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Our history

140 years at

In our history, different schools and colleges in north London came together to create the progressive and inclusive university that we are today.

Learn more about us through the story of some important collaborations and innovations.

1878 – our history begins

Our founding institution, St Katharine’s College, one of Britain’s first teacher training institutes opens its doors. This is where our passion for excellent and inspiring teaching started and today we continue to train over 400 teachers annually.

1882 – iconic art institution opens

One of our most iconic founding institutions, the Hornsey College of Art, becomes a hub for progressive art. It’s here where the arts curriculum and student democracy were pioneered, leading to the famous student sit-in in 1968. Hornsey College of Art was founded by Charles Swinstead, an artist and teacher, who had a vision for an art institution following breakthrough reforms in art education in the 1960s. Hornsey, is one of only two art schools that remained open during World War II.

1901 – inventor of electric light-bulb pioneers lifelong learning

Sir Joseph Wilson Swan buys a house in Ponders End High Street that becomes the Ediswan Institute – another one of our founding institutions – to offer lifelong learning to workers of his factory. This later became the Ponders End Technical Institute and then the Enfield College of Technology.

1904 – invention of the thermionic valve helps win World War II

Professor Ambrose Fleming begins work on the thermionic valve as a project for Sir Joseph Swan at the Ediswan Institute. The valve was used to construct Colossus, the world's first electronic computer, which cracked the German ‘Enigma’ code and helped win World War II.

1947 – ‘secret listeners’ spy on German prisoners on our site

Trent Park College of Education opens, a site that was used to bug German prisoners where ‘secret listeners’ eavesdropped on conversations and admissions of war crimes committed by the Nazis. This work remained classified until 1999.

1968 – ground-breaking Students’ Union sit-in

Students at the Hornsey College of Art stage their famous overnight sit-in to protest the withdrawal of funds for the Students’ Union. What started with a one night sit-in ended up as a six-week occupation, where the student body ran the college with energy and efficiency, repairing older spaces and drafting reformations to arts education. Then seen as a radical but transformative move, this revolution paved the way for the rights of all students.

Today, our Students’ Union continues to be ground-breaking and in 2017 was recognised as the best Students’ Union of the Year for their work in the local community.

1973 – Polytechnic is formed

Enfield and Hendon Colleges of Technology and the Hornsey College of Art come together to form Polytechnic, a radical new type of university focussing on practical skills over academic theory.

The Principal of Enfield College, George Brosnan, and his deputy Eric Robinson have led the fight for a new concept for higher education – the polytechnic – since the sixties. Polytechnics were higher education institutes that moved away from the traditional university model and sought to embrace the needs of their local communities.

1990 – invention of argentium silver at

Peter Johns invents argentium silver, the most significant development to silver in hundreds of years. Argentium silver, often referred to as the ‘finest silver’, is brighter than platinum and purer than sterling silver. After 10 years of research, Peter Johns found a product that is both tarnish and fire stain resistant, and that is more durable.

1992 – Polytechnic becomes

and other polytechnics are given a university status and are now able to award their own degrees, confident in their aims and visions that differ from those of traditional universities.

1992 – University’s first Vice-Chancellor appointed

Professor Sir David Melville becomes the first Vice-Chancellor of and leads the University until 1996.

1994 – Dalai Lama visits campus

The Dalai Lama spends three days at Trent Park as part of the Interfaith Festival hosted by . The Festival drew in many celebrities including Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn and Koo Stark.

1996 – Professor Michael Driscoll becomes Vice-Chancellor

Professor Michael Driscoll becomes the second Vice-Chancellor of and one of the UK’s longest serving Vice-Chancellors leading the University for almost 20 years. Professor Driscoll is instrumental in taking abroad and making it the global university we know today.

1996, 1998, 2000 – three Queen’s Anniversary Prizes

In 1996 we received the Queen's Anniversary Prize for our exemplary Work and Learning Centre. A further Queen's Anniversary Prize for Education Technology followed in 1998, and in 2000 we won a third Anniversary Prize for our ground-breaking Flood Hazard Research Centre.

2000 – Real tennis comes to

Peter Luck-Hille opens Real Tennis Club – the third of its kind in the country  – making the 16th century sport accessible in the 21st century. The only other universities with a real tennis court are Oxford and Cambridge.

In 2018, HRH The Earl of Wessex visited the Club and played against local school children who were competing for their Duke of Edinburgh awards.

2005 – Dubai opens

The University becomes truly international and opens its first overseas campus in Dubai, where over 4,100 students study today.

2009 – Mauritius opens

The opening of the second overseas campus provides world-class teaching to over 1,400 students every day.

2011 – £80m Grove building opens

The Grove is home to some of the best creative facilities in the UK and hosts a state-of-the-art TV studio and 3D workshops as well as extensive photography facilities and film production suites.

2013 – our consolidation onto one campus

We consolidate all our London campuses onto one offering the best of both worlds to its students – a London university with a unique campus feel.

2013 – Malta opens

We opened our third overseas campus in Malta because in recent years the country has become the region's centre for international business.

Please note that our Malta campus closed as of 30 September 2022.

2017 – launch of the UK’s first cyber factory

We invest £18m into the Ritterman building, named after our Chancellor Dame Janet Ritterman, which is home to the UK’s first cyber factory.

2017 – winner of first Students' Union of the Year award

Our Students’ Union is recognised for its ground-breaking work with students and the local community alike and wins the first ever Students’ Union of the Year award.

“To have been recognised as the most innovative, inspiring and inclusive Students’ Union in the UK should make everybody involved in MDXSU and proud. Whether it is campaigning to resettle refugees and funding their studies at , improving mental health provisions on campus or working alongside local faith leaders to tackle Islamophobia and Anti–Semitic hate crime, the work of students’ unions like ours really does matter.”
- Ed Marsh, CEO of MDXSU

2018 – creation of the mace

Alumnus and world-renowned silversmith, Richard Fox, creates a mace that is unique to the University and its history to be used at graduation ceremonies.

2019 – winner of UKIED Award

was the first UK University to be awarded a UKIED award for inclusion, equality and diversity.

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