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150th Anniversary
150 Years of International
Academic Excellence and Innovation


An anniversary message from Sir Graeme Davies
and Professor Jonathan Kydd

The University of London External System is now the longest standing and foremost supplier of transnational education in the world and in 2008 marked its 150th Anniversary

Sir Graeme DaviesSir Graeme Davies
Vice-Chancellor of the University of London

Professor Jonathan KyddProfessor Jonathan Kydd
Dean of the University of London External System


"To date, the University of London External System is proud to count amongst its students and alumni five Nobel Prize winners, leaders of Commonwealth countries, former MPs, renowned authors and academics, judges and leaders of business and industry worldwide.."

The University of London celebrated a phenomenal achievement in 2008 – the 150th Anniversary of its External System. The University was the first in the UK to offer its degrees to students irrespective of their religious or political beliefs, or gender. The External System has continued with this tradition of innovation and openness by offering its degrees worldwide, thus anticipating 20th-century developments in flexible and distance learning by more than 100 years.

41,000 students studying in over 180 countries (2008 figures) -
see where they are
[opens in new window - Flash] World map
Download a similar map in PDF [1pg, 240KB]

The University of London External System, which now has 41,000 students worldwide, has played an instrumental role in the formation of British higher education. All English and Welsh universities founded between 1849 and 1949 offered University of London degrees by External study prior to receiving charters to award their own degrees. Similarly, the External System also played a significant role in establishing several Commonwealth universities in the middle decades of the 20th century.

However, little has been known of the key role played by the External System in assisting prisoners of war to take their examinations in the prison camps during both World Wars – a time when demand for education increased rapidly, much to everyone’s surprise. Later, Nelson Mandela, who studied with the External System while in captivity on Robben Island, was to become one of its most famous students. To date, the University of London External System is proud to count amongst its students and alumni five Nobel Prize winners, current and former leaders of Commonwealth countries, government ministers and Members of Parliament, renowned authors, academics, judges and senior lawyers, leaders of business and industry worldwide. This makes it a unique global network.

Stories of some of these renowned people are featured in our special anniversary book, entitled The People’s University: 150 years of the University of London and its External students. Complementing the book, this publication provides a flavour of the University of London External System’s remarkable story: a degree system which has always been ahead of its time, and, which we are certain, will continue to grow and develop while maintaining its place as certainly the oldest – and probably the world’s most respected – provider of degrees through distance and flexible learning.

We hope that students, teachers and others alike will celebrate this outstanding achievement, which has enabled both individuals and countries to grow. Some of you will be joining the celebrations that have been organised by the University, while others are planning their own. Whatever you do, we would like to take this opportunity of thanking you for your ongoing support, particularly during 2008 – a momentous year for all those who have been involved in the University of London External System as suppliers, recipients and supporters of education.