The KCL-UCL rivalry has been going strong since its ignition in the 1820s, when King’s was founded as the Anglican counterpart to UCL’s secularism. It has manifested on the sports pitch, in academics, and, perhaps most infamously, with the theft of Jeremy Bentham’s preserved head by King’s students in the 90s.
However, athletic prowess and mascot heists aside, what the rivalry really boils down to is which university occupies the most space in the public consciousness (i.e. how much the public really care). It’s what competitive students struggle to quantify: that intangible buzz surrounding their university.
Luckily, a winner can still be declared. While technology has yet to read it minds, it has gotten quite close in the form of search engine data. Google Trends lends particular insight to the KCL-UCL rankings. Alas, the outlook is not good for King’s.
Google Trends can show the relative interest of not just a Search term (i.e. anything related to the words “King’s,” “College,” and “London”) but a Topic, which specifically targets searches related to King’s College London, the public university in London, England. Interest over time is measured on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the most searches in a given period of time and 0 being less than 1% of the peak number of searches. Relative interest can also be used to compare two or more search terms.
Average interest in the past year was scored as 55 for King’s and 62 for UCL. This indicates that the public is about 12% more likely to search for UCL over KCL—not very promising news for King’s students trying to claim UCL is irrelevant.
However, that gap seems to be closing. Five years ago the score was 47-62 and King’s has been steadily gaining ground since: if the trend continues we will catch up by 2023.
KCL has also seen some international converts. During the past five years, international searches related to King’s College London have outpaced those related to University College London in several countries, including Canada, France, and Sweden.
For the time being the public seems more interested in UCL. But in a few years, it may be too close to call, at which resorting to point pranks might have to be the real assertion of dominance.