Top 10 Universities in London
Students looking for top universities in London will encounter a range of options as vibrant and varied as the city itself. Whether you want a specialist or multidisciplinary institution, central or more suburban surroundings, or the option to combine a flexible study schedule with your career, your chances of finding a good match in the UK capital, the number one city in the QS Best Student Cities ranking, are high.
For a taste of what’s on offer, here’s a look at the 10 highest-ranked universities in London, based on the QS World University Rankings® 2020.
Named after the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Brunel University (ranked joint 359th in the world) is aptly known for its engineering and design courses, but also offers a range of courses in arts, business, law, health and social sciences, information systems and sport. It boasts an internationally diverse student community, with around 13,200 students, 18 percent of whom come from outside the EU.
All courses are based at Brunel’s campus in Uxbridge, West London, which is just under an hour from the city center on the London Underground. As a campus-based university, it provides a complete student community, with accommodation, libraries, bars, restaurants, a sports center and green spaces all within walking distance.
City, University of London (formerly City University London) is ranked ninth among the top universities in London in 2020, placing joint 349th in the QS World University Rankings® this year. It’s named to reflect its close relationship with The City – London’s historic financial district, also known as the square mile. It prides itself on having strong links with leading companies in this competitive district, ranging from giants of the financial services sector to media companies and medical research centers. It also marks its special links with the city by having the Lord Mayor of London as its Chancellor.
City, University of London offers a broad spectrum of courses, but is perhaps best known for its Cass Business School, City Law School and the School of Health Sciences. It maintains a high level of diversity on campus, appearing in the global top 50 for the international students indicator (one of the six used to compile the rankings) - of a total of 19,780 students, 10 percent are from EU countries other than the UK, and 25 percent are from countries outside of the EU.
Birkbeck College, University of London is ranked 328th in the world this year and is the only one of these top universities in London that allows students to complete full-length degrees during evening courses, with all the visa and loan privileges of daytime study.
Birkbeck is again located in the Bloomsbury area, close to UCL and SOAS and within walking distance of many central London attractions, and it schedules its programs with the aim of allowing students to complete a day’s work before attending class.
Many students study part-time, taking advantage of the university’s flexible ethos, and are enrolled on a wide range of programs at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
SOAS is ranked 309th in the world in 2020, down slightly on last year. The university is focused on the languages, cultures and societies of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East – the only institution in Europe specializing in this field. Just over half of its students come from outside the UK, representing 133 countries.
Like UCL and Birkbeck, SOAS is in the Bloomsbury area of London, known for its attractive garden squares, history of artistic and intellectual inhabitants (the Bloomsbury Group), and high concentration of academic resources – including the extensive Senate House Library and the British Library (the UK’s national library).
Founded in 1916 as the School of Oriental Studies, SOAS now offers more than 350 undergraduate degree combinations and over 115 postgraduate programs.
While many of the top universities in London are centrally located, some are a little further out. Though still within the London area, Royal Holloway, University of London is actually in the nearby town of Egham – less than an hour’s train journey from central London.
Ranked joint 291st in the world this year, Royal Holloway is another global university, home to almost 10,000 students, of which 20 percent are from outside the EU.
It offers courses in a broad range of subjects, and is particularly strong in arts and humanities (it’s ranked joint 17th for performing arts in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2019).
Perfect for students looking to combine a more suburban experience with the choice of popping into the city for nights out or day trips, Royal Holloway offers one of the most beautiful campuses in the UK.
Ranked 126th in the world in 2020, Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) offers teaching and research across a wide range of subjects, including medicine and dentistry at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Of QMUL’s 25,130 students, around 4,000 are completing joint programs overseas in China, Greece and France.
The university’s main campus is in Mile End, set along the Regent’s Canal and close to many of the recently regenerated and increasingly trendy parts of the East End – including the curry houses of Brick Lane, art galleries of Whitechapel and Hoxton, and hipster-filled bars and music venues of Shoreditch.
In August 2015, QMUL announced plans to launch a free business advice scheme for UK start-ups in the financial and technology industries, which is now available as the qLegal scheme.
The UK’s only university specializing in the social sciences, LSE is ranked 44th in the world in 2020. It gets an even higher position in many of the individual subject rankings, reflecting its role as a world-leading pioneer in subjects such as anthropology, politics, sociology, law and accounting.
Another highly international institution, LSE boasts more than 100 languages spoken on campus. It also occupies a location close to the heart of the city in the Chancery Lane area, historically associated with the legal professions. Just to the north of the river, it’s within walking distance of the British Library, and close to the cultural institutions of Trafalgar Square and the nightlife and theaters of the West End.
King’s College London is one of the largest and oldest colleges of the University of London collegiate, and is ranked joint 33rd in the world this year. Again, this comprehensive research-led university is a popular choice for international students, who comprise more than 43 percent of the student body (including students from the rest of the EU), while postgraduates make up around 40 percent of its 31,300 enrolments.
It has a particularly good reputation for courses in the humanities, law and the sciences, including health sciences. Claiming to be “the most central university in London”, King’s College London has five London campuses, four of which are fairly close together by the River Thames, near iconic landmarks such as Tower Bridge, the London Eye and Big Ben.
Imperial College London is down one place to rank ninth in the world in 2020. This science and technology-focused institution is known for its leadership in engineering and natural sciences, as well as having a prestigious business school and one of the UK’s largest medical faculties.
Imperial College London is another top UK university with a strong global appeal, reflected in very high international student numbers (around 37 percent of the student population). Its main campus is in South Kensington, not far from the city center. Students will find themselves close to the huge green space of Hyde Park, the historic concert venue Royal Albert Hall, luxury superstore Harrods, and several of the city’s biggest museums.
University College London (UCL) overtakes Imperial as the highest-ranked university in London this year, climbing two places to rank eighth in this year’s QS World University Rankings. As is the case with Imperial, the university is extremely popular with international students, who account for more than 31 percent of its student body. A multidisciplinary institute, it covers a broad spectrum of subjects (this is one of the main points of difference between UCL and Imperial), and has a high percentage of postgraduate students – around 53 percent.
Its faculties and teaching hospitals are all located in the heart of central London, close to the British Library and a cluster of other leading London universities – SOAS and Birkbeck are both close neighbors. The main Gower Street campus is also just a short walk from the party atmosphere of Soho and the shopping district centered on Oxford Circus.
This article was originally published in October 2013. It is updated after every QS World University Rankings® launch, most recently in June 2019.
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This article was originally published in June 2018 . It was last updated in April 2022