International Women's Day 2016

Coined 'The People's University' by Charles Dickens, the University of London has long had a reputation of offering a university education to all, with London's 1836 founding charter stating that the University would 'hold forth to all classes and denominations… without any distinction whatsoever.'

It was this approach that saw the University of London the first to admit women in the 1840s, with a supplementary charter written in 1878 admitting women degrees on an equal status with men. By 1885 women made up more than 10% of University of London graduates, and by 1900 this proportion went up to over 30%.

As well as being the first British university to offer degrees to women, it was also the first to appoint a female lecturer and Vice-Chancellor. English Literary critic and lecturer Caroline Spurgeon was appointed as the first female University professor in 1900, and in 1948 Dame Lillian Penson was appointed as the first female Vice-Chancellor in any University in the Commonwealth. Today, 54.6% of the workforce at the University of London is made up of women.

In an interview with the Guardian in 1959, Dame Penson spoke about her pleasure that improvements in secondary education in Sudan had enabled the number of women attending university there to increase from one or two to about forty. With this year's campaign theme for International Women's Day being #PledgeForParity, the University of London is proud to still offer a range of high quality qualifications to women across the globe, and pledges to continue to offer real academic opportunities to encourage gender parity.

Find out more about International Women's Day 2016 here​.



"I actually saw distance learning as a saviour. As a working mother of two children, in a country where outdated traditions and deep-rooted patriarchal mind-sets still exist, distance learning was my only option t​​o achieve my educational aspirations and to expand my educational opportunity."
Nadine Abi Zeid Daou, Lebanon
MSc in Poverty Reduction: Policy and Practice graduate

​"I am the first woman in my family to get a university education. I am also a product of my upbringing which restricted my exposure to the realities of the world. So the best course of action to understand the world was to gain knowledge."
Mehak Zaraq Bari, Pakistan
Diploma in Economics, BSc in Accounting and Finance, LLB

Mehak now lectures at Pakistan College of Law