Danny Byrne looks at three of the colleges that are making London an evermore attractive destination for the world's best and brightest students and academics.

London has long been a nerve-centre of university research, and in recent times it has led the way in attracting the most talented international candidates to the UK. The University of London comprises of 31 affiliated institutions and over 135,000 students, making it the UK's largest university. In practise, however, its individual colleges - including University College London (UCL), Imperial College, King's College, London School of Economics (LSE) and School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) - are world-leaders in their own right. While LSE, SOAS and to a lesser extent Queen Mary's all produce cutting-edge research in their own field, UCL, Imperial and King's have been instrumental in establishing London as a destination to rival Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and leading institutions in the U.S.

University College London (UCL)

Located in the heart of Bloomsbury, UCL is London's top-ranked university and was ranked fourth in the world by the THE-QS World University Rankings 2009 (now QS World University RankingsTM) . Billed as 'London's global university', UCL attracts academic staff from around the globe, as well as nearly 40% of UCL students coming from almost 140 different countries. Unlike other London institutions that specialize in a particular area, UCL produces world-leading research across the full academic spectrum. The Research Assessment Exercise of 2009 confirmed UCL's international research strength with outstanding results achieved across all eight faculties; spanning the sciences, engineering, arts, social sciences and biomedicine. UCL has one of the best staff-student ratios in the UK. What's more, the university's location on a compact site in the heart of London offers outstanding academic professional and social benefits. UCL is surrounded by the greatest concentration of libraries, museums, archives and professional bodies in Europe. Over 8,000 graduate students are currently studying at UCL, giving it one of the largest populations of graduate students at any UK university. UCL offers an extremely diverse range of graduate qualifications, from taught Master's and shorter programs to MPhils, PhDs and specialist doctorates.

Imperial College London

Imperial College London is a world-leading science-based university whose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attracts students (13,000) and staff (8,200) of the highest international quality. It was ranked 5th in the THE-QS World University Rankings 2009 (now QS World University RankingsTM), tied with the University of Oxford. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment, underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture. Imperial College staff members are frequently consulted by government and departmental committees at both national and international levels. They also act as members of professional bodies, advise industry and offer informed comment to the media. The college has about 70 spin-out companies to date and is adding to this by an average of two per month. The College has strong links with industry and receives more research income from industry than any other UK university. In addition, the College receives significant research funding from private and charitable foundations. Imperial College currently provides over 100 taught postgraduate courses in a wide range of subjects at the forefront of scientific, engineering, business and medical research. Programmes on offer include the MSc (a mixture of taught courses and research), MRes (a research-focused Master's designed to prepare students for doctoral study) and MBA from the Business School.

King's College London

King's College London is one of England's oldest and most prestigious universities: a multi-faculty research-led university college with over 21,000 students, of whom more than 6,200 are postgraduates. It is ranked as one of the world's top 25 universities. King's has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. It is now the largest centre for the education of doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals in Europe and home to six Medical Research Council centres. King's location in the heart of London and its strength in law, humanities and the social sciences make it a major player in forging links between the arts, culture and universities, as well as the development of public policy at national level. Its range of subjects, including physical sciences and engineering, are increasingly inter-related, notably in fields such as bioinformatics, health policy and medical humanities. King's College London is a member of the Russell Group, a coalition of the UK's major research-based universities, and is in the top group of seven UK universities for research earnings. Over the decades, King's academics have promoted key advances in many fields, from engineering and linguistics, to medicine and philosophy. Today, experts from King's College London continue to enjoy worldwide acclaim through their continuing contributions to discoveries of medical, scientific, social and political significance.