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Colleges within universities in the United Kingdom

A number of universities in the United Kingdom are composed of colleges. These can be divided into three broad categories. In the case of the 18 constituent colleges of the federal University of London, the colleges operate largely as self-governing universities, with teaching and research activities and control over their own finances and admissions, and some have their own degree awarding powers. In the case of Durham University, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, the constituent colleges have the legal status of 'listed bodies' and have some academic activities but are primarily centres of student life. In the case of the Plate glass universities: the University of Kent, Lancaster University, and the University of York, colleges have less autonomy operating under a different legal footing, but still perform some independent functions.

In the past, many of what are now British universities with their own degree-awarding powers were colleges which had their degrees awarded by either a federal university (such as Cardiff University) or another university (for example many of the post-1992 universities).

Oxford and Cambridge

St John's College (Cambridge) New Court and Chapel seen from The Backs

The two ancient universities of England, Oxford and Cambridge (collectively termed Oxbridge), were originally federations of autonomous colleges, with a small central university body, rather than universities in the common sense. While many of the student affairs functions are housed in the colleges, each college is more than a residence hall, but they are far from being universities. While college life and membership is an important part of the Oxbridge experience and education, only the central university body has degree-awarding power. Historically the colleges were created as a way of ensuring discipline among the notoriously unruly students.[1]

In addition to accommodation, meals, common rooms, libraries, sporting and social facilities for its students, each college admits undergraduate students to the University and, through tutorials or supervisions, contributes to the work of educating them, together with the university's departments/faculties. Graduate students do not receive education from their college. Graduate students at Cambridge and Oxford have to name two college choices on their application, which goes to the department/faculty, and if the university accepts them, it guarantees that the applicant will have a college membership, although not necessarily at the favoured college(s).

The faculties at each university provide lectures and central facilities such as libraries and laboratories, as well as examining for and awarding degrees. Academic staff are commonly employed both by the university (typically as lecturer or professor) and by a college (as fellow or tutor), though some may have only a college or university post. Nearly all colleges cater to students studying a range of subjects.

Since the colleges are all fully independent legal entities within the university, owning their own buildings, employing their own staff, and managing their own endowments, colleges vary widely in wealth, although the richer colleges often provide financial support to the poorer ones. It is entirely possible for some colleges to be in better financial health than the universities of which they are a part. Currently about 2/3 of the £4.3 billion endowment of Cambridge University is in the hands of its colleges, and therefore just 1/3 belongs to the central university.

Typically a student or fellow of an Oxbridge college is said to be "living in college" if their accommodation is inside the college buildings. Most colleges also accommodate students, especially graduate students, in houses or other buildings away from the college site.

Durham University

Durham University is also collegiate in nature, and its colleges enjoy the same legal status as 'listed bodies' as the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Generally, however, its colleges are not financially independent (exceptions being Ushaw, St Chad's and St John's). Although the colleges do not have any teaching duties as part of the university, they do provide meals, libraries, computers, scholarships and recreational facilities for their members. The colleges also provide a larger role in the pastoral care of students, with each college having a personal tutorial system, JCR, MCR & SCR and either a Master or Principal in charge of the everyday running of the college. The colleges have a role in the admissions of students, although not as large as those at Oxbridge, and normally confined to identifying students that suit the college ethos and atmosphere. Each college has its own individual character and nature. There are 16 colleges in Durham; the Bailey colleges are located on the historic peninsula around North and South Bailey street and are usually thought of as being the more traditional - all require the wearing of gowns at either matriculation, JCR meetings or Formal meals, except the 'traditionally informal' St Cuthbert's Society. There are 7 other newer colleges known as the Hill Colleges, the College of St Hild and St Bede which falls into neither group, and the two colleges of the Stockton campus.

University of York

The University of York is collegiate, and as of 2014 is made up of nine colleges with a tenth planned for the near future.[2] The colleges are more centralised than at Oxbridge and although they are not listed bodies they perform the same roles as colleges at Durham, and they play an important role in the pastoral care of the student body. One college Wentworth is postgraduate only.[3] The day-to-day running of the colleges is managed by an elected committee of staff and student members chaired by the college's Provost. Colleges have a Junior Common Room for undergraduate students, which is managed by the elected Junior Common Room Committee, and a Graduate Common Room for post-graduate students, as well as a Senior Common Room, which is managed by elected representatives of the college's academic and administrative members. Intercollegiate sport is one of the main activities of the colleges. Currently there are 21 leagues with weekly fixtures, in addition a number of one day events are organised as well.[4] In 2014 a new tournament was created "College Varsity" which was held between York's colleges and the colleges of Durham University. York hosted the first tournament which was won by Durham's colleges; the second tournament is due to take place in 2015 and will be hosted by Durham.[5]

University of London

The University of London is a federal university comprising 18 constituent colleges, which largely operate as universities in their own right. For historical reasons the two founding colleges, University College London and King's College London, have names resembling those of Oxbridge colleges. Later the expansion of the University saw the growth of the small specialist colleges such as School of Oriental and African Studies, the Royal Academy of Music and Institute of Education, University of London either by establishing within or merging into the University.

These colleges, whether they are recognised or listed bodies, award the University of London degrees, but the admission process is completely separated, and there is also a certain difference in the 'value' of the degrees awarded by the various colleges. The Privy Council, however, had recently granted degree awarding power to Imperial College London (2003), University College London (2005), and Birkbeck College (2012); that Imperial decided to leave the federal University in 2005[6] to award its own degree University College London[7] and Birkbeck College[8] decided not to exercise the power for the time being.

The University of London also has various remote colleges such as the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP).

University of the Arts London

The University of the Arts London comprises six specialist art and design colleges, dating since the mid-1850s, that were brought together for administrative purposes.

University of Roehampton

The University of Roehampton, London has its roots in the traditions of its four constituent colleges – Digby Stuart, Froebel, Southlands and Whitelands – which were all formed in the 19th century. Both a campus university and a University with four colleges that serve as the focal points for the University's vibrant social scene and provide healthy intercollegiate rivalries in sport and other traditional celebrations. All four of Roehampton University's constituent colleges, Whitelands College, Southlands College, Digby Stuart College and Froebel College, are independently owned, although the university holds a number of relevant long-term leases.

University of Wales

In the University of Wales, colleges are the lower tier of institutional membership, below constituent institutions, following the reorganisation of the university in 1996. Prior to this, the member institutions were all called colleges. There are not currently any colleges in the University of Wales, but this is likely to change in the future.


  1. ^ Trevelyan, G. M. English Social History. Longmans, Green and Co, 1948, pp. 53-55
  2. ^ "Constantine to be followed by College Ten". Nouse. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "College history". Wentworth College. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "College Sport". College Sport at York. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  5. ^ "New College Varsity". York Vision. 29 October 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ [3]

See also