Third-oldest university in England debate
The title of third-oldest university in England is a topic of much debate, with prime contenders for the title usually being considered to include University College London, King's College London, Durham University and the University of London. Deciding which is truly the "oldest" depends largely on the definition of university status. The third university to be founded in England was unquestionably the medieval University of Northampton (est. 1261), but this institution survived only until 1265 and is not connected to the new University of Northampton, established as a university college in 1975 and awarded university status in 2005.
The debate over which is the oldest of the universities founded in the early 19th century has going on since at least the late 19th century, including a mention in the House of Commons during a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the committee stage of the Reform Act 1867. Several English higher education institutions either explicitly claim the distinction of being the third oldest university or assert a foundation that predates the conventional date for another claimant; however, conflicting definitions of university status mean it is a debate unlikely ever to be satisfactorily resolved.
Defining a university
Judging a university's foundation as occurring at the earliest point to which teaching can be traced, the establishment of predecessor institutions, the institution's foundation by Act of Parliament, Royal Charter or otherwise, its incorporation, or its date of formal recognition as a university all produce different results. Neither Oxford nor Cambridge, the oldest two universities in England (founded pre-1116 and in 1209 respectively) were founded by Act of Parliament or Royal Charter (Charters were bestowed on Oxford and Cambridge in 1248 and 1231, respectively), and both owe their incorporation to an act of parliament in 1571.
Prior to 1836, no UK university had been founded by the grant of a royal charter to the institution (although this had been done in Ireland and Canada). The closest to being founded in this manner was Edinburgh, founded by the Edinburgh Corporation under the authority granted to them by their royal charter of 1582. From 1836 to 1992, in contrast, only one university (Newcastle, established by Act of parliament) was not founded by royal charter. These charters were often accompanied by acts of parliament to transfer the property and obligations of predecessor institutes to the newly-founded university. The danger of dating by royal charter is demonstrated b listing the ancient universities by accepted date of establishment, date of royal charter, and date of incorporation; it can be seen that dating by royal charter or incorporation gives a significantly different ordering from the historically-accepted dates.
Modern dictionary definitions use multiple factors to define "University". A similar methid is used by the only judgement in English law on what the defining characteristics of a university are comes from the decision of Mr Justice Vaisey in St David's College, Lampeter v Ministry of Education (1951) before the Chancery Division. The judgement gives six "essential qualities" that a university should possess. It:
- "must be incorporated by the highest authority, i.e. by the sovereign power"
- "must be open to receive students from any part of the world"
- "must [have] a plurality of masters"
- "must be an institution in which at least one of the higher faculties is taught" (theology; law or philosophy; medicine)
- "cannot be a university without residents either in its own buildings or near at hand"
- "must have the power to grant its own degrees" (which he calls "the most obvious and most essential quality of a university")
He ruled that St David's College passed most of these, but that based on "its limited powers [of awarding degrees] and the absence of any express intention of making it a university by the sovereign power" it did not qualify as a university.
From these principles, the ordering of when the "prime contenders" below (see discussion there for references) achieved university status is:
- Durham University: 1837 (incorporation)
- University of London: 1900 (plurality of masters; teaching higher faculties)
- University College London: 2005 (degree awarding powers)
- King's College London: 2006 (degree awarding powers)
It should be noted that both Durham (1832) and London (1836) could be considered as having been expressly made universities by the sovereign power (royal assent to an Act of Parliament in Durham's case, royal charter in London's).
Besides the question of defining a university, there is the question of what is meant by "third oldest university". The above listing assumes that it means the third institution to achieve university status, but if "third oldest university" means the third oldest institute to have eventually achieved university status (as defined above), then date of foundation is all that is being assessed and the list looks very different:
- University College London: 1826 (Deed of Settlement)
- King's College London: 1829 (Royal Charter)
- Durham University: 1832 (Act of Parliament)
- University of London: 1836 (Royal Charter)
By selectively choosing the meaning of the question and the factors used to assess university status, many different orderings can be produced.
A number of institutions have significant claims to being the third-oldest university in England. Among the contenders for the title is University College London (UCL) which, although established as a teaching institution in 1826, did not have degree-awarding powers and did not obtain a Royal Charter until 1836, and then only as a college associated with the University of London rather than as a university. King's College London (KCL) was established by Royal Charter in 1829, again as a college unable to award degrees rather than as a university. Like UCL, it was associated with the University of London from 1836. Durham University was established in 1832 by an Act of Parliament which specifically named it as a university, and received a Royal Charter in 1837, while the University of London was created with explicit degree-awarding powers by Royal Charter in 1836.
|University College London||1826||1828||1836||2005||2008|
|King's College London||1829||1831||1829||2006||2008|
|University of London||1836||1900||1836||1836||1839|
University College London
The claim of University College London (UCL) to be the third oldest university in England is based on its establishment in 1826 under the name of "London University" as an institution delivering university-level education. It is opposed by the fact that it never received official recognition as a university and is not listed as a university in 19th century reference works; that it does not have a continuous history as an autonomous institution, having been merged into the University of London from 1907 to 1977; that it only received degree awarding powers in 2005; that it accepted a charter as a college in 1836, giving up it's claim to be a university. It is also opposed by the fact that it did not receive its charter until 1836, after KCL.
Following an abortive attempt by Henry Brougham to establish "London College" via an Act of Parliament, UCL was established on 11 February 1826 as a joint-stock company – equivalent to a modern limited liability company, although not incorporated– under the name of "University of London". It opened for teaching on 1 October 1828. This gives it the earliest date of foundation of any of the contenders and makes it the first to begin operation. It was the first broad-curriculum institution providing education in Arts and the higher faculties of Law and Medicine (as opposed to the specialist medical, legal, and theological schools) and, as such, has a strong claim to be the third oldest university institution in England (which may or may not correspond to being the third oldest university).
UCL applied for a charter under the name of "University of London" in 1830, which would have granted it university status and the right (by implication) of granting degrees in Arts, Law and Medicine. This charter was approved by the law officers of the Crown in 1831 but never received the Great Seal that would have made it valid. In 1834 a second attempt was made to obtain a charter under that name, and in 1835 the House of Commons voted in favour of a petition to the king to grant a charter along the lines of that approved in 1831. However, the government chose instead to grant UCL a charter as a college, rather than as a university, and to found the University of London as a separate body.[note 2] In November 1838, the first UCL students matriculated in the new University of London and the first London degrees were awarded in 1839.
The first objection to UCL's claim to be the third oldest university in England is that it was never granted university status. Possibly due to this, UCL does not feature in 19th century lists of universities in England. However, UCL still does not have official university status, as it is a college of the University of London, but it is considered to be effectively an independent university by, e.g., the Russell Group. It's claim to be the third oldest university rests on its de facto status, rather than its de jure status.
Another point of opposition to UCL's claim is that it has not been an autonomous institution for the entire period since it's founding. After the University of London was reconstituted as a federal body in 1900, UCL surrendered its property and independence and was merged into the University of London under the 1905 University College London (Transfer) Act, which went into effect in 1907. It was not until 1977 that UCL once more became an autonomous Institute. And not until 1993 that it (along with the other colleges) received government funding from HEFCE as an independent institution rather than getting an allocation from the University of London's grant.
A third challenge to UCL's claim is that it did not receive degree awarding powers until 27 September 2005, although it was included in the Education (Recognised Bodies) Order 1997 as one of the "Schools, Colleges and Institutes of the University of London permitted by the University to award University of London degrees". The first UCL degrees were awarded in summer 2008. This is one of the Vaisey criteria for being recognised as a de facto university (see above), so failing to have degree awarding powers could be seen as weakening UCL's case for recognition as a de facto university. However, it has also been claimed that at the time of UCL's foundation there may have been no legal bar to any institute awarding whatever degrees it liked, such as the "Diploma of Master of Medicine and Surgery in the University of London" (M. Med. et Chir. U. L.) advertised in UCL's 1832 calendar. When Brougham (then Lord Chancellor) asked in the Privy Council in 1834, "Pray, Mr. Bickersteth, what is to prevent the London University granting degrees now?" he received the reply: "The universal scorn and contempt of mankind."  Contrary to this view, a case was brought before the House of Lords in 1745 regarding the power of Marischal College in Aberdeen to grant degrees, implying that this was regarded as an activity regulated by law. It was also disputed in the 1830 whethr degree awarding powers were an essential part of being a university or not (see discussion under Durham below).
UCL's claim is also opposed by the assertion that it surrendered its claim to University status when it accepted a royal charter as a college in 1836, under the name "University College, London". Rather than receiving its own degree awarding powers, it was associated with the new University of London, with degrees being examined and conferred by the university. This was described as "a barren collegiate Charter" by William Tooke, who had led the parliamentary campaign for UCL's recognition as a university, and an official history of the University of London in 1912 claimed "[UCL's] acceptance of it implied the renunciation of all claim to exercise the full functions of a University, and placed them on a footing of equality with some younger and less important institutions."
The final objection to UCL's claim is its lack of a royal charter prior to 1836. This is the point on which KCL, which is otherwise similar to UCL in terms of objections to it's claim, is differentiated from UCL. By date of foundation, ICL is the older, but by date of royal charter KCL is the senior. While it has been noted above that dating charter is not a method of determining the age of universities (see also discussion under London), this is due to the variety of different methods of creating a university: ancient prescription, Papal bull, act of parliament and royal charter, of which only the later two have been used since the Reformation. UCL had none of these, and was neither incorporated in its own right nor (like Edinburgh until 1858 and Durham until 1837) a trust under a corporation (the town council and the cathedral chapter respectively). One answer to this is that UCL claims to be the third oldest university not on the basis of its de jure status but of its de facto status, making this argument irrelevant: if judged by de jure standards, then UCL's and KCL's cases both fail. However, "incorporation by the highest authority" is one of Vaisey's criteria for recognition as a de facto university (see above), so UCL's failure to gain incorporation until 1836 could be seen as denying it de facto status prior to that. Yet the laws on incorporation changed dramatically between the 1820s and Vaisey's judgement, and UCL's formation as a joint stock company would have led to it's incorporation in later years.
The critical question for UCL is whether it gained de facto status as a university and has maintained that status, despite the objections raised above. This essentially reduces to whether teaching alone is needed to be considered a university, or whether degree awarding powers and/or incorporation are also required. If it has been a de facto university since 1826 (or the start of operations in 1828), then it is the third oldest university in England, but if it only gained this status later, or lost it through its merger into the University of London from! 1907 to 1977, then one of the other claimants will prevail.
King's College London
The claim of King's College London (KCL) to be the third oldest university in England is based on it holding the third oldest royal charter, and the third oldest incorporation, of any University-level institution in England. It is opposed in a similar manner to UCL by the fact that it never received official recognition as a university; that it does not have a continuous history as an autonomous Institute, having been merged into the University of London from 1910 to 1980; that it only received degree awarding powers in 2006; that it was chartered as a college rather than a university and, as such, is not listed as a university in 19th century reference works. It is further opposed by the fact that KCL itself claims only to be the fourth oldest university in England and by the claim that a charter and legal incorporation are not necessary for a university. If UCL is accepted as being a university from the date of its foundation in 1826, then the claim of KCL must fail.
KCL was established by Royal Charter on 14 August 1829 as a reaction to UCL with the aim of providing an Anglican education.[note 3] [note 4] It was chartered as a college, not a university; the term "university" does not appear in the charter. The college opened its doors to students in 1831. Students at King's either left for degrees at Oxford and Cambridge, gained medical qualifications through the Royal Colleges, or (from 1834) took the Associate of King's College (first awarded 1835); the college did not award degrees of its own.
Following the establishment of the University of London in 1836, King's became an associated college of that university, allowing its students to sit examinations for London degrees. However, students were still encouraged to take the AKC rather than the London degree – which was also open to "godless" UCL students. It also made agreements with Durham and Edinburgh to allow KCL students to take degrees at those universities with only one year of residence.
Many of the objections to KCL's claim parallel those raised against UCL's. It lacked (and still lacks) de jure status as a university, and only gained degree awarding powers in July 2006, awarding its first degrees in summer 2008. It surrendered its autonomy to be merged into the University of London from 1910 to 1980, and was only funded as an independent institution rather than through the University of London after 1993. Like UCL, it does not feature in 19th century university lists.
An objection specific to KCL is that it only claims to be "the fourth oldest [university] in England" in its 2008 annual report and on its website, implicitly accepting the claim of UCL to be the third oldest. The title of third oldest is, however, claimed by KCL student papers and societies. In a podcast on the KCL website, Arthur Burns (Professor of Modern History at KCL) describes UCL and KCL as the third and fourth oldest university institutions, rather than the third and fourth oldest universities.
The critical questions for KCL are whether it gained de facto university status from its foundation and has managed to keep this status since, despite the objections above, and whether, if it has, UCL attained de facto university status before KCL (see discussion above). If both of these are answered in KCL's favour, then it is the third oldest university in England.
Durham University's claim to be the third oldest university in England is based on it being the third institution to gain official recognitions as a university, through the 1832 University of Durham Act and again in public general acts in 1835 and1836, and on it being the third university in England to matriculate students on degree courses and to grant degrees. It is opposed by the fact that it did not gain it's royal charter until 1837, later than the other three contenders and the claim that it did not hold degree awarding powers prior to this charter being granted. If either UCL or KCL is accepted as having been a university since its foundation in 1826 or 1829 respectively, Durham's claim must fail.
Durham University had its beginnings in an act of Chapter on 28 September 1831, which resolved to accept "A plan of an academic institution, to be called Durham College, in connexion with the Dean and Chapter". [note 5] By December of that year, the "college" was being advertised as a "university", with the prospectus appearing in London newspapers. On 4 July 1832, an Act of Parliament was passed, specifically empowering the "Establishment of a University" by the Dean and Chapter, setting up the university as an eleemosynary trust (equivalent to a modern charitable trust) with the Dean and Chapter as trustees and the Bishop of Durham as the Visitor. Students were admitted to degree programmes from 28 October 1833, with the first calendar (from autumn 1833) advertising the institution as "University of Durham founded by Act of Chapter with the Consent of the Bishop of Durham 28 September 1831. Constituted a University by Act of Parliament 2nd and 3rd William IV., Sess. 1831-2." An Act of Chapter on 4 April 1834 resolved "that the College established by Act of Chapter, 28th September 1831, be constituted a University".[note 6] Durham received it's royal charter on 1 June 1837, and the first degrees were conferred on 8 June 1837.
The first objection to Durham's claim is that it did not receive a royal charter to make it a university until 1837. The question here is whether the royal charter or the 1832 act of parliament (possibly combined with the 1834 act of chapter) gave Durham university status. (It should be noted that whether Durham became a university in 1832 or 1834 does not affect the third oldest university in England debate.)
Not all universities in the United Kingdom possess charters, with the "post-92" institutions explicitly deriving their university status from the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, and Newcastle University from the Universities of Durham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne Act 1963. Even more relevant to Durham's case are the examples of Oxford and Cambridge, both of which operated for many years without a charter following their respective foundations – indeed, by date of charter Cambridge is the senior – while neither was formally incorporated until 1571.
The university was referred to as "the University of Durham" in two public acts of parliament prior to the granting of its charter: the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, and the Established Church Act 1836. The Royal Charter itself is explicit that it is incorporating a pre-existing University, not founding a new one, referring to it as the "University of Durham, so established under our Royal sanction, and the authority of our Parliament". The 1837 Attorneys and Solicitors Act, which extended various privileges of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin graduates to Durham and London, draws a sharp distinction between the foundation of Durham under the act of parliament and the foundation of London by royal charter. The 1907 University of Durham Act also makes it clear that Durham's foundation as a university was distinct from the incorporation by royal charter.
The second objection to Durham's claim is that it did not have degree awarding powers until it received it's royal charter in 1837. During the second reading of the bill which became the Act in the House of Lords, William van Mildert, the Bishop of Durham, had said that degree awarding powers would require a royal charter would be required. This charter was not conferred until 1 June 1837, with the first students graduated a few days later on 8 June. However, contrary to what van Mildert had said and following legal advice from Sir Charles Wetherell, it contained no grant of degree awarding powers.[note 7]
The reason behind this can be seen in the debate in the mid 1830s on the nature of universities and their degree awarding powers. One side held that university status and degree awarding powers were inseparable, so that the creation of a university contained implicitly a grant of degree awarding powers. Adherents to this view included William Tooke, who led the parliamentary campaign for the recognition of UCL as the University of London,  and Sir Charles Wetherell, who argued against the grant of a charter to UCL as the University of London before the Privy Council.[note 8]
The other side of the argument was that university status was distinct from degree awarding powers, so it was quite possible for a university to exist without holding the right to grant degrees. This was supported by Bishop van Mildert, as shown above, and by the liberal Sir William Hamilton, who wrote a response to Wetherell in the Edinburgh Review arguing that historically the power to award specific degrees was explicitly granted, and thus the recognition of an institution as a university does not, in itself, grant any power to award degrees.
Caught between these two points of view, Thorp wrote to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne in February 1836 noting that degree awarding powers might be inherent in being a university, but that it would be desirable to have either a charter or a legal declaration that one was unnecessary (no response is recorded). The university also sought Wetherell's counsel on the matter of the charter in March, and were advised to avoid mention of degree awarding powers and let them be carried by the title of university. It can be seen from the charter that Wetherell's council prevailed, and Durham went on to award degrees without any explicit grant of powers.
What is important for the third oldest university in England debate, however, is that the view that Durham did not gain degree awarding powers via recognition as a university relies on degree awarding powers not being essential to being a university. This point of view also strongly supports the claims of UCL and KCL, although if formal recognition as a university is considered essential Durham could still prevail.
The first critical question for Durham is whether it gained de jure University status via the 1832 act of parliament (or the subsequent 1834 act of chapter) or, despite the various legal recognitions of its status in the intervening years, not until the 1837 royal charter. If it gained university status in 1832 or 1834, then Durham is the third oldest de jure university in England. Alternatively, if London was not truly established as a university in 1836 (see discussion below), then Durham is the third oldest de jure university in England regardless of which date is taken for its foundation.
The second critical question is whether either UCL or KCL should be considered de facto universities prior to this, despite the objections given in their discussions. If neither of them qualifies, and if the first question established Durham as the third oldest de jure university, then Durham is the third oldest university in England.
University of London
The University of London's claim to be the third oldest university in England is based on it being the third institute in England to receive a Royal Charter as a university and the claim that it was the third university in England to gain degree awarding powers. It is opposed by the fact that dating by royal charter is not consistent with the historically-accepted dates of foundation for British universities and that posessing a Royal Charter is not necessary to be a university; by the fact that it's royal charter was annulled by the death of William IV and the claim that the later date of December 1837, when it was rechartered by Queen Victoria, should therefore be used; and by the claim that the lack of teaching in the University of London prior to it's reconstitution as a federal institution in 1900 meant it was not truly a university. It's claim to be the third University to gain degree awarding powers is also disputed. As London's date of foundation is later than the other three institutions, if any of their claims to have been a university from their dates of foundation are accepted, London's claim must fail.
The University of London was established and chartered in 1836 as a degree awarding body. It received a second charter in 1837, a third in 1858 and a fourth in 1863, under which it is now incorporated. It matriculated is first students in 1838 (from UCL and KCL) and awarded its first degrees in 1839 (again to students from UCL and KCL). In 1900 it was reconstituted as a federal university by statutes drawn up under the University of London Act 1898, including as schools of the university UCL and KCL along with a number of other colleges in London.
The first objection to London's claim is that dating by royal charter does not reflect historical reality as a royal charter is not necessary to be a university. Ordering British universities by date of royal charter places Cambridge (charter 1231ref name="PC list" /> as the oldest rather than Oxford (charter 1248) and moves St Andrews (charter 1532) down to third oldest in Scotland, behind Glasgow (charter 1453) and Aberdeen (charter 1495). Related to this is the fact that most British universities have been created under acts of parliament (particularly the Further and Higher Education Act 1992) rather than by royal charter, and so would be missing entirely from an ordering drawn up by royal charter. While this does not entirely invalidate London's claim, it means that the critical question (besides whether official status should be the deciding factor at all) is whether Durham gained official university status under its 1832 act of parliament, which was discussed in the previous section.
The second objection is that London was only incorporated under its 1836 charter "during Our Royal Will and Pleasure". Sources give two differing interpretations on what this meant, with some saying the charter expired on the death of William IV, and others that it may never have been valid but if it were it would have expired 6 months after the king's death. It was re-incorporated by a second Royal Charter on 5 December 1837 (postdating the royal charters of the other three contenders). This date is sometimes given in Victorian sources as the founding of the University, and is the date used as the date of creation in the supplemental charter of 1850 and the charters of 1858 and 1863. It is notable that while the 1863 corporation was made the legal successor to the 1858 corporation in its charter, and the 1858 corporation was made the legal successor to the 1837 corporation, the 1837 corporation was not made the legal heir to the 1836 corporation. However, the privileges granted to the University of London under the Attorneys and Solicitors Act 1837, made in July between Victoria's accession and the sealing of London's second charter, appear to have been applied to the subsequent legal corporations without any need for renewal, indicating that there may have been an implied inheritance of legal status.
The third objection is that the University of London, as constituted in the 19th century, was truly a university has also been questioned. As founded in 1836/7, it was "an examining board appointed by the government", with no teaching and degree awarding powers limited to six named degrees. As noted above, some authorities believed this limitation on degree powers as unenforceable legally, but London chose to apply for (and received) further charters when it wished to expand its degree-awarding powers, until these were removed from its charter and into the university's statutes in 1900.
However, it was the first of these issues – the lack of teaching in the university – that led to the most criticism. Henry Wace, Principal of KCL told a Royal Commission said in 1888 that he "had two … objections to the title of the University of London: one, that it is not a University, and the other that it is not of London". In a similar vein, Karl Pearson, a professor at UCL, said that "[t]o term the body which examines at Burlington House a University is a perversion of language, to which no charter or Act of Parliament can give a real sanction". Modern historians have taken a similar line, describing the University of London of that era as "a Government department, in the form of a board of examiners with power to matriculate students and award degrees … it had the trappings of a university, but not its most obvious function – it did not teach," and as "what would today be called a quango". The problems thrown up by the lack of teaching in the university led eventually to its reconstitution as a federal teaching and research institution in 1900.
The claim that London was the third university in England to gain degree awarding powers is disputed as it depends on Durham not having gained them implicitly through being granted university status (or having failed to obtain University status prior to the granting of its royal charter). This is discussed in the previous section. This claim also depends on the 1836 charter being valid, which (as noted above) is called into doubt by contemporary sources. London was certainly, however, the first university in England to receive an explicit grant of degree awarding powers as Oxford and Cambridge owe their powers to ancient prescription and Durham has only an implicit grant.
For London, the critical question is whether any of the prior claims of UCL, KCL and Durham are true. If these claims are not considered valid, then London is the third oldest university in England unless it is shown that it was, for some reason (see discussion above), not a university prior to Durham's royal charter being granted on 1 June 1837, after which Durham's status is not disputed.
Many present day institutions incorporate earlier foundations, such as theological colleges or medical schools, or are able to trace their origins to earlier teaching operations, and thus may be considered to have a longer heritage than those listed above.
The medical school of Queen Mary, University of London, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, incorporates St. Bartholomew's Hospital, which began unofficial medical teaching in 1123, the earliest date of known organised medical teaching in the United Kingdom. The school also comprises the first official medical school in England (the London Hospital Medical College, founded 1785); however that school was not a university in its own right and only taught for the examinations of the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Surgeons and the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London.
Wye College was founded in 1447 by John Kemp, the Archbishop of York, as a college for the training of priests. It merged with Imperial College London in 2000 and was closed in 2009. Similarly, Ushaw College of Durham University hosted until 2011 a Roman Catholic seminary that had been established in 1568 in Douai in northern France and which relocated to Ushaw Moor, four miles west of Durham in 1808 but did not become part of the University (as a Licensed Hall) until 1968. Durham University already has a much stronger claim to be the third-oldest university through its creation by Act of Parliament in 1832. Heythrop College, the specialist philosophy and theology constituent college of the University of London, was founded in 1614 in Belgium, though did not move to London (after several other locations) until 1970 and became part of the University in 1971.
Of the redbrick universities, the University of Birmingham has traced formal medical lectures to 1767 through the Birmingham Workhouse Infirmary, a precursor to Birmingham Medical School which was founded in 1825 and received a Royal Charter as Queen's College, Birmingham in 1843. The University of Manchester (established by a merger of the Victoria University (itself by a meger of the Victoria University (UK), founded 1880, and Owen's College, founded 1851 but incorporating the Royal School of Medicine and Surgery, founded 1824) and UMIST (founded 1824) can trace its earliest teaching to an 1814 anatomy school founded by Joseph Jordan. The same can be said for other redbrick institutions such as the University of Liverpool which developed from the Liverpool Royal Institution (a society established 1814 "for promoting the increase and diffusion of Literature, Science and the Arts", Royal Charter 1821). A number of universities also claim heritage from earlier Mechanics' Institutes, including Liverpool John Moores University, descended from a Mechanics' Institute founded in 1823; Birkbeck, University of London, founded in 1823 as the London Mechanics Institute and Leeds Metropolitan University from the 1824-founded Leeds Mechanics Institute.
The four Inns of Court in London, together with the associated Inns of Chancery, formed a recognised centre of legal and intellectual education, and – although never a university in any technical sense – were sometimes collectively described in the early modern period as England's "third university". Most notably, this claim was made in Sir George Buck's tract, The Third Universitie of England: Or a Treatise of the Foundations of all the Colledges, Auncient Schooles of Priviledge, and of Houses of Learning, and Liberall Arts, within and about the Most Famous Cittie of London, published in 1615 as an appendix to John Stow's Annales.
Gresham College, a higher education institute founded in London in 1597 was the first home of the Royal Society (who received their royal charter in 1662). The college was also mentioned in Buck's Third Universitie of England alongside the Inns of Court.
- List of UK universities by date of foundation
- List of oldest universities in continuous operation
- University of Wales, Lampeter, the third-oldest higher education institute in England and Wales
- Ancient university
- Medieval university
- "The London University is not covered with the reverent dust of antiquity, and new institutions are more susceptible than ancient ones. Yet the London University would, I think, have shown more generosity if it had welcomed its younger brother. [An hon. MEMBER: Durham is the older University.] Then it is another instance of the hatred of the younger brother towards the elder."
- "Being old is good for a university, so when Durham advertised itself this week as 'England's third oldest university', University College, London, immediately sought to put the record straight." "Battle of the oldies". The Times Higher Education Supplement. August 28, 1998.
- "...the question still remains who came third?" "The third oldest university in England... or is it?". The Northern Echo. April 11, 2007.
- "The University of London... was granted its first charter in 1836 and is the third-oldest university in England." "Split over power shake-up". The Times Higher Education Supplement. May 4, 2007.
- "Being part of a university is also part of the attraction of Durham Business School. Anne-Marie Nevin, its development officer, says: "We're part of the third-oldest university in England, after Oxford and Cambridge." "Why it's a real pleasure to study up North". The Times. October 1, 2001.
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- "In none of the Papal, Royal, or Episcopal letters of privilege, of a date prior to the Reformation, is there any distinct trace of the Constitution of the University" 
- "This Noble College: Building on the European tradition". abdn.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013.
- "A high-level education institution in which students study for degrees and academic research is done". OED. Retrieved 2014-12-30.
- "An institution of higher education having authority to award bachelors' and higher degrees, usually having research facilities". Collins Dictionary. Retrieved 2014-12-30.
- "St David's College, Lampeter v Ministry of Education 1951" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-12-30.(PDF)
- Harte, Negley (2010). University of London: An Illustrated History: 1836–1986. London: A&C Black. p. 63.
- Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science (1872). First, supplementary, and second reports, with minutes of evidence and appendices – Evidence of John Robson, Secretary of UCL. pp. 462–466."But it is important to remember that, in March 1835, the House of Commons, by a large majority—246 to 136—adopted an address to the King, praying him to grant a charter of incorporation to "the University of London," which would have enabled it to grant degrees; and, consequently, that what the institution was asked to surrender in favour of the University founded in 1837 [sic], was not merely its designation, but the position which it had acquired through that vote of the House of Commons, and the importance of which had been distinctly recognized by successive Governments."
- Cobb Hearnshaw, F.J. (1929). The Centenary History of King's College London. London: G.G. Harrap & Company. pp. 67–68.
- "The Lancet vol. 1, Saturday September 29, 1832". The Lancet.
- Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science (1872). First, supplementary, and second reports, with minutes of evidence and appendices – Evidence of John Robson, Secretary of UCL. pp. 462–466.
- Harte, Negley (2010). University of London: An Illustrated History: 1836–1986. London: A&C Black. pp. 92–93.
- Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science (1872). First, supplementary, and second reports, with minutes of evidence and appendices – Evidence of John Robson, Secretary of UCL. pp. 462–466."Of course, the original title of University was unauthorised; it was a title which the founders of the institution had assumed, and did not confer the privileges of a University, that is to say, the power of granting degrees"
- Listing Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and London:
- Penny Cyclopaedia, 1843, vol. 27, p. 21;
- Political dictionary, 1846, vol. 2, p. 861;
- The Standard Library Cyclopedia, 1849, 1853 & 1860, vol. 4, p. 861;
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1860, vol. 21, p. 452;
- The National Encyclopædia, 1867, p. 350;;
- The People's Cyclopedia of Universal Knowledge, 1883, vol. 3, p. 1777;
- Chambers's Encyclopædia, 1885, vol. 12, p. 138
- The Students' Journal and Hospital Gazette, Sept. 22, 1883, p. 371;
- Alden's Manifold Cyclopedia of Knowledge and Language, 1892, vol. 38, p. 197;
- Johnson's Universal Cyclopedia, 1895, vol. 8, p.391
- "Landmarks". University College London. Archived from the original on 30 January 2008. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
- Grant, Malcolm (March 2005), The future of the University of London: a discussion paper from the Provost of UCL (PDF), pp. 3–6
- "UCL granted degree awarding powers". UCL. 2005-09-27.
- "Education (Recognised Bodies) Order 1997". : this was an Order made under the Education Reform Act 1988 that listed recognised degree awarding bodies in the UK
- "UCL unveils new academic dress". University College London. 2008-03-26. Retrieved 2014-12-29.
- The London University Calendar for the year 1832. London University (UCL). 1832.
- Greville, Charles C. F. (1874). The Greville Memoirs: A Journal of the Reigns of King George IV. and King William IV. Vol III. Longmans, Green, & Co. p. 82.
- Banerjee, Jacqueline. "The University of London: The Founding Colleges". Retrieved 26 May 2007.
- Cobb Hearnshaw, F.J. (1929). The Centenary History of King's College London. London: G.G. Harrap & Company. pp. 70–74.
- "FAQs 4. Did all students sit University of London examinations?". 175 years King's College: In the beginning... King's College London. Archived from the original on 2007-05-22. Retrieved 2006-11-10.
- "A brief history of the Associateship of Kings College" (PDF). AKC Alumni Group. 2012. Retrieved 2014-12-29.
- John Parker (1896). The Calendar of King's College, London. King's College London.
- "King's Governance". Retrieved 2015-12-29. Check date values in:
- "King's College London – Lions on the catwalk". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 2014-12-29.
- "There are nearly 200 years of history and tradition embedded within our title- we are the third oldest university in England." The Tab Kings 
- "As the third-oldest university in England, the College was founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829, receiving its royal charter the same year." KCL Conservative Society 
- "King's College historical podcast". Kcl.ac.uk. Archived from the original on
|archive-date=(help). Retrieved 2010-05-02.
- Durham University Commissioners (1863). Minutes of Evidence taken before the Durham University Commissioners. House of Commons. p. 119.
- "It is also a fact worthy of notice that the Dean and Chapter were endowed by Henry VIII, not only with the revenues of the Benedictine Priory at Durham, but also with those of the College connected with it in the University of Oxford. This College, though in existence at an earlier period, seems to have owed much of its prosperity to Bishops Richard de Bury and Hatfield, and, at the death of the latter prelate in 1381, is stated to have enjoyed a provision for 8 Fellows (one of whom was Warden or Prior), and 8 secular Scholars. It was dissolved at the Reformation on account of its connexion with the Priory of Durham; and its advowsons and other endowments were granted by Henry VIII to the new Dean and Chapter. This body, therefore, is the representative of the ancient College, as well as of the ancient Priory: and thus there is a peculiar fitness in their endeavour to replace the suppressed establishment for education in Oxford by the foundation of a new one of a similar nature at Durham." The Durham University Calendar for 1842. Durham University. 1842. pp. 1–2.
- "Calendar of the Charles Thorp Correspondence, THO/593". Durham University. Retrieved 2014-12-28.
- "London Standard, 14 December 1831". London Standard. 14 December 1831. Retrieved 2014-12-30.
- "An Act tto enable the Dean and Chapter of Durham to appropriate Part of the Property of their Church to the Establishment of a University in connexion therewith for the Advancement of Learning" Private Acts, 2&3 Gul. IV c.19 (1832)
- J. T. Fowler. Durham university; earlier foundations and present colleges. F. E. Robinson & co., 1904. Retrieved 2014-12-26.
- "Calendar of the Charles Thorp Correspondence, THO/170". Durham University. Retrieved 2014-12-28.
- "About Durham University: Royal Charter". Durham University. Retrieved 2014-12-26.
- "The University: The Founding of the University". The University. Durham University. Archived from the original on 2006-06-17. Retrieved 2006-11-10.
- "Statutes and Regulations: Preface". University of Oxford. Retrieved 2015-12-29. Check date values in:
- "nothing herein contained shall affect or interfere with the rights and privileges granted by charter or Act of Parliament to the University of Durham."
- "that the Bishop of Durham do in future hold the castle of Durham in trust for the University of Durham"
- Durham is described as having "been founded and established in connexion with the Cathedral Church at Durham under the Authority of an Act passed in the Second and Third years of the Reign of His said late Majesty [William IV]", noting also that " a Royal Charter of Incorporation had been granted to the University of Durham"; while London is said in the same paragraph to have "been constituted by the Royal Charter of His late Majesty King William the Fourth".
- "The University was established in 1834 by a Statute of the dean and chapter of the cathedral church of Durham, made in pursuance of an Act of Parliament of 1832, and was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1837 under the name of the 'Warden, Masters, and Scholars of the University of Durham.'"
- Hansard, House of Lords, 22 May 1832, col. 1215: "...[N]or ought the privilege of conferring degrees, if hereafter committed to the University by charter, to be thrown open indiscriminately to non-conformists of every description, in common with members of the Established Church." (Emphasis added.) Hansard website
- "Calendar of the Charles Thorp Correspondence, THO/226". Durham University. Retrieved 2014-12-28.
- University of London (1912). University of London – The Historical Record, 1836–1912. University of London Press. pp. 70–97.
- "It is not generally known, that no university whatever is entitled to confer degrees, by grant of any Charter whatever, the claim so to do being considered as incident to the name and title of University" "Hansard".
- "It will be necessary to examine this subject a little more minutely, and particularly with reference to the power of conferring degrees, and the nature of a university. The only place where I can find any legal discussion on matters so little brought under consideration as these, is the argument of Mr. Attorney General Yorke, in Dr. Bentley's case, which is reported in 2nd Lord Raymond, 1345 ... In this proposition of Mr. Yorke two principles are laid down. The first is that 'ing degrees flows from the Crown;' and the second is, that if 'a University be erected, the power of granting degrees is incidental to the grant.' ... The subject matter granted, is the power of covering degrees; an emanation, as Mr. Yorke expresses it, from the Crown. It is the concession of this power that constitutes the direct purpose and the essential character of a University."Charles Wetherell. Substance of the Speech of Sir Charles Wetherell: Before the Lords of the Privy Council, on the Subject of Incorporating the London University. pp. 77–80.
- "But when it has been seriously argued before the Privy Council by Sir Charles Wetherell, on behalf of the English Universities … that the simple fact of the crown incorporating an academy under the name of university, necessarily, and in spite of reservations, concedes to that academy the right of granting all possibly degrees; may when (as we are informed) the case itself has actually occurred, —the "Durham University," inadvertently, it seems, incorporated under that title, being in the course of claiming the exercise of this very privilege as a right, necessarily involved in the public recognition of the name : — in these circumstances we shall be pardoned a short excursus, in order to expose the futility of the basis on which this mighty edifice is erected."
- "Calendar of the Charles Thorp Correspondence, THO/214". Durham University. Retrieved 2014-12-28.
- University of London (1912). University of London – The Historical Record, 1836–1912. University of London Press. pp. 7–24.
- Harte, Negley (2010). University of London: An Illustrated History: 1836–1986. London: A&C Black. p. 90.
- "Victorian London – Education – Universities -University of London". Retrieved 2015-01-01. "UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, SOMERSET HOUSE. A government institution, established 1837" Peter Cunningham Hand-Book of London (1850), "University of London.-- Originally incorporated by Royal Charter in the first year of the reign of her present Majesty" arles Dickens, Jr. Dickens's Dictionary of London (1879)
- University of London (1912). University of London – The Historical Record, 1836–1912. University of London Press. pp. 36–47.
- F.M.G.Wilson (1995). Our Minerva: the men and politics of the University of London, 1836–1858. Athlone Press. pp. xv.
- University of London (1912). University of London – The Historical Record, 1836–1912. University of London Press. pp. 26–30.
- Harte, Negley (2010). University of London: An Illustrated History: 1836–1986. London: A&C Black. p. 120.
- Harte, Negley (2010). University of London: An Illustrated History: 1836–1986. London: A&C Black. p. 142.
- Wilson, F.M.G. (2004). The University of London, 1858–1900: The Politics of Senate and Convocation. Boydell Press. p. 1.
- Thompson, F.M.L. (1990). The University of London and the World of Learning, 1836–1986. A&C Black. p. 7.
- Wilson, F.M.G. (2004). The University of London, 1858–1900: The Politics of Senate and Convocation. Boydell Press. p. 8.
- Finch, Sir Ernest (1957). "The influence of the Hunters on medical education" (PDF). Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 20: 205–48. PMC 2413494. PMID 13412018.: Hunterian Oration 1957.
- "Joseph Jordan red plaque in Manchester". Open Plaques. Retrieved 22 September 2014.
- "Papers relating to Liverpool Royal Institution". Archives Hub. Retrieved 2015-01-01.
- "Record of Charters Granted". Privy Council. 2014-10-08. Retrieved 2015-01-01.
- See also Baker, J.H. (2011). "The third university 1450–1550: law school or finishing school?". In Archer, Jayne Elisabeth; Goldring, Elizabeth; Knight, Sarah. The Intellectual and Cultural World of the Early Modern Inns of Court. Manchester: Manchester University Press. pp. 8–24. ISBN 9780719082368.
- The London mechanics' register (Volume 4 ed.). Hunt & Clarke, Covent Garden. 1826. p. 210. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
- Edinburgh University was established by the Edinburgh Corporation under permission granted by their 1582 charter but do not possess a charter of their own. Sir Alexander Grant makes a case for a "lost charter" from c. 1583 in The Story of the University of Edinburgh During Its First Three Hundred Years.
- Opposition to the recognition of UCL as the "University of London" was three-fold: the universities of Oxford and Cambridge opposed its attempts to award degrees with similar titles to theirs, the Anglican establishment opposed its avowedly secular nature, and the teaching hospitals opposed it on the grounds that its teachers were also its examiners – The Lancet calling it "a student trap" and saying its diplomas "would not be worth sixpence". And everyone was opposed to its assumption of the title of "university" and the idea of a (technically for-profit) company setting up to offer degrees. The charter, when finally granted, removed the possibility of paying dividends to the proprietors (none were ever paid), although it left them still in ownership of the college.
- The King's College London School of Medicine has a much longer history with its St Thomas's Hospital Medical School arm being established in 1550, which would later lead to opposition to using "Est 1829" in the college logo.
- KCL was able to receive its charter quickly in part because it was not seeking to become a university, and in part because of its outlook on religion being an essential part of education – both in sharp contrast to its rival.The existence of King's also gave the establishment another excuse to deny UCL university status: it would mean doing the same for King's, creating two universities for one city. This eventually led to the compromise of forming the University of London to examine students from both colleges.
- Following the suppression of Durham College, Oxford at the Reformation, attempts to found a university at Durham took place during the reigns of Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell. Neither of these were successful. Despite early Durham University calendars drawing a connection between the suppressed college and the new university, and the claim by Charles Thorp, Archdeacon of Durham and first Warden of the University, that Durham University was the legitimate successor to the college, there is no legal link between the pre-Reformation Durham College and the current Durham University.
- In March 1834, Thorp received a letter from John Burder, the Bishop's London secretary, checking whether the proceedings regarding the university in Chapter were in writing under their common seal and with the Bishop's signature, which may have inspired the passing of this act.
- The only explicit mention of degree awarding powers in Durham's foundational documents is in the fundamental statute passed by the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral on 20 July 1835, which states "that the degrees in the various faculties shall be conferred by the Warden in Convocation". The royal charter confirms that the Dean and Chapter had been granted authority to make this statute by the 1832 Act, stating that it was made "by virtue, and in pursuance of the trusts and powers in the said Act of Parliament, and of every other power enabling them in that behalf". While deriving degree awarding powers from statutes made under an Act of Parliament rather than from royal charter is unusual, it is not unique. The statutes made by the Commissioners appointed under the University of London Act (1898), repealed all provisions of that university's royal charter except for its incorporation – including, therefore, the provisions granting degree awarding powers. After these statutes entered force in 1900, London's degree awarding powers derived from them rather than from its royal charter.
- The two differed on whether it was possible for the degree awarding powers of a university to be limited – UCL were requesting a charter with a restriction on granting degrees in theology, which Wetherell claimed was not possible