The capital's colleges may club together to win even more research cash by creating joint centres of excellence under plans being devised by London University's new vice-chancellor, Sir Graeme Davies.
In his first interview since he started the job last month, Sir Graeme told The THES that he hoped to build strategic alliances between the colleges that could result in joint submissions to future research assessment exercises. The idea will be presented to the heads of the University of London colleges next month.
Sir Graeme said he wanted to build on his experience as principal of Glasgow University, which recently teamed up with Edinburgh University to create a centre of research excellence in e-science.
He said: "We won the UK's e-science centre competition, which everyone had assumed would go to the golden triangle (Oxford, Cambridge and London). By collaborating, we made an overwhelming case.
"Strategic collaboration does not mean no competition: it's just that when competing on a national or international stage, it adds value through alliance."
In another radical departure, Sir Graeme also signalled that he was not averse to expanding the university and said that he would consider applications to join from non-member institutions.
He said he would not stand in the way of plans by the big London colleges to award their own degrees. University College London is the latest London University college to apply for its own degree-awarding powers, following in the footsteps of the London Business School, Imperial College London, King's College London and the London School of Economics.
Sir Graeme, a former vice-chancellor of Liverpool University and the first chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, also has plans that will benefit London University's smaller colleges.
He said: "Small colleges have disproportionate overhead costs. I want to sit down and see how the central university can help optimise value for money.
"We are looking at a hub-and-spoke model for human resources, including shared expertise on equal opportunities, disability and pensions that each small college cannot afford but which we can offer by maximising the service and optimising the cost.
"The role of the University of London is to enable individual colleges and institutes to maintain their culture and enhance their expertise while minimising their indirect costs. It's a pragmatic role but it's also a strategic role."