UCL Computer Science



Computer Science came to UCL in the early 1970s when the Department of Statistics was expanded to form a joint Department of Statistics and Computer Science

Heads of Department over the years

1980 – 1994: Prof Peter Kirstein
1995 – 2002: Prof Steve Wilbur
2002 – 2010: Prof Anthony Finkelstein
2010 – 2019: Prof John Shawe-Taylor
2019 – current: Prof Steve Hailes

The inception

The initial nucleus of computer scientists came from the University of London Institute of Computer Science, which was renowned for its established MSc programme and its research. A generous grant from IBM financed a professor and a lecturer.

In 1980, the independent Department of Computer Science was formed with Professor Peter Kirstein as its first Head. At that time there were 7 academic staff (including 3 professors) and one substantial research area: computer networks and data communications. In 1985, we began offering a specialist MSc in Data Communications, Networks and Distributed System, now known as Networked Computer Systems.

Changing the world through research

Since our modest beginnings, the department has enjoyed a period of continuous growth and currently has some 80 Lecturers, Senior Lecturers, Readers, Professors, Teaching Fellows and Senior Teaching Fellows and about 100 research staff.  Research in the department has developed impressively to include autonomous systems; bioinformatics; data science; financial computing; human centred systems; intelligent systems; information security; machine learning; quantum computing; robotics; software systems engineering, vision and imaging science, and virtual environments and graphics. 

Research centres

We are also partners in a number of research centres, including the Centre for Medical Image Computing, the Bloomsbury Centre for Bioinformatics, the UCL Interaction Centre, London Software Systems, UCL Adastral Park, and the Centre for Computational Statistics and Machine Learning. In August 2010, we welcomed new colleagues joining the department from CREST and a new PPLV Research Group in the spring 2012. 2013 saw several exciting developments, including the establishment of a joint UCL/BBC London Media Technology Campuat 1 Euston Square, and another period of growth in our academic staff. In 2016, we were very pleased to welcome CoMPLEX (UCL Centre for Computation, Mathematics and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology) to join Computer Science and we look forward to building on our long and fruitful relationship.

Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and Research Excellence Framework (REF)

The department's results in Research Assessment Exercises (RAE) and Research Excellence Framework (REF), have been particularly strong. In the RAE 2009, the panel commended our "visionary strategy and sustainability". We were particularly pleased because 100% of our academic staff were submitted - 55 individuals - among the largest research submissions in computer science - and demonstrating collective research power as well as excellence. 80% of the department's research submission was assessed as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent' in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

At the end of 2014, we finally received the results of the latest Research Excellence Framework. The department was submitted as part of the Computing and Informatics Unit of Assessment (UoA11), with Professor Mark Harman's expert and tireless work as Academic Lead for the submission. We were absolutely delighted with the results, which placed us first overall in the UK for Computer Science and Informatics. 

Our dedication to education


The department has always had a strong commitment to the teaching of Computer Science at undergraduate level and has steadily developed a range of degree programmes and course units. The programmes are regularly reviewed to take account of developments in the discipline itself, developments in teaching methods and changing requirements to prepare students for their future career in industry, commerce, research and education. As a result of a review in the late 1990s, we introduced four-year undergraduate programmes (MSci, later renamed MEng) which was an important and exciting development because a four-year degree allows more opportunities for an in-depth treatment of advanced topics, including courses offered to MSc students. Undergraduate teaching has undergone an impressive transformation, with students learning via problem-based and project-based methods (e.g. robotics programming).


Our portfolio of taught programmes has also developed in line with the department's growth.  Our postgraduate teaching has always included the MSc in Computer Science and this was augmented in the early 1980s with the MSc in Information Technology (run jointly with the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering until 2002/03). Both the MSc Computer Science and the MSc Information Technology are what we now call 'generalist' programmes: the students who are admitted to them come from a variety of non-Computer Science backgrounds. Over the years, the department has changed programme names and added new exciting programmes. There are currently 12 postgraduate taught programmes and over 10 postgraduate research programmes. 

Apart from courses for students on our programmes, we have always had a good portfolio of offerings made available to the wider UCL community.  Such courses have over the years included Introductory Computer Science, Electronic Commerce, Digital Business, Introduction to Business and Entrepreneurship, and Financial Computing.

How we've been growing

Here's a quick look at how we've expanded over the years.

  • 1980 - UCL Computer Science established with Peter Kirstein, Head of Department. 
  • 1990s - plans began to be drawn up for new purpose-built premises for the department. 
  • 2002 - We moved from being a member of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, to the Faculty of Engineering Sciences.   Around the same time, we were engaged in an in-depth analysis of a proposed merger between UCL and Imperial College London.  That proposal was ultimately rejected at institutional level, but not before Computer Science staff at both institutions had put in some serious joint work to examine the feasibility of a merger between our two departments.
  • 2005 - After a great deal of planning and relocation work, the Malet Place Engineering Building finally became home to the Department in January 2005.
  • 2009 - During summer, we were delighted to welcome colleagues who relocated from UCL's Adastral Park Postgraduate Research Campus, at Martlesham Heath near Ipswich, to London. Staff and students transferred as a result of UCL's decision to restructure its activities at Adastral Park. The majority of staff and students joined Computer Science, others transferred to Electronic and Electrical Engineering.  The very successful MSc Information Security also transferred completely to Computer Science in London and has continued thriving.
  • 2013 - This year saw the establishment of an exciting new collaboration with the BBC, via the London Media Technology Campuat 1 Euston Square.
  • 2015 - We took possession of newly refurbished premises at 66-72 Gower Street, to help accommodate our growing department. There is the possibility of further new premises to house our continuing growth and ideally bring the whole department back into one building.
  • 2020 - Euston Road site being prepared for use. UCL EAST development underway.

Milestone birthdays

2010 - 30th birthday 

UCL computer science was officially 30 years old on the 1st of January 2010, the date when the Department of Statistics and Computer Science separated. We had a Departmental photograph taken on the 20th of April and had a splendid dinner party at the Russell Hotel in the summer.

2015 - 35th birthday

We celebrated our 35th birthday with another party!

2016 began with the fantastic news that Sue Black, Honorary Professor, was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours list. Then, Anthony Finkelstein was appointed CBE in the 2016 Birthday Honours for services to computer science and engineering.

2020 - 40th birthday

We are planning a virtual celebration to take place in spring 2021. Watch this space.