King’s London rebrand plan sparks uproar

Students and alumni of King’s College London have reacted with horror after the university announced it will change its name to “King’s London”.

December 16, 2014

From February, the central London university will start to be known as “King’s London”, it was announced on 16 December.

The name-change follows consultation with staff, student and alumni over the past 18 months and is designed to remove confusion among prospective students and parents over whether King’s is a college or university, a spokeswoman said.

In an email to staff and students on 16 December, King’s principal Ed Byrne calls the rebrand “a very modest change similar to how several other large London university institutions are now presenting themselves”.

But students have been quick to denounce the plans.

Since news of the name change broke on 15 December, more than 6,000 people have signed a petition in less than 24 hours, calling the rebrand “bizarre” and “ridiculous”.

The cost of the redesign – which has been put at an estimated £300,000 – is also labelled in the petition as “an obscene amount of money…which could be spent on improving student life at King’s”.

“Not only does this undermine almost 200 years of tradition, as well as sabotaging a worldwide reputation built on the name King’s College London, but it serves as a huge and unnecessary expense,” said the petition’s founder Emily Braddock, a second-year theology student.

The petition also dispute claims by King’s and its students’ union that it had consulted with students about the rebrand, saying “it seems as if the majority of the student population at King’s College London have only just heard about such a move”.

Various commenters on the petition also criticised the wisdom of removing the college moniker, with Reece Warren claiming that “King’s London sounds like more like an aftershave than a credible university”. Martijn Wallage agreed, stating that “the proposed new name lacks a noun to indicate that this is a university”. Reehan Aslam claimed that “Kings London sounds more like a train station than a world renowned university”.

Professor Byrne said the university would keep King’s College London for legal documents, academic citations and the awarding of degrees, but that “introducing the new brand is one part of a process of incremental change at King’s to improve our performance in both education and research as we aspire to be universally recognised as one of the world’s great universities”.

King’s College London, often abbreviated to ‘KCL’, is well known to the academic community and to most students in the UK,” he said.

“However, our research conducted over the last 18 months with potential students, parents, staff, students and alumni, revealed that our current name was causing considerable confusion: is King’s a residential college, is it an academic college akin to the colleges of Oxbridge, or is it an educational institution of some other type such as a further education college?

“Internationally, there was further misunderstanding because ‘college’ is not a widely understood term in many countries,” he added.

Professor Byrne, who took over at King’s in August, admitted that many staff and students had an emotional connection to the term “college”, but he believed that “in today’s highly competitive global marketplace, King’s needs to be bold about its ambitions and shout about its many achievements”.

“The purpose of a very modest repositioning is to deal with these concerns sensitively and constructively,” he said.

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Reader's comments (7)

My previous critique here of King's College London sad present situation KL's management is certainly aware of the ridicule that ensued when another University management wanted to strike out the term University from its title (mimicking the wish of the managerial types at KL to eliminate collegiality from the academic institution). It is pompous that Ed Byrne et al. consider changing the name of KCL is open to them. It is prime time to start calling for Ed Byrne's resignation.
Perhaps they know something we don't. 18th December: King's London announced that the astoundingly poor REF results for KCL clearly had nothing to do with them, as KCL no longer existed...
Professor Byrne “in today’s highly competitive global marketplace, King’s needs to be bold about its ambitions and shout about its many achievements”. What this statement overlooks is that there is already an educational programme based in London called Kings London ( with which King's College London competes in international markets. This will doubtless lead to confusion among prospective students and hurt, rather than help, King's London's ability to compete in Professor Byrne's "highly competitive global marketplace"
Consultation? No. As a senior academic at King's College London, I can confirm that there was in fact no meaningful consultation about this with the staff. So, not only is this "re-branding" of our college name a spectacular, ocean-going bad idea, it is also another example of the high-handed, top-down senior management style that has become such an unwelcome feature of life at KCL. It's that which needs to be changed, not our name.
I was about to scorn the idea that somehow 'King's College London' confuses potential applicants who can't understand what it is - surely the same name has hardly affected the reputations of University College London, Imperial College London, and (perhaps more confusingly) the London School of Economics, for instance. But then I remembered my own ignorance about the UK higher education sector at the time of applying as a potential undergraduate. In fact I had considered King's, but dismissed it as an option after learning that its history department did not specify any minimum grade requirement - this compounded my idea that it was some sort of bizarre further education college, and I moved on to other prospectuses - there being a considerable amount to get through. People (particularly reputation-conscious undergrads) will always be resistant to change; while I was at Exeter's Cornwall Campus - itself a source of confusion - the neighbouring institution, University College Falmouth, rebranded itself Falmouth University, which was first panned but very soon accepted. But nevertheless, 'King's London' is ridiculous and makes no sense (is it 'The King's London'? Or, 'The King is London'..?). I suspect it may be an example of how looking at something for long enough can convince one that it works. Why not, 'King's University, London'? It would seem simple, but brings forth what I think is the real issue here - the confusing and perhaps doomed nature of the collegiate University of London.
How very sad and how very arrogant of the College's current management. What makes them think they have the right to overturn 185 years of tradition on a marketing whim!!!
From my perspective it is good that Stevie MacNeice made a wrong prediction and King's College London was ranked together with the elite institutions in the UK, as it surely deserves. I invariably visited from the East End UCL, KCL and Imperial College, while working at Queen Mary and at least in my field within Biology they all hosted beautiful science. What is troubling is seeing appalling management receiving credit - not for the deaths of their academics, the premature termination of careers, the degradation of academic standards, public disservice, promotion of unfairness etc. - but instead being ranked highly in a government-sponsored quality-control exercise. Somehow those (managers) who most accutely threaten academic excellence and human progress are permitted to play politics on the backs of scientists, students etc. This cannot be right and must change. I understand plans to change the name of Kings College London are being withdrawn. If true, it is a good sign. Resistance to tyranny should grow and academics should reclaim their universities. Alternatively they should follow management instructions and be happy (not a joke, the "instruction" did take place, guess where)

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