University of Leicester

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University of Leicester
Seal of the University of Leicester
Motto Latin: Ut Vitam Habeant
Motto in English
So that they may have life
Type public research university
Established1921 – Leicestershire and Rutland University College
1957 – gained university status by royal charter
Endowment £20.0 million (2020) [1]
Budget £323.1 million (2019–20) [1]
Chancellor David Willetts [2]
Vice-Chancellor Nishan Canagarajah
Visitor The Queen
Academic staff
1,705 (2018/19) [3]
Administrative staff
2,205 (2018/19) [3]
Students16,180 (2019/20) [4]
Undergraduates 11,400 (2019/20) [4]
Postgraduates 4,780 (2019/20) [4]
England, UK

52°37′17″N1°07′28″W / 52.62139°N 1.12444°W / 52.62139; -1.12444 Coordinates: 52°37′17″N1°07′28″W / 52.62139°N 1.12444°W / 52.62139; -1.12444
CampusUrban parkland
Affiliations ACU
M5 Universities
Universities UK

The University of Leicester ( /ˈlɛstər/ ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ) LES-tər) is a public research university based in Leicester, England. The main campus is south of the city centre, adjacent to Victoria Park. The university's predecessor, University College, Leicester, gained university status in 1957.


The university had an income of £323.1 million in 2019/20, of which £57 million was from research grants. [1]

The university received media attention for the invention of genetic fingerprinting, and for contributing to the discovery and identification of the remains of King Richard III. [5]


Desire for a university

The Fielding Johnson Building (built 1837) Fielding Johnson Building, University of Leicester.jpg
The Fielding Johnson Building (built 1837)

The first serious suggestions for a university in Leicester began with the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society (founded at a time when "philosophical" broadly meant what "scientific" means today). [6] With the success of Owen's College in Manchester, and the establishment of the University of Birmingham in 1900, and then of Nottingham University College, it was thought that Leicester ought to have a university college too. From the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century university colleges could not award degrees and had to be associated with universities that had degree-giving powers. Most students at university colleges took examinations set by the University of London.

In the late 19th century the co-presidents of the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society, the Revered James Went, headmaster of the Wyggeston Boys' School, and J. D. Paul, regularly called for the establishment of a university college [7] [8] However, no private donations were forthcoming, and the Corporation of Leicester was busy funding the School of Art and the Technical School. The matter was brought up again by Dr Astley V. Clarke (1870–1945) in 1912. Born in Leicester in 1870, he had been educated at Wyggeston Grammar School and the University of Cambridge before receiving medical training at Guy's Hospital. He was the new President of the Literary and Philosophy society. Reaction was mixed, with some saying that Leicester's relatively small population would mean a lack of demand. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, talk of a university college subsided. In 1917 the Leicester Daily Post urged in an editorial that something of more practical utility than memorials ought to be created to commemorate the war dead. With the ending of the war both the Post and its rival the Leicester Mail encouraged donations to form the university college. Some suggested that Leicester should join forces with Nottingham, Sutton Bonington and Loughborough to create a federal university college of the East Midlands, but nothing came of this proposal.


The old asylum building had often been suggested as a site for the new university, and after it was due to be finished being used as a hospital for the wounded, Astley Clarke was keen to urge the citizens and local authorities to buy it. Fortunately, Clarke quickly learned the building had already been bought by Thomas Fielding Johnson, a wealthy philanthropist who owned a worsted manufacturing business. He had bought 37 acres of land for £40,000 and intended not only to house the college, but also the boys' and girls' grammar schools. Further donations soon topped £100,000: many were given in memory of loved ones lost during the war, while others were for those who had taken part and survived. King George V gave his blessing to the scheme after a visit to the town in 1919. [9]

YearNo of students [10]

Talk turned to the curriculum with many arguing that it should focus on Leicester's chief industries hosiery, boots and shoes. Others had higher hopes than just technical training. The education acts of 1902 and 1918, which brought education to the masses was also thought to have increased the need for a college, not least to train the new teachers that were needed. Talk of a federal university soured and the decision was for Leicester to become a stand-alone college. In 1920, the college appointed its first official. W. G. Gibbs, a long-standing supporter of the college while editor of the Leicester Daily Post, was nominated as Secretary. On 9 May 1921, Dr R. F. Rattray (1886–1967) [11] was appointed principal, aged 35. Rattray was an impressive academic. Having gained a first class English degree at Glasgow, he studied at Manchester College, Oxford. He then studied in Germany, and secured his PhD at Harvard. After that, he worked as a Unitarian minister. Rattray was to teach Latin and English. He recruited others including Miss Measham to teach Botany, Miss Sarson to teach geography, and Miss Chapuzet to teach French. [12] In all, 14 people started at the university when it opened its doors in October 1921: the principal, the secretary, 3 lecturers and nine students (eight women and one man). Two types of students were expected, around 100–150 teachers in training, and undergraduates hoping to sit the external degrees of London University. A students union was formed in 1923–24 with a Miss Bonsor as its first president. [13]

In 1927, after it became University College, Leicester, students sat for the examinations for external degrees of the University of London. Two years later, it merged with the Vaughan Working Men's College, which had been providing adult education in Leicester since 1862. [14] In 1931, Dr Rattray resigned as principal. He was replaced in 1932 by Frederick Attenborough, who was the father of David and Richard Attenborough. He was succeeded by Charles Wilson in 1952.

University status to modern day

Archaeologists working on the site of Richard III's grave, in the former Greyfriars Church, in September 2012 Archaeologist working in Trench.jpg
Archaeologists working on the site of Richard III's grave, in the former Greyfriars Church, in September 2012

In 1957, the University College was granted its Royal Charter, and has since then had the status of a university with the right to award its own degrees. The Percy Gee Student Union building was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 9 May 1958. [15]

Leicester University won the first ever series of University Challenge , in 1963. The university's motto Ut Vitam Habeant –"so that they may have life", is a reflection of the war memorial origins of its formation. It is believed to have been Rattray's suggestion. [16]

The university medical school, Leicester Medical School, opened in 1971.

In 1994, the University of Leicester celebrated winning the Queen's Anniversary Prize for its work in Physics & Astronomy.[ citation needed ] The prize citation reads: "World-class teaching, research and consultancy programme in astronomy and space and planetary science fields. Practical results from advanced thinking". [17]

In 2011, the university was selected as one of four sites for national high performance computing (HPC) facilities for theoretical astrophysics and particle physics. An investment of £12.32 million, from the Government's Large Facilities Capital Fund, together with investment from the Science and Technology Facilities Council and from universities contribute to a national supercomputer. [18]

In September 2012, a ULAS team exhumed the body of King Richard III, discovering it in the former Greyfriars Friary Church in the city of Leicester. As a result of that success Prof King was asked to investigate whether a skeleton found in Jamestown was that of George Yeardley, the 1st colonial governor of Virginia and founder of the Virginia General Assembly. [19]

In January 2017, Physics students from the University of Leicester made national news when they revealed their predictions on how long it would take a zombie apocalypse to wipe out humanity. They calculated that it would take just 100 days for zombies to completely take over earth. At the end of the 100 days, the students predicted that just 300 humans would remain alive and without infection. [20]

In January 2021, around 200 UCU members at the university passed a no-confidence motion in Vice Chancellor Nishan Canagarajah because of proposed cuts putting 145 staff members at risk of redundancy. There was anger at his claim that redundancies are needed to "continue to deliver excellence". [21] In April, the UCU urged academics to boycott the university due to the planned redundancies, including encouraging people to not apply for jobs at Leicester or collaborate on new research projects. [22]


University of Leicester seen from Victoria Park - left to right: the Engineering Building, the Attenborough Tower, the Charles Wilson Building. University of Leicester towers 2010.jpg
University of Leicester seen from Victoria Park – left to right: the Engineering Building, the Attenborough Tower, the Charles Wilson Building.

The main campus is a mile south of the city centre, adjacent to Victoria Park and Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College. The skyline of the university is punctuated by three distinctive, towering, buildings from the 1960s: the Department of Engineering, the Attenborough Tower and the Charles Wilson Building.

Fielding Johnson Building

The Fielding Johnson Building was designed by William Parsons in a late Georgian provincial style as the Leicestershire and Rutland County Asylum. From 1921 the building was home to most of the university departments until purpose-built accommodation was created, and it was renamed the Fielding Johnson Building in 1964. It now houses the university's administration offices, the Faculty of Law and a lecture theatre. [23]

Attenborough Tower

The Attenborough Tower, home of many of the university's arts departments Attenborough Tower, Leicester University.jpg
The Attenborough Tower, home of many of the university's arts departments

The 18-storey Attenborough Tower is home to the College of Social Sciences and has undergone extensive renovation.

Engineering Building

The Engineering Building was the first major building by British architects James Stirling and James Gowan. This Grade II* listed building [24] comprises workshops and laboratories at ground level, and a tower containing offices and lecture theatres.

Other buildings

The brutalist Charles Wilson Building by Denys Lasdun Charles Wilson Building from Victoria Park.jpg
The brutalist Charles Wilson Building by Denys Lasdun

Opposite the Fielding Johnson Building are the Astley Clarke Building, home to the School of Economics, and the University Sports Centre.

The Ken Edwards Building, built in 1995, lies adjacent to the Fielding Johnson Building and is home to the School of Management.

Built in 1957, the Percy Gee Building is home to Leicester University's Students' Union. Percy Gee was one of the first treasurers of the University College.

The David Wilson Library was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 4 December 2008, following an extensive refurbishment with a budget of £32 million. [25]

The Bennett Building, Physics and Astronomy Building, the Chemistry Building and the Adrian Building lie beyond the Charles Wilson Building. Across University Road lies the Maurice Shock and Hodgkin Buildings, home to Leicester's Medical School.

The Adrian Building was built in 1967 and designed by Courtald Technical Services which became W.F Johnson & Partners. [26] It was named after Edgar Adrian the first chancellor of the university (1957–1971). The Charles Wilson Building was designed by Denys Lasdun and completed in 1967.

Further along University Road and on Salisbury Road and Regents Road are the Department of Education and the Fraser Noble Building.

On Lancaster Road there is the Attenborough Arts Centre, the university's arts centre.

Leicester's halls of residence are noteworthy: many of the halls (nearly all located in Oadby) date from the early 1900s and were the homes of Leicester's wealthy industrialists.


In recent years, the university has disposed of some of its poorer quality property in order to invest in new facilities, and is currently undergoing a £300+ million redevelopment. [ citation needed ] The new John Foster Hall of Residence opened in October 2006. The David Wilson Library, twice the size of the previous University Library, opened on 1 April 2008 and a new biomedical research building (the Henry Wellcome Building) has already been constructed. A complete revamp of the Percy Gee Student Union building was completed in September 2010, and another is underway, due for completion in spring 2020. [27] Nixon Court was extended and refurbished in 2011.


The university's academic schools and departments are organised into colleges. In August 2015, the colleges were further restructured with the merging of Social Sciences and Arts, Humanities and Law to give the following structure: [28]

College of Life Sciences

The college has the following academic schools: [29]

The research departments and institutes:

Leicester Medical School

The university is home to a large medical school, Leicester Medical School, which opened in 1971. The school was formerly in partnership with the University of Warwick, and the Leicester-Warwick medical school proved to be a success in helping Leicester expand, and Warwick establish. The partnership ran the end of its course towards the end of 2006 and the medical schools became autonomous institutions within their respective universities.[ citation needed ]

College of Science and Engineering

The college comprises the following departments: [30]

There are also interdisciplinary research centres for Space Research, Climate Change Research, Mathematical/Computational Modelling and Advanced Microscopy.


The Grade II* listed Engineering Building University of Leicester Engineering Building from Victoria Park.jpg
The Grade II* listed Engineering Building

The department offers MEng and BEng degrees in Aerospace Engineering, Embedded Systems Engineering, Communications and Electronic Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and General Engineering. Each course is accredited by the relevant professional institutions. The department also offers MSc courses.[ citation needed ]

Physics and Astronomy

The department has around 350 undergraduate students, following either BSc (three-year) or MPhys (four-year) degree courses, and over 70 postgraduate students registered for a higher degree. [31]

The main Physics building accommodates several research groups—Radio and Space Plasma Physics (RSPP), X-ray and Observational Astronomy (XROA), and Theoretical Astrophysics (TA)—as well as centres for supercomputing, microscopy, Gamma and X-ray astronomy, and radar sounding, and the Swift UK Data Centre. A purpose built Space Research Centre houses the Space Science and Instrumentation (SSI) group and provides laboratories, clean rooms and other facilities for instrumentation research, Earth Observation Science (EOS) and the Bio-imaging Unit. The department also runs the University of Leicester Observatory in Manor Road, Oadby, with a 20-inch telescope it is one of the UK's largest and most advanced astronomical teaching facilities. [32] The department has close involvement with the National Space Centre also located in Leicester.

The department is home to the university's ALICE 3400+ core supercomputer [33] and is a member of the UK's DiRAC (DiStributed Research utilising Advanced Computing) consortium. DiRAC is the integrated supercomputing facility for theoretical modelling and HPC-based research in particle physics, astronomy and cosmology. [18]

College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities

The college has 10 schools including:

Archaeology and Ancient History

The School of Archaeology and Ancient History was formed in 1990 from the then Departments of Archaeology and Classics, under the headship of Graeme Barker. The academic staff currently (as of January 2017) include 21 archaeologists and 8 ancient historians, though several staff teach and research in both disciplines. [34]

The School has particular strengths in Mediterranean archaeology, ancient Greek and Roman history, and the archaeology of recent periods; and is also home to the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS). [35]


The Ken Edwards Building, formerly where the School of Management was based, is now part of the School of Business. University of Leicester Ken Edwards Building.jpg
The Ken Edwards Building, formerly where the School of Management was based, is now part of the School of Business.

The School of Business was founded in 2016, bringing together the expertise of the School of Management and the Department of Economics. The new school now has approximately 150 academic staff, 50 from Economics and 100 from Management. In 2010 the former School of Management was ranked 2nd after Oxford University by the Guardian. [36] [ needs update ]

The School of Business provides postgraduate and undergraduate programmes in Management, Accounting and Economics. The School of Business, is one of the approximately 270 Schools/Universities in the world accredited by AMBA. [37]


The School of English teaches English at degree level. The school offers English studies from contemporary writing to Old English and language studies. It contains the Victorian Studies Centre, the first of its kind in the UK. [ citation needed ]. Malcolm Bradbury is one of the department's most famous alumni: he graduated with a First in English in 1953.[ citation needed ]

Historical Studies

The School of Historical Studies is one of the largest of any university in the country. It has made considerable scholarly achievements in many areas of history, notably urban history, English local history, American studies and Holocaust studies. [38] The school houses both the East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA) [39] and the Media Archive for Central England. [40]


The School of Law is one of the biggest departments in the university. According to the Times Online Good University Guide 2009, the Faculty of Law was ranked 8th, out of 87 institutions, making it one of the top law schools in the country. [41] [ needs update ]

Academic profile


UCAS Admission Statistics
Applications [42] 22,63022,08023,27022,05020,615
Offer Rate (%) [43] 88.085.984.382.579.9
Enrols [44] 4,1954,1803,7103,3953,250
Yield (%)
Applicant/Enrolled Ratio5.395.286.276.496.34
Average Entry Tariff [45] [lower-alpha 1] n/a136374390386

New students entering the university in 2015 had the 42nd highest UCAS Points in the UK at 374 points (the equivalent of BBC at A Level and BC at AS Level). [46] According to the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, approximately 2% of Leicester's undergraduates come from independent schools. [47]


The university is held in high regard for the quality of its teaching. [48] 19 subject areas have been graded as "Excellent" by the Quality Assurance Agency – including 14 successive scores of 22 points or above stretching back to 1998, six of which were maximum scores.

Leicester was ranked joint first in the 2005, 2006, and 2007 National Student Survey for overall student satisfaction among mainstream universities in England. It was second only to Cambridge in 2008 and again joint first in 2009. [49]


The university has research groups in the areas of astrophysics, biochemistry and genetics. The techniques used in genetic fingerprinting were invented and developed at Leicester in 1984 by Sir Alec Jeffreys. It also houses Europe's biggest academic centre for space research,[ citation needed ] in which space probes have been built, most notably the Mars Lander Beagle 2, which was built in collaboration with the Open University.

Leicester Physicists (led by Ken Pounds) were critical in demonstrating a fundamental prediction of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity [ citation needed ] – that black holes exist and are common in the universe. It is a founding partner of the £52 million National Space Centre.

Leicester is one of a small number of universities to have won the prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher Education on more than one occasion: in 1994 for physics & astronomy and again in 2002 for genetics.

The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise for the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, 74% of research activity, including 100% of its Research Environment, was classed as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent', ranking it 6th among UK university departments teaching archaeology and 1st for the public impact of its research.[ citation needed ]

The Institute of Learning Innovation within the University of Leicester is a research and postgraduate teaching group, directed by Grainne Conole. The institute has and continues to research on UK- and European-funded projects (over 30 as of August 2013), [50] focusing on topics such as educational use of podcasting, [51] e-readers in distance education, [52] virtual worlds, open educational resources and open education, [53] and learning design. [54]

Rankings and reputation

National rankings
Complete (2022) [55] 40
Guardian (2022) [56] 30
Times / Sunday Times (2022) [57] 37
Global rankings
ARWU (2021) [58] 301–400
CWTS Leiden (2021) [59] 561
QS (2022) [60] 236
THE (2022) [61] 185
British Government assessment
Teaching Excellence Framework [62] Silver

The university was named University of the Year of 2008 by the Times Higher Education . [63] It is also the only university ever to have won a Times Higher Education award in seven consecutive years.[ citation needed ] The university was previously consistently ranked among the top 20 universities in the United Kingdom by the Times Good University Guide and The Guardian. [64]

In 2017, the university ranked 25th in The Sunday Times Good University Guide, 32nd in The Complete University Guide and 47th in The Guardian. [65]

Library special collections

Local history collections

The Library has one of the largest local history collections in the country. The main collection contains circa 37,000 items covering all the major counties of England. Much of this material has been collected for the Centre for English Local History since its founding in 1948. [66] In addition, there are several rare book collections and archives:

In recent years, the Library has digitised, and made available online, collections relating to local and urban history, including The Historical Directories of England and Wales [71] and the East Midlands Oral History Archive. [72]

Modern Literary Archives

The library also holds a number of collections of 20th century writers and illustrators:

Student life

The university has a number of different societies within its students' union. The Union has over 220 different societies. [74]

Student media

The students' union has three student groups producing media: Leicester Student Magazine, Galaxy Radio, and LUST (Leicester University Student Television).

Leicester Student Magazine was founded in 1957, and has previously been known as The Ripple, The Wave & Galaxy Press. [75]

LUST (Leicester University Student Television) was re-founded in 2002 after a period of dormancy. The station is affiliated to the National Student Television Association (NaSTA) and hosted the association's annual awards ceremony in 2008.

Galaxy Radio

Founded in 1996, Galaxy Radio (previously LUSH Radio, LUSH FM) is run and presented exclusively by students and broadcasts a mixture of music, chat and news. [76] Some notable personalities from the early days of the station (LUSH FM at the time) who have gone on to work in the media are Lucy O'Doherty (BBC 6 Music) and Adam Mitchenall (ETV). [ citation needed ]

Galaxy Radio holds an annual 24-hour charity broadcast. In 2011, £300 was raised for Comic Relief. In 2013 the station held its first '69 Hour Broadcast', which raised over £450 for Comic Relief. [77] For the 2018 fundraiser GR worked with fellow student group Leicester Marrow to raise £1,000 for Anthony Nolan. [78]

Galaxy Radio has broadcast live the annual varsity match against De Montfort University for both football from the King Power Stadium and rugby union from Welford Road Stadium.

Notable people

Notable academics from the university include; Anthony Giddens, prominent sociologist who taught social psychology, Sarah Hainsworth, Professor of Materials and Forensic Engineering, involved in analysing the wounds on the skeleton of Richard III, Jeffrey A. Hoffman, NASA astronaut and physicist, Sir Alec Jeffreys, inventor of genetic fingerprinting; Philip Larkin, librarian and poet; Charles Rees, organic chemist; Lord Rees of Ludlow, the Astronomer Royal, visiting professor at Leicester.

Numerous public figures in many diverse fields have been students at the university. Alumni in science include Peter Atkins, physical chemist; Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature ; Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer

Alumni in politics and government include Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales; Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo; Jyrki Katainen, Prime Minister of Finland; [79] Norman Lamb, MP; Princess Mako of Akishino, a member of the Japanese Imperial Family; Aaron Porter, President, National Union of Students (United Kingdom) 2010–11.

Alumni in the arts include Sir Malcolm Bradbury, author; Pete McCarthy, writer, broadcaster, comedian; Bob Mortimer, comedian; Bob Parr MBE, multi Emmy Award-winning television producer; C. P. Snow, author; John Sutherland, Guardian Columnist, Emeritus Professor of English Literature, University College London.

The Attenboroughs

College House, childhood home of David and Richard Attenborough University of Leicester College House 2.jpg
College House, childhood home of David and Richard Attenborough

The University of Leicester is commonly associated with the Attenborough family. Richard and David Attenborough (with their younger brother John) spent their childhood in College House, which is now home to part of the Maths department (and is now near to the Attenborough tower, the tallest building on the campus and home to many of the arts and humanities departments). Their father Frederick Attenborough was Principal of the University College from 1932 until 1951. The brothers were educated at the adjacent grammar school before attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the University of Cambridge respectively.

Both have maintained links with the university—David Attenborough was made an honorary Doctor of Letters in 1970 and opened the Attenborough Arboretum in Knighton in 1997. In the same year, the Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales. Both brothers were made Distinguished Honorary Fellows of the university at the degree ceremony in the afternoon of 13 July 2006.

See also

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Further reading