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University of Edinburgh

The University Of Edinburgh
Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann
Latin: Universitatis Academicae Edinburgensis
Established 1583
Type Public university/Ancient university
Endowment £284 million[1]
Chancellor HRH The Princess Royal
Rector Peter McColl
Principal Sir Timothy O'Shea
Academic staff 6195 [2]
Admin. staff 6324 [2]
Students 32,591 (2013-14) [3]
Undergraduates 21,369[3]
Postgraduates 11,222[3]
Location Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Campus Urban
Affiliations Russell Group
Coimbra Group
Universitas 21
Universities UK
Universities Scotland

 You are now in a place where the best courses upon earth are within your reach... Such an opportunity you will never again have. I would therefore strongly press on you to fix no other limit to your stay in Edinborough than your having got thro this whole course. The omission of any one part of it will be an affliction & loss to you as long as you live.  

~ Thomas Jefferson writing to his son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. in 1786.[4]

The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583,[5] is the sixth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's ancient universities. The university is deeply embedded in the fabric of the city, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university.[6]

The University of Edinburgh is ranked 17th in the world by the 2013-14 and 2014-15 QS rankings.[7][8] It is ranked 11th in the world in arts and humanities by the 2012–13 Times Higher Education Ranking.[9] It is ranked the 15th most employable university in the world by the 2013 Global Employability University Ranking.[10] It is a member of both the Russell Group, and the League of European Research Universities, a consortium of 21 research universities in Europe.[11] It has the third largest endowment of any university in the United Kingdom, after the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

The university played an important role in leading Edinburgh to its reputation as a chief intellectual centre during the Age of Enlightenment, and helped give the city the nickname of the Athens of the North. Alumni of the university include some of the major figures of modern history, including the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, naturalist Charles Darwin, philosopher David Hume, mathematician Thomas Bayes, surgeon Joseph Lister, signatories of the American declaration of independence John Witherspoon and Benjamin Rush, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, first president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere, and a host of famous authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie and Sir Walter Scott. Associated people include 20 Nobel Prize winners, 2 Turing Award winners, 1 Abel Prize winner, 1 Fields Medal winner, 1 Pulitzer Prize winner, 3 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, 2 currently-sitting UK Supreme Court Justices, and several Olympic gold medallists.[12] It continues to have links to the British Royal Family, having had the Duke of Edinburgh as its Chancellor from 1953 to 2010 and Princess Anne since 2011.[13]

Edinburgh receives approximately 47,000 applications every year, making it the third most popular university in the UK by volume of applicants.[14] Entrance is competitive, with 2012-2013 having an acceptance rate of 11.5% and offer rate of 38.6%.[15]


  • History 1
    • Founding 1.1
    • Development 1.2
  • Academic profile 2
    • Rankings and reputation 2.1
    • Colleges and schools 2.2
      • Humanities and Social Science 2.2.1
      • Medicine and Veterinary Medicine 2.2.2
      • Science and Engineering 2.2.3
  • Campuses 3
    • Central Area 3.1
    • King's Buildings 3.2
    • Pollock Halls 3.3
    • Little France 3.4
    • Easter Bush 3.5
    • Moray House 3.6
    • National Performance Centre 3.7
  • Student life 4
    • Students' association 4.1
    • Performing arts 4.2
    • Media 4.3
    • Sport 4.4
    • Student activism 4.5
    • Student Co-operatives 4.6
  • Library 5
  • Notable alumni and faculty 6
    • Heads of state and government 6.1
    • Historical links 6.2
  • Criticisms 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes and references 9
  • External links 10


King James's College, c. 1647


  The University of Edinburgh possess a set of as truly great men, Professors of the Several Branches of Knowledge, as have ever appeared in any age or country.  

~ Benjamin Franklin (1770s).[16]

Founded by the Edinburgh Town Council, the university began life as a College of Law using part of a legacy left by Bishop Robert Reid of St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney.[17] Through efforts by the Town Council and Ministers of the City the institution broadened in scope and became formally established as a university by a Royal Charter, granted by James VI in 1582 after the petitioning of the Council.[18] This was an unusual move at the time, as most universities were established through Papal bulls.[19] Known as the "Tounis College", it was renamed King James's College in 1617. Instruction began in 1583 under the charge of a young St Andrews graduate Robert Rollock.[17] It was the fourth Scottish university in a period when the much more populous and richer England had only two. By the 18th century Edinburgh was a leading centre of the European Enlightenment (see Scottish Enlightenment).


The University's 'Old College'

Before the building of Old College to plans by Robert Adam implemented after the Napoleonic Wars by the architect William Henry Playfair, the University of Edinburgh did not have a custom-built campus and existed in a hotchpotch of buildings from its establishment until the early 19th century. The university's first custom-built building was the Old College, now the School of Law, situated on South Bridge. Its first forte in teaching was anatomy and the developing science of surgery, from which it expanded into many other subjects. From the basement of a nearby house ran the anatomy tunnel corridor. It went under what was then North College Street (now Chambers Street), and under the university buildings until it reached the university's anatomy lecture theatre, delivering bodies for dissection. It was from this tunnel that the body of William Burke was taken after he had been hanged.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Old College was becoming overcrowded and Robert Rowand Anderson was commissioned to design new Medical School premises in 1875. The medical school was more or less built to his design and was completed by the addition of the McEwan Hall in the 1880s.

The University's New College building

The building now known as New College was originally built as a Free Church college in the 1840s and has been the home of Divinity at the University since the 1920s.

The university is responsible for a number of historic and modern buildings across the City, including the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland, and the second oldest in use in the British Isles, St Cecilia's Concert Hall; Teviot Row House, which is the oldest purpose built Student Union Building in the world; and the restored 17th-century Mylne's Court student residence which stands at the head of Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

The building which houses the University's Institute of Geography, was once part of the Royal Infirmary

The two oldest Schools – Law and Divinity – are both well-esteemed in their respective subjects, with Law being based in Old College, and Divinity being based in New College, on the Mound. Students at the university are represented by Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA), which consists of the Students' Representative Council (SRC), founded in 1884 by Robert Fitzroy Bell, the Edinburgh University Union (EUU) which was founded in 1889. They are also represented by the Edinburgh University Sports Union (EUSU) which was founded in 1866.

The William Shippen). It is currently ranked 1st in the UK's most recent RAE.

 So far as science is concerned, no place in the world can pretend to competition with Edinburgh.  

~ Thomas Jefferson writing to Dugald Stewart in 1789.[21]
The University's McEwan Hall building

In 2002 the University was re-organised from its 9 faculties into three 'Colleges'. While technically not a collegiate university, it now comprises the Colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), Science & Engineering (SCE) and Medicine & Vet Medicine (MVM). Within these Colleges are 'Schools' – roughly equivalent to the departments they succeeded; individual Schools have a good degree of autonomy regarding their finances and internal organisation. This has brought a certain degree of uniformity (in terms of administration at least) across the university.

On 1 August 2011, the Edinburgh College of Art (founded in 1760) merged with the University of Edinburgh. At a result of the merger, Edinburgh College of Art has combined with the University’s School of Arts, Culture and Environment to form a new (enlarged) Edinburgh College of Art within the university.[22]

Along similar lines, all teaching is now done over two semesters (rather than 3 terms) – bringing the timetables of different Schools into line with one another, and coming into line with many other large universities (in the US, and to an increasing degree in the UK as well).

Academic profile

Rankings and reputation

Outside McEwan Hall on graduation day.
(2014, national)
(2014, world)
(2014/15, national)
(2014/15, world)
(2014/15, national)
(2014/15, world)
(2015, national)
The Guardian[27]
(2015, national)
Times/Sunday Times[28]
(2015, national)

The QS World University Rankings 2013 and 2014 ranked the University of Edinburgh 17th in the world.

The University of Edinburgh is a member of the Russell Group of research-led British universities and, along with Oxford and Cambridge, one of several British universities to be a member of both the Coimbra Group and the LERU (League of European Research Universities). The University is also a member of Universitas 21, an international association of research-led universities.

In the 2008 UK RAE results, the University of Edinburgh was ranked in the top five in the UK and first in Scotland by the volume of four star, "world-leading" research. The results also indicate that the University is home to 37% of Scotland’s 4* research. It was rated 1st in the UK for medicine and informatics by the RAE[29]

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013/2014 ranked it as 39th overall, one of only 7 UK universities to feature in the top 50.[30] In 2012/2013 it was ranked 36th in the world. In 2011, the Academic Ranking of World Universities placed University of Edinburgh as 53rd overall, 14th in Europe and 6th in the UK.[31]

In the 2012/2013 UK University Rankings, the university was ranked 15th in the UK overall by The Guardian,[32] 16th by The Independent/The Complete University Guide,[33] 27th by The Sunday Times[34] and 15th by The Times.[35]

Colleges and schools

The coat of arms of the University of Edinburgh, displayed on St Leonard's Land.

Humanities and Social Science

The English Literature department, the longest-established centre of literary education in Britain, was founded in 1762 when Rev. Hugh Blair was appointed the first Regius Professor of Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres by George III.

The College of Humanities and Social Science is the largest of the three Colleges in the University of Edinburgh. It has 11 Schools, 16,300 students and 1,460 staff. An advantage of its size is the very wide range of subjects and research specialisms. There are over 300 undergraduate and 200 taught postgraduate programmes. Its research strength, as affirmed in the 2008 RAE, has attracted over 1200 researchers.[59] It includes the oldest English Literature department in Britain.[60]

Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

The Edinburgh Medical School's historical main building on Teviot Place.

The College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine has a long history as one of the best medical institutions in the world.[61] In the last research assessment exercise, it was rated 1st in the UK for medical research submitted to the Hospital-based Clinical Subjects Panel. All of the work was rated at International level and 40% at the highest, "world-leading" level.[62] The medical school is ranked 1st in Scotland and 3rd in the UK by The Times Good University Guide 2013, The Complete University Guide 2013 and The Guardian University Guide 2013.[63][64][65] Graduates of the University of Edinburgh Medical School have gone on to found 5 out of the 7 Ivy League medical schools, become US Senators, become Prime Minister of Canada, invent the hypodermic syringe, cure scurvy, discover carbon dioxide and isolate nitrogen, develop IV therapy, invent the decompression chamber, develop the oophorectomy, discover the SARS virus and develop in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). Faculty of the University of Edinburgh Medical School have introduced antiseptic to sterilize surgical instruments, discovered chloroform anesthesia, discovered oxytocin, developed the Hepatitis B vaccine, co-founded Biogen, pioneered treatment for tuberculosis, discovered apoptosis and tyramine among others. The medical school is associated with 9 Nobel Prize winners, 8 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and 1 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The eight original faculties formed four Faculty Groups in August 1992. Medicine and Veterinary Medicine became one of these, and in September 2002, became the smallest of three Colleges in the University.

Science and Engineering

Informatics Forum, University of Edinburgh

In the sixteenth century science was taught as 'natural philosophy'. The seventeenth century saw the institution of the University Chairs of Mathematics and Botany, followed the next century by Chairs of Natural History, Astronomy, Chemistry and Agriculture. During the eighteenth century, the University was a key contributor to the Scottish Enlightenment and it educated many of the most notable scientists of the time. It was Edinburgh's professors who took a leading part in the formation of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783. In 1785, Joseph Black, Professor of Chemistry and discoverer of carbon dioxide, founded the world's first Chemical Society.[66] The nineteenth century was a time of huge advances in scientific thinking and technological development. The first named degrees of Bachelor and Doctor of Science were instituted in 1864, and a separate 'Faculty of Science' was created in 1893 after three centuries of scientific advances at Edinburgh.[66] The Regius Chair in Engineering was established in 1868, and the Regius Chair in Geology in 1871. In 1991 the Faculty of Science was renamed the Faculty of Science and Engineering, and in 2002 it became the College of Science and Engineering.


Playfair Library
The Edinburgh College of Art forms (since 2011) part of the 'central' university campus.

As its topics of study have grown and diversified the university has expanded its campuses such that it now has six main sites:[67]

Central Area

The Central Area includes George Square, the New College, overlooks Princes Street and only a short walk from Waverley Rail Station and other Edinburgh landmarks. The building is on the Mound, which houses the School of Divinity - parts of which are also used by the Church of Scotland.

King's Buildings

The King's Buildings (KB) is located further south of the city. Most of the Science and Engineering College's research and teaching activities take place at the King's Buildings, which occupy a 35 hectare site. It includes C H Waddington Building (the Centre for Systems Biology at Edinburgh), James Clerk Maxwell Building (the administrative and teaching centre of the School of Physics and Astronomy and the School of Mathematics), The Royal Observatory, William Rankine Building (School of Engineering’s Institute for Infrastructure and Environment) and other schools' buildings. There were three libraries at KB: Darwin Library, James Clerk Maxwell Library and Robertson Engineering and Science Library. A new library called The Noreen and Kenneth Murray Library opened for the 2012/13 session as a replacement for the previous three libraries. It also houses National e-Science Centre (NeSC), Scottish Microelectronics Centre (SMC), Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), and the Scottish Institute for Enterprise.

Pollock Halls

St Leonard's Hall, Pollock Halls of Residence

Pollock Halls, adjoining Holyrood Park to the east, provides accommodation (mainly half board) for a minority of students in their first year. Two of the older houses in Pollock Halls were demolished in 2002 and a new building (Chancellor's Court) has been built in their place, leaving a total of ten buildings. Self-catered flats elsewhere account for the majority of university-provided accommodation. The area also includes a £9 million redeveloped John McIntyre Conference Centre, which is the University's premier conference space.

Little France

Little France, the Chancellor's Building, was opened on 12 August 2002 by The Duke of Edinburgh and houses the £40 million Medical School at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. It was a joint project between private finance, the local authorities and the University to create a large modern hospital, veterinary clinic and research institute. It has two large lecture theatres and a medical library. It is connected to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh by a series of corridors. Queen's Medical Research Institute was opened in 2005, and provides facilities for research into the understanding of common diseases.

Easter Bush

The Easter Bush campus houses the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, The Roslin Institute, Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education and The Veterinary Oncology and Imaging Centre. The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, founded in 1823 by William Dick, is a world leader in veterinary education, research and practice. The new £42 million, two storey, 11,500 square metre building opened in 2011. The Roslin Institute is an animal sciences research institute which is sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.[68] The Institute won international fame in 1996, when Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell and their colleagues created Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, at the institute.[69][70][71] A year later Polly and Molly were cloned, both sheep contained a human gene.

Moray House

Moray House main quadrangle.

Moray House School of Education, just off the Royal Mile, used to be the Moray House Institute for Education until this merged with the University in August 1998. The University has since extended Moray House's Holyrood site to include a redeveloped and extended major building housing Sports Science, Physical Education and Leisure Management facilities adjacent to its own Sports Institute in the Pleasance.

Modern architecture at the University of Edinburgh
Evolution House, Edinburgh College of Art 

National Performance Centre

The university is currently bidding, along with Heriot Watt University to host Scotland's new National Performance Centre, to feature a full-sized indoor synthetic football pitch with seating for 1,000 spectators, badminton courts with 500 seats, as well as a beach volleyball court. As reported in The Scotsman, the Edinburgh bidders are willing to offer an extra £5m to invest in the stadium, bringing the total to £30m, with the winners to be announced in the summer of 2013. If successful, the Edinburgh facility would be based near to the Hearts training ground on the Riccarton university campus in the south-west.[72]

Student life

The University's Teviot Row House student union building
The student-run Bedlam Theatre, home to the Edinburgh University Theatre Company.
The Pleasance student union, home to numerous societies.

Students' association

The Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) consists of the unions and the Student Representative Council. The union buildings include Teviot Row House, Potterrow, Kings Buildings House, the Pleasance, and shops, cafés and refectories across the various campuses. Teviot Row House is claimed to be the oldest purpose-built student union building in the world.[73] EUSA represents students to the university and the outside world. It is also responsible for over 250 student societies at the University. The association has four sabbatical office bearers – a president and three vice presidents. The association is affiliated to the National Union of Students.

Performing arts

The city of Edinburgh is an important cultural hub for comedy, amateur and fringe theatre throughout the UK. Amateur dramatic societies at the University benefit from this, and especially from being based in the home of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.[74]

Edinburgh University Theatre Company (EUTC), founded in 1896 as the Edinburgh University Drama Society, is known for running Bedlam Theatre, the oldest student-run theatre in Britain. Bedlam Theatre is an award winning Edinburgh Fringe venue.[75] The EUTC also fund and run acclaimed [76] student improvised comedy troupe The Improverts during term time and fringe.[77] Alumni include Ian Charleson, Michael Boyd, Kevin McKidd, and Greg Wise.

The Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group (EUSOG) are an opera/musical theatre company founded by students in 1961 to promote and perform the comic operettas of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan,[78] collectively known as Savoy Operas after the theatre in which they were originally staged.

The Edinburgh University Footlights are a musical theatre company founded in 1989 and produce two large scale shows a year.

Theatre Parodok, founded in 2014, is a student theatre company that aims to produce shows that are "experimental without being exclusive". They produce a large show each semester and one for the festival.[79][80]


The Student is a weekly Scottish newspaper produced by students at the University of Edinburgh. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest student newspaper in the United Kingdom. It has held the title of Best Student Newspaper in Scotland, awarded by the Herald Student Press Awards, for four years running, from 2006 to 2010.

The Journal is an independent publication, established in 2007 by three students at the University of Edinburgh, and also distributes to the four other higher education institutions in the city - Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Napier University, Queen Margaret University and the Edinburgh College of Art. It is the largest such publication in Scotland, with a print run of 14,000 copies and is produced by students from across the city.

Fresh Air is an alternative music student radio station, one of the oldest surviving student radio stations in the UK. It was founded in 3 October 1992 and has since won "Student Radio Station of the Year" award at the Student Radio Association in 2004 & Station of the year 2011 (Scottish new music awards).


Edinburgh University's student sport consists of 67 clubs from the traditional rugby, football, rowing and Judo to the more unconventional Korfball and gliding. Over 67 sports clubs are run by the Edinburgh University Sports Union.

During the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the University of Edinburgh alumni and students secured four medals - three gold and a silver.[81] The three gold medals were won by the cyclist Chris Hoy and the silver was won by Katherine Grainger in rowing.

In the 2012 Summer Olympics Edinburgh University Alumni topped the UK University Medals table with three gold medals, 2 from cyclist Sir Chris Hoy and one from rower Katherine Grainger.[82]

Student activism

There are a number of campaigning societies at the university. One of the largest of these is environment and poverty campaigning group Edinburgh Global Partnerships, which was established as a student-led charity in 1990. There is also a significant left-wing presence on campus,[83] including an active anti-cuts group, an anarchist society, Edinburgh University Socialist Society, Marxist Society, feminist society, Young Greens, a Students for Justice in Palestine group, and the Edinburgh University Conservative and Unionist Association.[84][85] Protests, demonstrations and occupations are a regular occurrence at the university.[86][87][88]

Student Co-operatives

There are three student-run Fairtrade' food;[90] and the SHRUB Co-op, a 'swap and re-use hub' aimed at reducing waste and promoting sustainability.[91] The co-operatives form part of the Students for Cooperation network.[92]


The Basil Spence

The library system also includes an extensive number of faculty and collegiate libraries.

Notable alumni and faculty

The university is associated, through alumni and faculty, with some of the most significant intellectual and scientific contributions in human history, including laying the foundations of modern economics, modern sociology, modern geology, quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, antiseptic surgery, nephrology and the theory of evolution; the discovery of carbon dioxide, latent heat, specific heat, chloroform anaesthesia, SARS, the HPV vaccine, the Hepatitis B vaccine and the Higgs mechanism; and the inventing of the telephone, the hypodermic syringe, the kaleidoscope, the telpherage, the vacuum flask, the ATM, the diving chamber, and in-vitro fertilisation.

Other alumni and faculty of the university have included signatories to the US Declaration of Independence James Wilson, John Witherspoon and Benjamin Rush, Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell (the latter matriculated at Edinburgh, but did not graduate), astronaut Piers Sellers, engineers Alexander Graham Bell and William Rankine, naturalist Charles Darwin and biologist Ian Wilmut, physicists James Clerk Maxwell, Max Born, Sir David Brewster, John Robison, Tom Kibble, Peter Guthrie Tait and Peter Higgs, writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, Sir Walter Scott and Alistair Moffat, historian Sir Tom Devine, actor Ian Charleson, composers Kenneth Leighton, James MacMillan, and William Wordsworth, chemists Joseph Black, Daniel Rutherford, Alexander R. Todd and William Henry, botanist Robert Brown, medical pioneers Joseph Lister and James Simpson, mathematician Colin Maclaurin, philosopher David Hume, geologist James Hutton, former BP CEO Tony Hayward, former director general of MI5 Stella Rimington, Lutheran theologian Robert Preus, chemist and two-time recipient of Alexander von Humboldt research prize Narayan Hosmane, cardiologist Valentin Fuster and mathematician and president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Sir Michael Atiyah.

Sir Walter Scott 

At graduation ceremonies, the Vice-Chancellor caps graduates with the Geneva Bonnet, a hat which legend says was originally made from cloth taken from the breeches of

  • The University of Edinburgh
  • Edinburgh University Students' Association
  • Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA), online collection of papers

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Notes and references

See also

Despite its high international rankings, the University of Edinburgh was ranked bottom in the UK for teaching quality by its students in the 2012 National Student Survey.[109][110][111]


Historical links

State/Government Leader Office
 Canada Charles Tupper Prime Minister of Canada (1 May 1896 – 8 July 1896)
 Malawi Hastings Banda President of Malawi (1966–1994)
 Syria Najah al-Attar Vice President of Syria (2006–present)
 Nicaragua William Walker President of Nicaragua (1856–1857)
 South Korea Yun Bo-seon President of South Korea (1960–1962)
 South Korea Jang Taek-sang Prime Minister of South Korea (6 May 1952 – 6 October 1952)
 Tanzania Julius Nyerere President of Tanzania (1964–1985)
 UK Gordon Brown Prime Minister (2007–2010)
 UK John Russell, 1st Earl Russell Prime Minister (1846–52 and 1865 – 66)
 UK Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston Prime Minister (1855–58 and 1859 – 65)
Former British Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party and consecutive 10-year-long Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is an alumnus and former rector of the University of Edinburgh.

Heads of state and government

[96] was incorporated into the Geneva Bonnet.Piers Sellers In 2006, a University emblem taken into space by [95][94]

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