Open main menu

Birkbeck, University of London

  (Redirected from Birkbeck College, London)

Birkbeck, University of London (formally Birkbeck College), is a public research university located in Bloomsbury London, England, and a constituent college of the federal University of London. Established in 1823 as the London Mechanics' Institute by its founder, Sir George Birkbeck, and its supporters, Jeremy Bentham, J. C. Hobhouse and Henry Brougham, Birkbeck has been one of the few institutions to specialise in evening higher education.

Birkbeck, University of London
Birkbeck, University of London crest.svg
Logo of Birkbeck, University of London
Latin: Collegium Birkbeck Londiniense
MottoLatin: In nocte consilium
Motto in English
Advice comes over night (Tomorrow is a new day) [1]
Established1823 – London Mechanics' Institute
1866 – Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution
1907 – Birkbeck College
Parent institution
University of London
Endowment£4.3 m[2]
ChancellorThe Princess Royal (University of London)
PresidentBaroness Bakewell
Vice-ChancellorSir Adrian Smith (University of London)
MasterDavid S Latchman
Students12,915 (2016/17)[3]
Undergraduates8,010 (2016/17)[3]
Postgraduates4,905 (2016/17)[3]
AffiliationsAssociation of Commonwealth Universities
European University Association
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Universities UK Edit this at Wikidata
Birkbeck, University of London logo.svg

Birkbeck has produced a range of notable alumni in the fields of science, law, politics, economics, literature, media, art and drama. Alumni include four Nobel laureates, numerous political leaders, members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and a British prime minister among its former students and faculty.

Birkbeck's main building is based in the Bloomsbury zone of Camden, in Central London, alongside a number of institutions in the same borough. In partnership with University of East London, Birkbeck has an additional large campus in Stratford, next to the Theatre Royal.

Birkbeck offers over 200 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes that can be studied either part-time or full-time, though nearly all lectures are given in the evening. Birkbeck's academic activities are organised into five constituent faculties which are subdivided into nineteen departments. It also offers many continuing education courses leading to certificates and diplomas, foundation degrees, and short courses. Research at Birkbeck in 11 subject areas is rated as ‘internationally excellent’ and ‘world leading’ while over 90 percent of Birkbeck academics are research-active. Birkbeck, being part of the University of London, shares the University's academic standards and awards University of London degrees. In common with the other University of London colleges, Birkbeck has also secured its own independent degree awarding powers, which were confirmed by the Privy Council in July 2012. The quality of degrees awarded by Birkbeck was confirmed by the UK Quality Assurance Agency following institutional audits in 2005 and 2010.[4]

Birkbeck has been shortlisted by the Times Higher Education Awards as University of the Year.[5] Birkbeck is a member of academic organisations such as the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the European University Association. The university's Centre for Brain Function and Development was awarded The Queen's Anniversary Prize for its brain research in 2005.[6]




Sir George Birkbeck, founder of Birkbeck, University of London

In 1823, Sir George Birkbeck, a physician and graduate of the University of Edinburgh and an early pioneer of adult education, founded the then "London Mechanics' Institute" at a meeting at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand. More than two thousand people attended.[7] However the idea was not universally popular and some accused Birkbeck of "scattering the seeds of evil."[8]

In 1825, two years later, the institute moved to the Southampton Buildings on Chancery Lane. In 1830, the first female students were admitted. In 1858, changes to the University of London's structure resulting in an opening up of access to the examinations for its degree. The Institute became the main provider of part-time university education.[7]

In 1866, the Institute changed its name to the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution.[7]

In 1885, Birkbeck moved to the Breams Building, on Fetter Lane, where it would remain for the next sixty-seven years.[7][7]

In 1904, Birkbeck Students' Union was established

Birkbeck CollegeEdit

Part of the main Birkbeck campus in Bloomsbury, showing the main entrance (on the right).

In 1907, Birkbeck's name was shortened to "Birkbeck College". In 1913, a review of the University of London (which had been restructured in 1900) successfully recommended that Birkbeck become a constituent college, although the outbreak of the First World War delayed this until 1920.[7] The Royal Charter was granted in 1926.[9]

In 1921, the college's first female professor, Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, began teaching botany.[8]

Other distinguished faculty in the inter-war years included Nikolaus Pevsner, J. D. Bernal, and Cyril Joad.[citation needed]

During the Second World War, Birkbeck was the only central University of London college not to relocate out of the capital. In 1941, the library suffered a direct hit during The Blitz but teaching continued. During the war the College organised lunch time extramural lectures for the public given by, among others, Joad, Pevsner and Harold Nicolson.[citation needed]

In 1952, the college moved to its present location in Malet Street.[7]

Current statusEdit

In 2002, the college was re-styled Birkbeck, University of London. In 2003, following a major redevelopment, its Malet Street building was reopened by the Chancellor of the University of London, The Princess Royal.[7]

In 2006, Birkbeck announced that it had been granted £5 million by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to expand its provision into east London, working with the University of East London.[10] The partnership was formally launched on 21 November 2006 and is called Birkbeck Stratford.[11]

Birkbeck is one of the largest colleges of the University of London not to award its own degrees. Although it has held its own degree awarding powers since 2012, Birkbeck has chosen to hold these in reserve, preferring to award University of London degrees.[12]

The School of Continuing EducationEdit

In 1876, the London Society for the Extension of University Education was founded, boosting the aims of encouraging working people to undertake higher education. In 1988, the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of the University of London was incorporated into Birkbeck, becoming at first the Centre for Extramural Studies. In 1903, it became the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of the University of London and it was integrated into Birkbeck in 1988 as the School of Continuing Education. In 2009, the Faculty of Lifelong Learning was incorporated into the main College structure.[13]

Campus and locationEdit

The interior of the new library.

Birkbeck is principally located between Malet Street and Woburn Square in Bloomsbury, with a number of institutes, teaching hospitals, and scientific laboratories on nearby streets. The Friends House is also partially owned by Birkbeck Law School. The School of Arts, including the Department of English & Humanities, is housed in Virginia Woolf's former Gordon Square residence in Bloomsbury. Other notable former residents of this house include John Maynard Keynes, Vanessa Bell, and Lydia Lopokova. The Gordon Square building includes the Birkbeck Cinema and the Peltz Gallery.

Many Birkbeck classes are taught at other locations around the Bloomsbury area, due to a combination of Birkbeck's widening participation strategy to make higher education accessible and also because nearly all classes on one day are taught at the same time, resulting in heavy competition for limited space.

Birkbeck expanded into east London, in conjunction with the University of East London. The project is known as Birkbeck Stratford.[10] The campus officially opened in November 2013.[14]

Academic profileEdit

Research and teachingEdit

The former main entrance of Birkbeck College; the new entrance is on the other side of this building.

The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIR)[15] was established in 2004, with the renowned but controversial Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek appointed as International Director. According to its website, the Institute aims to, among other things, "engage with important public issues of our time through a series of open debates, lectures, seminars and conferences" and "foster and promote a climate of interdisciplinary research and collaboration among academics and researchers". The launch of the Institute wasn't without controversy, provoking an article in The Observer newspaper titled "What have intellectuals ever done for the world?"[16] which criticised the ostensible irrelevance and elitism of contemporary public intellectuals. The current director of the institute is Costas Douzinas.[17]

Torrington Square and Birkbeck's Clore Management Centre (right)

2004 also saw Birkbeck enter into a research and teaching collaboration with the Institute of Education, jointly founding the London Knowledge Lab. This interdisciplinary research institute brings together social scientists and computer scientists to address research questions about technology and learning.[18]

Meanwhile, the London Consortium graduate school — a collaboration between Birkbeck, the Tate Galleries, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Architectural Association, and, until 1999, the British Film Institute – has been running since the mid-1990s, offering masters and doctoral degrees in the interdisciplinary humanities and cultural studies, resourced and jointly taught by all the participating institutions. Its permanent and adjunct faculty include figures such as Tom McCarthy, Colin MacCabe, Laura Mulvey, Steven Connor, Marina Warner, Juliet Mitchell, Stuart Hall, Roger Scruton, Salman Rushdie, Tilda Swinton as well as Slavoj Žižek. Its current chair is Anthony Julius.

Since 2003, when Professor David Latchman of UCL became Master of the 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, UCL/Birkbeck/IoE Centre for Educational Neuroscience, UCL/Birkbeck Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, and Birkbeck-UCL Centre for Neuroimaging.

Science research at Birkbeck has a notable tradition. Physicist David Bohm who made notable contributions to the theory of Quantum mechanics was professor of Theoretical Physics from 1961–87, Nobel Laureates Aaron Klug at the Department of crystallography, Derek Barton at the Department of Chemistry together with eminent physicist Roger Penrose and David Bohm at the Department of Physics. Birkbeck is part of the Institute of Structural Molecular Biology, which includes the Bloomsbury Centre for Structural biology, established in 1998. This is a collaborative venture between Birkbeck College and University College London and is a leading academic centre for translating gene sequences and determining protein structure and function. It also includes the Bloomsbury Centre for Bioinformatics, a collaborative venture also between Birkbeck College and University College London for research into Bioinformatics, Genomics, Systems Biology, GRID computing and Text mining.

The university is also a member of the Screen Studies Group, London.


National rankings
Complete (2020)[19]N/A
Guardian (2020)[20]N/A
Times / Sunday Times (2019)[21]122
Global rankings
ARWU (2018)[22]N/A
QS (2020)[23]
THE (2019)[24]301–350
British Government assessment
Teaching Excellence Framework[25]Silver

Birkbeck is often not included in current rankings of British universities league tables, since these are usually based on the statistics for full-time undergraduates, although the university participated in domestic rankings for the first time in 2018 guides. Birkbeck was ranked 13th in The Guardian's 2001 Research Assessment Exercise and 26th in Times Higher Education's equivalent table. In the 2008 RAE results, Birkbeck ranked in the top 25% of UK multi-faculty Higher Education Institutions. The RAE rated the quality of research in a range of subjects at 159 Higher Education Institutions in the UK. Birkbeck submissions from Earth Sciences, Psychology, History, Classics and Archaeology and History of Art, Film and Visual Media were rated in the top five nationally. In REF2014, half of Birkbeck's submissions were rated in the top 20 nationally, and eight submissions received 100% ranking for Research Environment. 73% of Birkbeck's research was rated "world-leading" (4*) or "internationally excellent" (3*).[26]

The 2010 QS World University Rankings placed Birkbeck at 93rd in the world for Arts and Humanities. In the same year the Times Higher Education World University Rankings placed Birkbeck 152nd overall. In 2011 QS World University Rankings placed Birkbeck at 111th for Arts & Humanities.[27] In the 2011–12 Times Higher Education World University Rankings Birkbeck was ranked 149th in the world.[28] The data also show that Birkbeck is ranked 23rd in the UK.[29] In the 2012–13 Times Higher Education World University Rankings Birkbeck is ranked 200th in the world and 31st in the United Kingdom. In the QS ranking Birkbeck climbed up two places to 109th for Arts and Humanities.

In 2010, Birkbeck was shortlisted for the prestigious Times Higher Education University of the Year Award.[30]

In 2018, Birkbeck announced that it will withdraw from UK university rankings because their methodologies unfairly penalise it, since "despite having highly-rated teaching and research, other factors caused by its unique teaching model and unrelated to its performance push it significantly down the ratings".[31]

Faculties and departmentsEdit

The University consists of five schools that comprise a total of 19 diverse academic departments, which are:

  • Department of English and Humanities
  • Department of Cultures and Languages
  • Department of History of Art
  • Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies
  • Department of Computer Science and Information Systems
  • Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics
  • Department of Management
  • Department of Organizational Psychology
  • Department of Law
  • Department of Criminology
  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • Department of Psychological Sciences
  • Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication
  • Department of Geography
  • Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Department of Philosophy
  • Department of Politics
  • Department of Psychosocial Studies

The Guardian's 2001 RAE subject ranking league tables put Birkbeck in the top 10 for research in the following subjects: English (1st), History (1st), History of Art (2nd), Philosophy (6th), Psychology (5th), Iberian and Latin American Languages (1st), Earth Sciences (4th), Law (9th), Economics and Econometrics (5th), and Politics and International Studies (5th).

Birkbeck's School of English and Humanities was rated 5* in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise, as were the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, the School of Crystallography (2009 became part of the Department of Biological Sciences), and the section for Spanish and Latin American studies within the School of Languages, Linguistics and Culture, and the Dept. of Psychological Sciences in the School of Psychology—ranking these departments with, and in some cases above, Oxford and Cambridge University.

Students' UnionEdit

Birkbeck College Students' Union was founded in 1904 and was one of the founding members of the National Union of Students. It was governed by a Council, elected from and responsible to the students. Students initially paid an annual membership fee to join, but students are now automatically registered as members when they enrol onto a course at the college.

Student Leader[32]

  • 2019-20 - Alex Holmes and Barney O'Connor
  • 2018-19 - Sara Hurley and Nicholas Baker
  • 2017-18 - Nicholas Baker and Eli Goldsobel

As Birkbeck primarily offers part-time courses, often in the evenings, student life is less centralised than in other universities. It does not offer its own halls of residence, for instance, though Birkbeck students do have access to the University of London's intercollegiate halls.

Birkbeck Students' Union offers a number of societies for students, as well as a various sports clubs that compete in the University of London league. It also provides student representation and support, a student magazine, a student shop and a bar. Birkbeck students also have access to the societies and clubs of the Student Central, whose building adjoins Birkbeck's Bloomsbury site.

Lamp and Owl MagazineEdit

The college arms include a lamp and an owl, symbolising the college's motto 'In nocte consilium' (translated as "study by night"). Because of this, the student magazine was called Lamp and Owl. Its name was changed in 2010 to 'Lampanelle', and after an 18-month hiatus returned in February 2012 with the name having reverted to The Lamp And Owl.

The original name of the institution was the London Mechanics' Institute. For this reason, the annual literary magazine published by the Birkbeck MA Creative Writing programme is called The Mechanics' Institute Review.

University ChallengeEdit

The college has entered teams in University Challenge over the years, with varied results. In 1997, a team scored just 40 points – at that stage the lowest score since the series had been revived, though this has since been broken by New Hall, Cambridge, the University of Bradford and the University Challenge: The Professionals team of Members of Parliament.[33] 1998 saw a reversal of fortunes when Birkbeck reached the final, losing to Magdalen College, Oxford. In 2003, Birkbeck again reached the final, facing another team of mature students from Cranfield University. On this occasion, Birkbeck won.

In the past two decades Birkbeck, University of London has consistently done well in University Challenge, ranked among the best[34] since the TV series was revived with Jeremy Paxman.


Birkbeck's School of Law actively competes in national and international mooting competitions of simulated court proceedings. At the 2012 Inner Temple Inter-Varsity Moot Birkbeck went through to the quarter-finals, being selected as one of the final eight teams of the 32 UK Universities (64 teams) which competed for the prestigious Inner Temple award. In 2012 Birkbeck was entered in the prized University of Oxford-based Price Moot Competition and finished within the top 15 Law Schools in the competition. The competition draws Law Schools from universities all around the world and focuses on international law.

Notable peopleEdit


  1. ^ Translation used by Birkbeck."Centre for Learning and Professional Development – Communication Skills". Birkbeck, University of London. Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  2. ^ "Financial Statements for the year ended 31 July 2014". Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  3. ^ a b c "2016/17 Students by HE provider, level, mode and domicile" (CSV). Higher Education Statistics Agency. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  4. ^ "Degree-awarding powers". Birkbeck, University of London. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  5. ^ "Birkbeck recognised as a "global elite" university and shortlisted for University of the Year". Cambridge Education Group, The Global Education Specialists. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  6. ^ "The Queen's Anniversary Prize – Previous Prize-winners". The Royal Anniversary Trust. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "The History of Birkbeck". Birkbeck, University of London. Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 26 November 2006.
  8. ^ a b Birkbeck, University of London Continuing Education Courses 2002 Entry. Birkbeck External Relations Department. 2002. p. 5.
  9. ^ Charter, Statutes and Standing Orders Birkbeck College, 16 December 1994.
  10. ^ a b "Birkbeck projects win £8.7m HEFCE funding for innovative higher education provision in London". Birkbeck, University of London. Archived from the original on 27 June 2006. Retrieved 26 November 2006.
  11. ^ "Birkbeck/UEL Partnership at Stratford launched". Birkbeck, University of London. Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2006.
  12. ^ "Degree Awarding Powers". Birkbeck, University of London. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  13. ^ Birkbeck, University of London Continuing Education Courses 2004 Entry. Birkbeck External Relations Department. 2004. p. 4.
  14. ^ "University of East London and Birkbeck open new £33m campus in Stratford". Birkbeck. 7 November 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  15. ^ "Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities". Retrieved 26 November 2006.
  16. ^ "What have intellectuals ever done for the world?". The Observer. 28 November 2004. Retrieved 18 November 2006.
  17. ^ "Our staff". Birkbeck, University of London. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  18. ^ 'ALT Lab Group: London Knowledge Lab' page. Association for Learning Technology Lab Group website. Available online at: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 19 September 2011.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ "University League Table 2020". The Complete University Guide. 1 May 2019.
  20. ^ "University league tables 2020". The Guardian. 7 June 2019.
  21. ^ "The Times and Sunday Times University Good University Guide 2019". Times Newspapers.
  22. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2018". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy.
  23. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2020". Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd.
  24. ^ "World University Rankings 2019". Times Higher Education.
  25. ^ "Teaching Excellence Framework outcomes". Higher Education Funding Council for England.
  26. ^ "Birkbeck REF2014 results".
  27. ^ "Top Universities – QS World University Rankings 2011". Archived from the original on 19 April 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  28. ^ "Top 200 – The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2011–2012". Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  29. ^ "Birkbeck ranked in Top 200 of World Universities". 16 September 2010. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  30. ^ "The Awards 2010". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  31. ^ "Birkbeck to leave UK university league tables". 9 October 2018. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  32. ^ "Previous Officer Reports @ Birkbeck Students' Union". Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  33. ^ New Hall, Cambridge in 1998 and University of Bradford in 2004 both scored 35 points. In the special series 'University Challenge: The Professionals', the Members of Parliament achieved 25 points – the lowest score in the modern era. The score of 40 has also been achieved by Oxford Brookes University (1998), the University of St Andrews (2002 & 2005), Keele University (2002) and Queen's University Belfast (2005). Statistics for the original incarnation of the series are not known, though the lowest score achieved was by the University of Sussex in 1972 with a score of 10. "University Challenge – Lowest Scores". Sean Blanchflower's University Challenge Page. Retrieved 18 November 2006.
  34. ^ University Challenge – All-time rankings. Retrieved 17 July 2013.

External linksEdit