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150th Anniversary
150 Years of International
Academic Excellence and Innovation

Our History - First global university

Anniversary book presentation

Book presentation

Find out more about the anniversary book


The University of London, established in 1836, has played an historic and pioneering role in extending university education to all regardless of race, religion, gender or country of residence.

Not only did the University break new ground by admitting any male student who was able to take the degree, but in 1878 it became the first university in the UK to admit women to its degrees. Amidst these radical reforms in education access, further new ground was broken in 1858 with the establishment of the External System, which opened up the degree to those who could not come to London to study. Following the fourth Charter granted and signed by Queen Victoria, this made the University of London the first to offer degrees to students worldwide, with Mauritius becoming the first overseas country to host its examinations in 1865.

Dickens endorses access

At the time an article in the magazine All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, described it as the ‘People’s University’ which would ‘extend her hand to the young shoemaker who studies in his garret’. The article’s endorsement of the University of London degree being extended to all is unequivocal:

‘Nobody ever ridiculed the test of intellectual competence through which only men can arrive at association with the University of London. Having passed by a light examination to the degree of Bachelor of Arts in one of our old universities, the graduate may advance without any examination at all through the series of higher terms of honour. They belong to a question of little more than time and money. In the People’s University every degree has to be stoutly fought for’.

The present

Now, 150 years on, the External System continues to innovate and offers more than 100 academic qualifications, many of which are taught using the latest technologies. The global community of External students now numbers 41,000 across 180 countries (2008 figures) worldwide, making it a unique network.