No other city offers such a vast array of study opportunities, from foundation degrees to PhDs, but it is London's international links that cement the capital's reputation, writes David Latchman
London's world-class cluster of higher education institutions can meet whatever knowledge demands an individual, organisation or business places on them in terms of size, location or specialism. The capital is home to some of the largest and most prestigious multi-faculty and multi-site universities, ranking in the top echelon worldwide, and also to highly specialist single-site colleges of international renown. They are to be found in both inner and outer London. They excel in every subject from science and medicine to art, design and education. They cater for all levels of commerce and culture - from global networks to individual skill and enterprise, from established fields to newly emerging markets.
Central London alone is home to 20 establishments, including multi-faculty institutions such as University College London, King's College London and Imperial College London, but their presence spans the region - from the University of East London in the east to Royal Holloway, University of London, in the west, and from Middlesex University in the north to Kingston University in the south.
Students may choose from more than 30,000 higher education courses - from accountancy to zoology - and at any level - from foundation degrees to postgraduate programmes.
Higher education in London is a major business in its own right. Universities and colleges have an annual turnover of nearly £10 billion, or 4 per cent of the region's gross domestic product. Across the capital they employ some 55,000 staff, including academics, administrators, cleaners, counsellors and gardeners. For every one of these jobs, universities create another job elsewhere - more often than not outside London. Wherever there is a university or college, there will be businesses and entrepreneurs who rely on the intellectual outputs and, increasingly, on the facilities that only higher education can offer.
This is where higher education in the capital comes into its own, because London's universities are not simply a random array of institutions. Each has evolved uniquely with missions that fill vital niches in the national economy. Areas of research excellence map closely on to the key employment sectors of London and the UK - in business, finance and economics, healthcare, education, information technology, biotechnology and in the creative industries, such as music, fashion and art and design. In parallel, the capital's world-class teaching and training is helping to prepare the next generation of skilled workers, not just in the highly visible areas of business, but in crucial key-worker jobs, such as teaching, nursing and science. This activity is underpinned by a growing network of partnerships and collaborations that span the region, the nation and increasingly the globe, making London the most interconnected city in the world.
The capital is endowed with a unique group of vibrant higher education institutions, knowledge infrastructure, skilled individuals and renowned entrepreneurial spirit. It is the working combinations of these elements that make London different. It is a symbiosis that is underestimated at our peril, for it cannot be recreated.
David Latchman is master of Birkbeck, University of London, and chair of London Higher.