with the beards in Hoxton. You’ll still be able to get into central London in around 30 minutes, maybe a little more door-to-door. The university is still only six stops away from Camden Station, for live music and awesome nights out.
The university is well spread out across the north of the city and has a lot of options for work placements. Middlesex is another university where a third of all students are non-UK nationals. So you won’t feel isolated.
Positives: In a cheaper area, you’ll get a better idea of British life, a large and modern university, forward-thinking teaching.
Negatives: Average reputation, mostly in leafy sub-urban areas.
Best Subjects: Sports Science.
UK Rankings: Guardian (81st), Times (94th).
QS World Rankings: (651-700).
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