Education focus on London: Bright lights, big city

London is a vibrant place to study - but get to know her before taking the plunge.
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The Independent Online
Samuel Johnson's words still ring true today: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." Students from all around the world come to live and study in the capital city and enjoy its cultural and cosmopolitan life. There are approximately 50 colleges and university schools in Greater London with well over 100,000 students studying a huge range of degree subjects.

Paula Shutkever is the editor of Student UK, the entertainment and information website for students set up in association with UCAS, and she finds that people from a wide variety of backgrounds are attracted to the vibrant, eclectic, student life that London has to offer. "Students enjoy the huge cultural choice that is on offer in the cinema, theatre, music and the arts, and they are also attracted to the media opportunities and the work opportunities in London." For potential students who want to find out about what it is like to attend college in London she recommends that they come on line ( and chat in the website "chat area" to students who are already at university in London, or post any queries on the website bulletin board.

One of London's older colleges, Imperial College, is situated in South Kensington in the heart of London's cultural centre for arts, science and music. Students at Imperial College, which is considered a "centre of excellence", study "ground-breaking" science, technology and medicine and live in a residential area that, according to Melanie Thody, the School Liaison Officer, is "exciting and safe". All first year students are guaranteed accommodation in a hall of residence on the campus site in Kensington and the college offers membership to over 200 clubs and societies covering a wide range of interests. The college has a very good system for monitoring the academic and personal welfare of its students and the students' alternative motto is "work very hard, play even harder and do both well".

Students at the London School of Economics also have a good reputation for working hard and playing hard. Tim Rogers is Manager of Student Recruitment at the LSE and says he is "absolutely flabbergasted by the fact that most students do not feel lost or overwhelmed by the pace of life in London - they seem to hit the ground running even if they are from the back of beyond, London is their campus and they explore everything." Having said that, he points out that "unfortunately there are always going to be some students who can't cope with university life and who are just hit by everything, but that is true of all universities wherever they are situated."

The LSE, which has 6,000 students, has 18 academic departments ranging in subject from sociology to anthropology and international history, and one of its most popular courses is in international relations and government. All undergraduates are guaranteed accommodation in their first year in the halls of residence in the Aldwych, and there is an active students' union organising social events.

Students who come to study in London usually take advantage of the stimulating social life that is all around them. As Tim Rogers says: "people don't come to London by accident, they know what they are getting into. They know London is more expensive than other cities but because of the huge student community they soon find out they can go out and have fun and do things relatively cheaply because everywhere has deals for students." The centre of London is stuffed with bars, cafes, restaurants and theatres that offer students cut-price deals. Like many London colleges, the LSE tries to give potential students an idea of studying in London by holding an open day.

The University of North London also has an open day every year. First established as a polytechnic in 1896, it became a university in 1996 and now teaches over 100 undergraduate subjects and 50 postgraduate subjects. There are over 15,000 students studying in the four faculties of business studies, science computing and engineering, humanities and teacher education, and environmental and social studies. John Callen is the head of marketing and communication at the University of North London and he describes how the university "makes a particular effort in trying to relate its courses to the world of work". Training is offered in all the undergraduate courses and there are opportunities for everyone to study a second modern European language. The curriculum also provides students with "work related skills, such as presentation, communication and teamwork and we aim to provide as much support as possible for students by helping them to gain `real world' experience with work placements".

There are plenty of social activities for all the students and a new student centre, the Rocket complex, has just been built in the main building on Holloway Road with a "great bar and cafe". John Callen advises would- be students to "come along and take a look at the university and the departments but also look at the kind of people here and try and get a feel for the place and see if it feels right for you."

Matt Hyde is president of the University of London Union which has 100,000 members and he agrees that "London is a fantastic place because there are so many opportunities - whatever your interest it will be catered for - but there is the problem of the cost that goes with living in London so students need to budget properly". ULU is working to make the situation easier for London students and last year they set up a deal with London Transport which is in operation now for 1999 whereby students aged between 18-24 get 30 per cent off monthly or seasonal travel across the zones on all London Transport.

Accommodation is always expensive and Matt Hyde warns that "students do get a bit of a raw deal from private landlords who always charge a lot". He advises students to get in touch with their accommodation office and to live in halls of residence for the first year "as it is a good way to meet people and save some money". If students make the most of their time in London, he thinks "the opportunities are absolutely incredible and they will have a brilliant three or four years living here".