Introduction

November 9, 2006

Few capital cities can match London for its array of higher education institutions.

Rome's La Sapienza University and Mexico City's National Autonomous University are huge, but only post-Sorbonne Paris gets near.

Capital cities are places of extremes - of wealth and poverty; of grandeur and squalor; of civilisation and anomie. Their universities lure the brightest and best, while their darker recesses hold the challenges of poverty, of disease and of the dysfunctions that provide fertile ground for researchers.

A critical examination of economic and social issues is the natural focus for academic inquiry. If academics and their universities are to draw on public resources, the social compact requires that they put at least as much back into the communities in which they function.

In this, London is no exception. It has one of the greatest concentrations of universities in the world - both in the colleges of the University of London and the former polytechnics that emerged from the Victorian fascination with industry.

London's universities span the city in a web of undergraduate teaching, adult learning and research. The challenges they face - economic, technological and social - are immense.

This special supplement examines how effectively London is responding to these challenges and explores, too, the lure the city has had for generations of overseas students.

The future of London's higher education will be shaped by the relationship between the city and its community of academics and students.

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