During the Olympics I met the daughter of one of the Chinese investors invited to London by the mayor. She had chosen to come to university in the capital over the US so I asked what had been the clincher. “If I go to America I will only meet Americans. In London I will meet the world,” she said.
London has 110,000 international students – more than any other city on the planet. Each year, tens of thousands of promising young people make the pilgrimage to our 45 universities and pour into our business schools, medical institutes, art, design, fashion and drama schools, significantly boosting both our economy and our brainpower. They leave a few years later as enthusiastic advocates for what is fast becoming the education capital of the world.
But it is not just about quantity. We learn today from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-14 that excellence sets London apart as well. With four top 40 universities based in the city, more than anywhere else in the world, we can also boast that London is at the quality end of the market.
Life sciences in London in particular are growing in strength, with Imperial College London, University College London and King’s College London putting us at the top of the biomedical league globally. For a city that is positioning itself as not just the financial capital of the world but, with our Oxbridge partners, as the golden triangle of world science, the momentum is building.
And with more than half a billion pounds in medical research grants every year and the new Crick Institute due to open in 2015, the capital is fast developing as discovery central too. Meanwhile the mayor’s plans to create a “medical city” investment organisation to promote and strengthen the golden triangle will help to draw in investment and retain the talent we need to develop, patent and commercialise those discoveries.
In truth London is going through a period of unprecedented academic ambition. Imperial West is now coming to life in White City – an entirely new £1 billion campus of engineers, researchers and entrepreneurs coming together to create value from ideas. To the east, in Docklands, King’s has big plans also for a new campus looking at solving urban problems with the appliance of science and technology. UCL is in conversation with the mayor also about eastwards expansion with a new “university quarter” in Stratford. Even universities outside London are putting down a footprint in the capital – Loughborough University has signed up for a new campus in the iCITY development on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The world clearly recognises our high-calibre offering, and the range of possibilities – London offers more than 30,000 courses, on everything from accountancy to zoology. The next challenge for the city and the country is to turn the flow of technology, molecules, ideas and techniques that tumble out of this incredible agglomeration of cerebral exertion into new jobs.
Kit Malthouse is deputy mayor of London for business and enterprise