University of Westminster in London

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The University of Westminster (informally Westminster) is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom. Its origins go back to the foundation of the Royal Polytechnic Institution in 1838, and it was awarded university status in 1992.

The university's headquarters and original campus are based on Regent Street in the Westminster area of Central London, with additional campuses in the Fitzrovia, Marylebone and Harrow areas of London. The university also operates the Westminster International University in Tashkent in Uzbekistan and a satellite campus in Paris, France through the Diplomatic Academy of London.

Westminster currently serves more than 20,000 students from 150 countries and offers more than 500 courses and a broad range of research study options. These range from more than 150 Bachelor's degree combinations, and one-year intensively taught Master's degrees. MPhil and PhD degrees are also available in every academic department. Westminster had a total income of £171.25 million in 2009/10, of which £7.99 million was from research grants and contracts.

Westminster is a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Association of MBAs, EQUIS, the European University Association and Universities UK.



The Royal Polytechnic Institution opened in August 1838 to provide (in the words of its prospectus of 1837) “an institution where the Public, at little expense, may acquire practical knowledge of the various arts and branches of science connected with manufacturers, mining Operations and rural economy”. Sir George Cayley (1773–1857) the father of aeronautical engineering was the first chairman and, over the coming decades, the institution made a major contribution to the development of technical and scientific education. The Institution formally receiving its Royal charter in August 1839 housed a large exhibition hall, lecture theatre, and laboratories. Public attractions included exhibitions, working machines and models, scientific lectures, rides in a diving bell and, from 1839, demonstrations of photography. Early visitors included Prince Albert, under whose patronage the name changed in 1841 to the Royal Polytechnic Institution.

Professor Pepper, who became a director in the early 1850s, helped to establish a series of evening classes in educational and trade subjects. The Polytechnic organised an educational programme around the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the combination of education and entertainment captured the Victorian imagination.

Early Years

Quintin Hogg acquired the building at 309 Regent Street in 1881. His vision of 'The Polytechnic' which reopened the following year, was to educate "mind, body and spirit". He expanded the established role in applied science and engineering to encompass arts and humanities in a full social mission. As a result, the Polytechnic developed an international reputation and became a model for technical and engineering education as the model was replicated as a network of polytechnics across London and later the UK.

The building at 309 Regent Street was rebuilt in 1910-12 to reflect the needs of a growing institution whose student members exceeded 15,000. Pioneering work in emerging professional and commercial disciplines, alongside general interest subjects was the hallmark of the institution. Alfred Waterhouse, who designed the Natural History Museum, was president of the School of Architecture and Sir Charles Parsons of the School of Engineering.

After the First World War, the polytechnic offered degrees conferred by the University of London and its focus on the educational and social life of working people in London remained largely unchanged until the Second World War.

In 1924 a new school of management opened following the Industrial League and Council presenting a series of lectures on management and industry. Courses in journalism began in 1922 and the teaching of planning started in 1934. In the 1950s the institution became known nationally and internationally as the “Regent Street Polytechnic” and became a model for applied technological education.

Modern History

The polytechnic was the flagship of the post-war polytechnic movement and in 1970 amalgamated with the Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce to form the Polytechnic of Central London, followed in 1990 by integration with the Harrow College of Higher Education and its programmes in the creative arts and design. Degree-awarding authority resided with the UK council for national academic awards CNAA.

In June 1992 the Privy Council formally conferred university status with degree-awarding powers for taught courses and research degrees on the Polytechnic, whose name was changed to the University of Westminster. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II agreed to continue as the Patron of the University of Westminster.

In recent years the university has established Westminster Business School, the institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture, the Centre for the Study of Democracy and the Policy Studies Institute. The university operates a satellite campus in Paris through the Diplomatic Academy of London and in 2002 established the Westminster International University in Tashkent at the invitation of the government of Uzbekistan.

In recent years the university has attracted controversy for offering science degrees in subjects not widely considered as scientific. The university's Department of Herbal Medicine and Nutritional Therapy and the Department of Chinese and Complementary Therapies, both of which were based in the School of Life Sciences, offered courses in alternative medicine, and naturopathy which were criticised in the journal Nature for providing science degrees "without the science". These departments closed in 2009 and the associated courses were taken on by the Department of Complementary Medicines. The number of courses offered in these subjects has gradually been reduced, but as of 2012 the university still offers degrees in traditional chinese medicine, acupuncture and herbal medicine.


Westminster has four main campuses, three in central London: Regent Street, New Cavendish Street and Marylebone and the fourth in Harrow.

The university's headquarters is at 309 Regent Street in the West End of London where it has served as a centre for public education for over 170 years. First realised on the 14 December 1837 by Charles Payne and William Mountford Nurse, it was opened to the public in August 1838 and is known for opening the first photographic studio in Europe, and being the first to show moving pictures to a paying British public. The Regent Street campus comprises a group of buildings clustered around the historic headquarters of 309 Regent Street. These include the Wells Street buildings and the Little Titchfield Street building which houses the library for the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages and the School of Law.

The Marylebone campus is a striking white building on Marylebone Road directly opposite Madame Tussaud's and Baker Street underground station. Built in the 1960’s it is home to the School of Architecture and the Built Environment, Westminster Business School, the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture, the Students’ Union and Inter:mission bar; as well as the P3 exhibition area. P3 is a 14000 sqft space constructed in 2008 from the vast former concrete construction hall at the Marylebone campus and hosts major events and exhibitions including London Fashion Week 2009, the Topshop Unique catwalk 2009 and the Diesel: U Music World Tour Party. The location of the Marylebone Campus is accessible by public transport and is adjacent to Paddington Gardens and a few minutes' walk from Regent's Park.

The Cavendish campus is a modern glass and steel building in New Cavendish Street (Fitzrovia) and adjacent to the BT Tower. It houses science, engineering and computer laboratories and the Policy Studies Institute. It is close to Warren Street, Great Portland Street and Goodge Street underground stations and is a short walk away from UCL and SOAS.

The Harrow Campus includes a Business School and a Media School. It is also home to London Gallery West which exhibits a broad, exciting and controversial mix of contemporary media, art and design work. The nearest Tube station to the Harrow campus is Northwick Park on the Metropolitan Line which takes 18 minutes from Baker Street.

Organisation and administration


In the financial year ended 31 July 2010, Westminster had a total income (including share of joint ventures) of £171.25 million (2008/09 - £167.55 million) and total expenditure of £174.69 million (2008/09 - £163.87 million). Key sources of income included £70.22 million from funding council grants (2008/09 - £69.08 million), £71.54 million from tuition fees and support grants (2008/09 - £65.14 million), £7.99 million from research grants and contracts (2008/09 - £6.86 million), £516,000 from endowment and investment income (2008/09 - £1.19 million) and £20.99 million from other income (2008/09 - £25.27 million).<ref name=annrep/> During the 2009/10 financial year Westminster had a capital expenditure of £2.33 million (2008/09 - £1.66 million).<ref name=annrep/>

At year end Westminster had reserves and endowments of £30.04 million (2008/09 - £28.80 million) and total net assets excluding pensions liabilities of £144.76 million (2008/09 - £146.02 million).<ref name=annrep/>

Coat of Arms

The university’s heritage is reflected in its coat of arms, the portcullis is the symbol of Westminster whilst the open book symbolises learning. The Queen, as a patron, is represented by the Tudor rose, one of the royal emblems. And the motto of the university, heavily influenced by Quintin Hogg and his Young Men’s Christian Institute remains as “The Lord is our Strength.”



The university offers a broad range of study options tailored to its mission of “educating for professional life”. It has 44 departments and 65 research centres across seven schools which form the hub of its academic activity:

  • The School of Architecture and the Built Environment
  • The School of Electronics and Computer Science
  • The School of Law
  • The School of Life Sciences
  • The School of Media, Arts and Design which houses the Journalism Department and China Media Centre
  • The School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages
  • Westminster Business School


In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, Westminster was ranked 2nd for Communications, Cultural and Media Studies research, 6th for Art and Design research, in addition to the university performing equally strong in Architecture and the Built Environment, and Geography and Environmental studies.

Student life

Students' Union

] The University of Westminster Students' Union provides a range of activities for its members. It is based at the Marylebone site, next to Baker Street tube station, where Inter:Mission, a social venue costing £750,000, was launched in 2006. The union also operates another bar, The Undercroft, and a night club, Area 51, located on the university's Harrow site.

The union was founded in 1966 as The Polytechnic Students' Union. Its first President was Owen Spencer-Thomas (1966–1967),

The union has hosted to numerous musical events and gigs including Fleetwood Mac, and most notably the first and only encounter between Cream and Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

Smoke Radio is a student-run radio station at the university. The station broadcasts online, from a studio located in the Media Arts and Design campus of the university, located in Harrow. Smoke Radio is a member of the Student Radio Association.

Smoke Radio was established in 2004 and by September 2005 the station took to running a 24 hour playout system and began a broadcasting a schedule of live programmes during the week.

In 2006 Smoke Radio had won awards at the Student Radio Awards, including the Gold Award for "Best Journalistic Programming" and two Bronze Awards for "Best Marketing and Station Sound" and "Best Station 2006". At the 2008 Student Radio Awards, Smoke Radio also picked up a Bronze Award for "Best Interview", for an interview with British humorist, Danny Wallace; and the Gold Award for "Best Newcomer" was awarded to the first-year work of Dan Roberts.

In 2007 Smoke Radio won the Silver Award for "Best Station 2007" at the Student Radio Awards, and then won the award again in 2008, making Smoke Radio the UK's second best Student Radio Station for two consecutive years.

At the 2009 Student Radio Awards Smoke Radio won two Gold Awards for "Best Marketing and Branding" and "Best Outside Broadcast".

The Smoke Newspaper is the official newspaper of the University of Westminster's Students' Union. It was originally printed in 1992 as a magazine. In 2006, The Smoke was switched to a newspaper format, initially being published fortnightly during term time. The newspaper currently features News, Comment, Politics, Media Business, Film, Music, Arts and Culture, Fashion, Sports, Science and Technology, Listings and Comic Strips.

Student housing

Westminster has several halls of residence throughout London, including Alexander Fleming House near Old Street, Furnival House in Highgate; one hall is based at the Marylebone campus, Wigram House in Victoria and as of September 2005 there are two based at the Harrow campus. A UNITE accommodation, named Beaumont Court has been built near Euston however it is not exclusive to students at Westminster. Some students are also selected to live in International Students House, London.


Sport has always played an important part of life at the university. The athletic club, the Harriers, was established in 1883 and was for many years the largest athletics club in the country. In 1908, the polytechnic organized the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympic Games.

From 1898, the polytechnic awarded the Studd Trophy, an annual trophy for the best sports performance. Over the years, the award was given to sportsmen from various disciplines, such as swimming, boxing and cycling, but the majority of awards have been given to athletes.

Noted award holders include: Willie Applegarth (1912/13), Olympic medallist sprinters Albert Hill (1919/20), Olympic gold medallist and middle-distance runner Harry Edward (1922), Olympic sprint bronze medallist Alan Pascoe (1971/72/73/74/75), hurdler

The university has grounds in Chiswick on the Thames (hired by the BBC to capture the end of The Boat Race), with boat house, tennis courts, athletics track and about 12 pitches. There are sports pitches and a sports hall at the Harrow campus whilst the Regent Campus has a gym, badminton courts and offers sports, martial arts and yoga classes.

The other sports with which the university has a strong association are football, rugby, cycling and water polo.

Notable people

Notable faculty and staff

  • Nabil Ayad, Director of the Diplomatic Academy of London
  • Philip Bagwell, Labour and Transport Historian
  • Richard Barbrook,
  • Cherie Blair, Senior barrister, wife of Tony Blair
  • Derek Bryan, Diplomat and Lecturer in Chinese
  • Hugo de Burgh, Director of the China Media Centre
  • Richard Burton, Journalist
  • Nina Fishman, industrial and labour historian
  • Nicholas Garnham, Emeritus Professor in the field of Media Studies
  • Andrew Groves, Fashion designer
  • Mayer Hillman, Senior Fellow Emeritus at the Policy Studies Institute
  • Peter H Millard, President of the UK Nosokinetics Group
  • Chantal Mouffe, Political theorist
  • Walter Nurnberg, Industrial photographer
  • Charles Parsons Inventor of the steam turbine
  • Ezra Pound, Poet
  • Martin Rowson, Political cartoonist and novelist
  • Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History
  • Mitra Tabrizian, Photographer
  • Edmund de Waal, Ceramic artist
  • Alfred Waterhouse, Architect and designer of the Natural History Museum
  • Brian Winston, Emmy award winning documentary script writer

Notable alumni

The university has produced several notable alumni including government ministers, ambassadors, judges, a Nobel Prize winner, and leaders who have been influential in the fields of science, literature, music, sport, architecture and the visual arts.

Further reading

  • The Education of the Eye: History of the Royal Polytechnic Institution 1838-1881 Granta Editions (November 2008)
  • The History of the University of Westminster 1882-1992 Granta Editions (forthcoming)

See also

  • Education in London

External links