The university is the largest university by number of full-time students in the United Kingdom, with 161,270 campus-based students and over 50,000 distance learning students in the University of London International Programmes. The university was established by royal charter in 1836, as a degree-awarding examination board for students holding certificates from University College London and King's College London and "other such other Institutions, corporate or unincorporated, as shall be established for the purpose of Education, whether within the Metropolis or elsewhere within our United Kingdom". The university moved to a federal structure in 1900.
Most constituent colleges rank in the top 50 universities in the United Kingdom and for most practical purposes, ranging from admissions to funding, the constituent colleges operate on an independent basis, with some recently obtaining the power to award their own degrees whilst remaining in the federal university. The ten largest colleges of the university are University College London, King's College London, Queen Mary, City, Birkbeck, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Royal Holloway, Goldsmiths, SOAS, and St George's. The specialist colleges of the university include the London Business School, the Royal Veterinary College and Heythrop College, specialising in philosophy and theology. Imperial College London was formerly a member, before leaving the university a century later in 2007. City is the most recent constituent college, having joined on 1 September 2016.
As of 2015, there are a total of around 2 million University of London alumni across the world, which include 12 monarchs or royalty, 52 presidents or prime ministers, 84 Nobel laureates, 6 Grammy winners, 2 Oscar winners and 3 Olympic gold medalists. The collegiate research university has also produced Father of the Nation for several countries.
University College London (University College London) was founded under the name “London University” in 1826 as a secular alternative to the religious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In response to the theological controversy surrounding such educational establishment, King's College London (KCL) was founded and was the first to be granted a royal charter (in 1829).