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What's the largest UK city without a university?

Most cities have a university of some sort. But what’s the largest British city that doesn’t have its own?

First a word about the data. The Centre for Cities gathers data on the 63 largest cities in Britain, from London (pop: 9.8m all the way down to Worthing (pop: 107,000). As to what counts as a university, we’re only counting the main campuses, not smaller branch campuses. Last but not least, we’re not counting the Open University, which is technically based in Milton Keynes, but as a distance learning institution doesn’t have a campus in the traditional sense.

So that behind us, which significant cities don’t have a university? Here’s the top 10:

Here we fall – as we always do, eventually – into questions of definition. The Centre for Cities counts all these places as separate cities (“primary urban areas”) in its database.  But to varying degrees, more than half of them are adjuncts to other places. Wigan is a borough of Greater Manchester, and Birkenhead a suburb of Liverpool: both are probably counted as parts of a bigger conurbation more often than not.


Wakefield has more independence, but is still likely to be included in any Leeds city deal that may one day come to pass. Even Chatham, here representing the Medway Towns more broadly, is on some definitions an outer outpost of metropolitan London.

Then there’s the question of what counts, technically, as a university. The biggest city here that’s definitely its own place is Milton Keynes. So that might be the largest city in Britain without a university, but only if you don’t count the Open University, which is based there but isn’t a campus university. In the same way, Blackpool is home to Blackpool & the Fylde College, which isn’t a university, but does offer university courses. Southend doesn’t have a university, but does have a University of Essex campus; Chatham has a campus shared by the universities of Greenwich and Kent.

As ever, then, it depends how you count. If you don’t count branch campuses, it’s Southend. If you do, it’s Wakefield, but only if you count it as a city.

If you’re going to be really strict about it, it’s Mansfield. 

So, now you know.

This is an extract from a longer article looking at the distribution of Britain’s universities.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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