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University of Aberdeen

Full Arms of the University
Latin: Universitas Aberdonensis
Motto Initium sapientiae timor domini (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom)
Established 1495
Type Public/Ancient
Endowment £35.7 million [1]
Chancellor Lord Wilson of Tillyorn
Rector Stephen Robertson
Principal Prof. Sir Duncan Rice
Students 15,026 [2]
Undergraduates 11,155 [2]
Postgraduates 3,870 [2]
Location Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom
Affiliations Association of Commonwealth Universities
Aberdeen university logo.gif

The University of Aberdeen is an ancient university founded in 1495, in Aberdeen, Scotland. It is the third oldest university in Scotland, making it the fifth oldest in what is now the United Kingdom, and in the wider English-speaking world.

The modern University of Aberdeen was formed in 1860 by the merger of two pre-existing ancient universities: King's College, located in Old Aberdeen and Marischal College, founded in 1593 and located in the new city of Aberdeen.




King's and Marischal Colleges

See also King's College, Aberdeen and Marischal College for history pre-1860

The University of Aberdeen is one of the ancient universities of Scotland. The first university in Aberdeen, King's College, was founded in February 1495 by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen and Chancellor of Scotland, drafting a request on behalf of King James IV to Pope Alexander VI resulting in a Papal Bull being issued. The university was established near St Machar's Cathedral, and its chapel, concecreated in 1509, was dedicated to the Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Nativity.[3] The first principal was Hector Boece, graduate and professor of the University of Paris, who worked closely with Elphinstone to develop the university.

Marischal College with the new front under construction; circa 1900

Following the Reformation, King's College was purged of its Roman Catholic staff but in other respects was largely resistant to change. George Keith, the fifth Earl Marischal was a moderniser within the college and supportive of the reforming ideas of Peter Ramus[4]. In April 1593 he consequently founded a second university in the city, Marischal College. (It is noteworthy that Aberdeen was highly unusual at the time for having two universities in one city: as 20th-century University prospectuses wryly observed, Aberdeen alone had the same number as existed in all of England at the time.) It is also possible that the founding of another college in nearby Fraserburgh by Sir Alexander Fraser, a business rival of Keith, was instrumental in its creation.

Initially, Marischal College offered the Principal of King's College a role in selecting its academics, but this was refused by the King's authorities - cited as the first blow in a future rivalry. Marischal College, being located in the commercial heart of the city rather than the ancient but much smaller collegiate enclave of King's in Old Aberdeen, was quite different in nature and outlook, very much integrated into the life of the city, for example allowing its students to live outwith the College. The two rival colleges often clashed, sometimes more abstractly in legal matters, but not infrequently also more physically in brawls between students on the streets of Aberdeen itself.

As the institutions eventually began to put aside their differences a process of attempted (but unconsummated) mergers began in the seventeenth century and it was during this time that notable contributions were made by both to the Scottish Enlightenment. Both Colleges supported the Jacobite cause and following the defeat of the 1715 rising both were largely purged of their academics and officials.

The University of Aberdeen's creation

The nearest the two colleges had come to full union was as the "Caroline University of Aberdeen", a merger initiated by Charles I of Scotland in 1641. The final unification was brought following the ratification of Parliament by Oliver Cromwell during the interregnum in 1654. This united university survived until the Restoration whereby all laws made during this period were rescinded by Charles II and the two colleges reverted to independent status.[5] Charles I is still recognised as one of the university's seven Founders, due to his part in creating the Caroline University and his benevolence towards King's College.[6] Further unsuccessful suggestions for union were brought about throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries.[5]

The two universities in Aberdeen were finally merged on 15 September 1860 in accordance with the Universities (Scotland) Act 1858, which also created a new medical school at Marischal. The 1858 Act stated that the "united University shall take rank among the Universities of Scotland as from the date of erection of King's College and University." The University is thus Scotland's third oldest and the United Kingdom's fifth oldest University.

The university's coat of arms display the founders and locations of the previous two colleges. Top left is the arms of the burgh of Old Aberdeen. Top right is that of George Keith, the fifth Earl Marischal. Bottom left belongs to Bishop William Elphinstone. The bottom right quarter is a simplified version of the usual symbol (of three castles) representing the burgh and now City of Aberdeen[7].

The modern university

The realtionship of the two ex-college campuses has changed over the years. While at the time of unification there were roughly equal numbers in each, Marischal began an expansion in the later nineteenth century with a significant rebuilding effort ending in 1906. However in more recent years, the teaching of medicine has gravitated towards the university's Foresterhill Hospital site and science and engineering teaching activities towards King's, which has benefited from its distance from the centre of Abserdeen and expanded from its traditional collegiate appearance to a modern campus with the traditional buildings at its heart. There are no longer any students being taught at the Marischal College campus as the building is currently being refurbished by Aberdeen City Council as its new headquarters.

Construction work began in 2009 on a £57 million new central library on campus to replace the existing Queen Mother Library. It is expected to open in summer 2011.[8]


Main Article Ancient university governance in Scotland

In common with the other ancient universities in Scotland, the university's structure of governance is largely regulated by the Universities (Scotland) Acts. This gives the university a tripartite constitution comprising the General Council of senior academics and graduates, the University Court responsible for finances and administration, and the Academic Senate (Senatus Academicus)--the university's supreme academic body.

There are correspondingly three main officers of the university. It is nominally headed by the Chancellor, a largely ceremonial position traditionally held by the Bishop of Aberdeen but divorced from the see as a result of the Scottish Reformation and holders are now elected for life by the General Council. There is also a Rector of the University, who chairs the University Court and is elected by the students for a three-year term to represent their interests.

The administrative head and chief executive of the university is its Principal and Vice Chancellor. The Principal acts as chair of the Senatus Academicus and his status as Vice Chancellor enables him to perform the functions reserved to the Chancellor in the latter's absence, such as the awarding of degrees.


The Chancellor is the nominal head of the university. The current Chancellor since 1997 is David Wilson, Baron Wilson of Tillyorn, a retired diplomat and former Governor of Hong Kong. The Chancellor, or, if necessary, his deputy, confers degrees on graduates and chairs the university's General Council.

Lord Rector

The Rector of the university has been--since 1860--elected by the students to serve a three-year term of office; before that, the office was appointed. His duties are to chair meetings of the University Court and to represent student views on that body. The incumbent Rector is Stephen Robertson MBE, a local comedian and former solicitor. He was elected in 2008.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor

The Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen is Professor Sir Duncan Rice, since September 1996. The Principal is the de facto head of the university.


UK University Rankings
2010 2009 2008 2007
Times Good University Guide 33=th[9] 26th[10] 32nd[10] 36th[11]
Guardian University Guide 34rd[12] 23rd[12] 26th[13]
Sunday Times University Guide 34th[14] 34th=[15] 34th=[16] 34th[17]
Independent 47th[18 ] 39th[19 ] 33rd[19 ]
Daily Telegraph 33rd[20]

The University of Aberdeen is renowned as having an excellent reputation for teaching quality and research, rising in The Times university league rankings to 129th in the world, the fasting rising University in the world's top 200.[21]

In the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise 10 departments received the high rating of 5 as internationally distinguished and 19 departments received a rating of 4 recognising national excellence. As such, 85% of Aberdeen's staff are working in departments or research groups that are recognised as centres of national and international excellence.[21]

A number of individual departments have been highly rated in various publications. The Times Good University Guide 2008 rated Aberdeen's Law School as the best in Scotland and the 2nd in the UK. It also has a very well known Zoology and Marine Biology department, being one of only 3 British universities with a current Zoology department (the others being England's Cambridge and Oxford Universities).[21]

  • 97% graduates enter directly into work, further study or training within 6 months
  • High quality teaching - with over 89% subjects rated Excellent / Highly Satisfactory
  • Research income trebled in the last decade
  • Libraries with over a million volumes, priceless historic material, and seven museum collections recognised as nationally important
  • Strong track record in commercialising research — with over 400 patents pending and 21 spin-off companies

Academic structure

The university is divided into three colleges, which are further separated into a number of academic schools and other institutions.

College of Arts and Social Sciences

The College is separated into a number of academic schools:

  • University of Aberdeen Business School
  • School of Divinity, History and Philosophy
  • School of Education
  • School of Language & Literature
  • School of Law
  • School of Social Science
  • Graduate School

There are also a number of Research Centres and Institutes

College of Life Sciences and Medicine

The College is separated into four academic schools:

  • School of Biological Sciences
  • School of Medical Sciences
  • School of Medicine
  • School of Psychology

and is supported by:

  • Graduate School
  • Institute of Applied Health Sciences
  • Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences
  • Institute of Medical Sciences

College of Physical Sciences

The College is divided into two main schools and a number of research centres:

  • School of Engineering and Physical Sciences:
Department of Chemistry
Department of Computing Science
Department of Engineering
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Department of Physics
  • School of Geosciences:
Department of Geography & Environment
Department of Geology & Petroleum Geology
Graduate Studies
  • College Research Centres:
Aberdeen Institute for Coastal Science and Management
Institute of Energy Technologies
Institute for Transport and Rural Research


The original buildings of both colleges which united to form the University are much admired architectural features of Aberdeen. Many newer campus buildings are of largely modernist style and focused around the expanding campus around King's College, which now hosts all of the university's teaching facilities outside of the two more recent sites: Foresterhill and Hilton, home to the faculties of Medicine and Education respectively.[22]

King's College campus

See also: King's College, Aberdeen

King's College

King's College campus covers an area of some 35 hectares, formed around the ancient King's College buildings. It hosts around two-thirds of the university's built estate, and lies 2 miles north of Aberdeen city centre.[22]

The historic King's College buildings form a quadrangle with interior court, two sides of which have been rebuilt and expanded with a library wing. The Crown Tower and the Chapel, the oldest parts, date from around 1500. The former is surmounted by a structure about 40 ft (12 m) high, consisting of a six-sided lantern and royal crown, both sculptured, and resting on the intersections of two arched ornamental slips rising from the four corners of the top of the tower. The choir of the chapel still contains the original oak canopied stalls, miserere seats, and lofty open screens in the French flamboyant style. They were preserved by the college's Principal during the Reformation, who fought off local barons who had attacked the nearby St Machar's Cathedral. The library wing has now been converted into an exhibition and conference venue.

New Building, King's College ("New Kings")

The first of the modern age of construction in the King's campus began with the construction in 1913 of the New Building (informally known as "New King's"), largely in a similar architectural style to the old buildings. New King's groups to form a yet larger quadrangle-like green for the campus also bordered by the High Street, King's and Elphinstone Hall, a traditional 1930 replacement for the Great Hall, which was turned into the library and later into university auditorium.

The Queen Mother Library is the university's current main library, one of the major facilities on King's College campus. The five-storey modernist structure houses some one million books. In April 2006 it was announced that a new £58 million library, designed by Danish architects schmidt hammer lassen, will be constructed, to be completed in 2011. In addition to its expanded facilities it will also house the University's historic collections, comprising more than a quarter of a million ancient and priceless books and manuscripts that have been collected over five centuries since the University's foundations.[23]

King's College campus also includes other modern buildings; some, such as the Fraser Noble Building, with a distinctive concrete crown designed to resemble the one adorning King's College, echo the existing architecture of Old Aberdeen. Also on the site is the Cruickshank Botanic Garden which was presented to the university in 1899.

Marischal College

See also: Marischal College

Marischal College

Marischal College is a stately neo-Gothic building, having been rebuilt in 1836-41, and greatly extended several years later. The additions to the buildings opened by King Edward VII in 1906, form one of the most splendid examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Great Britain; the architect, Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, a native of Aberdeen, having adapted his material, white granite, to the design of a noble building to noteworthy effect. The beautiful Mitchell Tower is so named from the benefactor (Dr Charles Mitchell) who provided the splendid graduation hall. The opening of this tower in 1895 signalled the commemoration of the four hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the university. Formerly an open three-sided court, the college now forms a quadrangle.

The building is now mostly let to Aberdeen City Council, although the University controls the north wing of the building containing the Marischal Museum and Mitchell Hall, which is used for graduation and other academic ceremonies.[22]



The Foresterhill site contains the university's medical school, library and associated buildings in the West End of the city of Aberdeen. It became part of the university's holdings in 1938 following the move of the Medical School and forms part of a modern teaching hospital complex alongside the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. The 41 hectare site is split between the university (owning around a third) and Grampian University Hospital NHS Trust.[22]


The Hilton site became part of the university estate following its merger with the Aberdeen Campus of the Northern College in December 2001 and temporarily hosted the university's Faculty of Education. It lies under a mile south west of King's College campus.[22] All teaching how now been transferred to King's College Campus.[24]


As of 2009/10 the university has around 15,700 students, 3900 being postgraduates, representing 120 different countries with about 46% men, 54% women, and 19% mature undergraduates. The university has more than 590 different first degree programmes and more than 110 postgraduate taught programmes. [25]

Student representation

The student body is represented within the University by a Students' Association known as Aberdeen University Students' Association (AUSA). Additionally, the elected Rector of the University of Aberdeen serves along with the Rector's Assessor and AUSA President as a students' representatives on the University Court.

Following financial problems in the early 2000s, AUSA ceased to provide a traditional Students' Union) for its members. The organisation has been involved in the creation of "The Hub", a university-owned student dining and social centre created out of the former Central Refectory in King's College campus n campus, which opened in 2006.

During term time, AUSA publishes a fortnightly student newspaper called the Gaudie and hosts a radio station, Aberdeen Student Radio. In 2009 an independent student newspaper was published at the university, Vox Pop, but despite significant support closed down at the end of the year due to financial constraints.


A number of linked organisations cater to the students of the university. There are over a hundred clubs and societies formally affiliated with the students' association.[26]

The oldest student organisation at the university is the Aberdeen University Debater, the university's debating union, constituted in 1848.[27][28][29] The first successful university newspaper, Alma Mater, began under the auspices of the Debater in 1883. In 1884, the Debater also took the first steps towards the introduction of a Students' Representative Council under support from Alexander Bain the then Rector.

The creation of the Union in 1895 provided a new debating chamber in Marischal College and the first permanent home of the society. The chamber beneath Mitchell Hall in Marischal College is the oldest purpose-built debating chamber in Scotland. For a time immediately after the turn of the century both the Union and the society were organising debates, which ultimately led to a merger in 1913 before being revived as separate institutions in 1920.

The students' association is responsible for sport at the university, which is managed by the Aberdeen University Sports Union, an AUSA committee.

University accommodation

Halls of residence are managed by the University. Two large concentrations of University accommodation are provided on the campus in Old Aberdeen, consisting of Crombie-Johnston Halls (both individual but sister halls) and King's Halls of Residence, and a short distance away the Hillhead Halls Of Residence site, where there is a social centre with porters, catering, sports and computer facilities, in addition to on-site launderettes, a bar and a shop.

Following their first year, the majority of students opt to live in private accommodation off of the main university campus, although in recent years, prices and availability of accommodation has seen more second and third year students returning to university halls. This has forced the university to write to all students in university accommodation, in February 2008 and 2009, to let them know that accommodation will be reserved for first year students only in the academic year to follow.

The University has advertised a First-Year Accommodation Guarantee in recent years, but due to the high demand for homes in the rapidly growing city it has become increasingly difficult to fulfil the guarantee. At the start of the 2007-2008 term, the university ran out of rooms, and had to resort to temporary accommodation (including putting students into hotel rooms, and making kitchens, study rooms and common rooms into dorm rooms).


The students' association is responsible for sport at the university, which is managed by the Aberdeen University Sports Union, an AUSA committee.

There are sports facilities at the back of King's College. Adjacent to the King's College playing fields is the Aberdeen Sports Village, a partnership between the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council and sportscotland. The venue includes a nine-court indoor hall, full-sized synthetic football pitch, fitness suite, squash courts and a sports performance lab among other facilities. The £28 million development on the site of the former Chris Anderson Stadium, opened on 24 August 2009. A 50m swimming pool is to be constructed in the site by end of 2010.

Notable alumni

Entrance to King's College Quadrangle
See also: Category:Alumni of the University of Aberdeen

Many distinguished and renowned figures have studied at the University of Aberdeen. Most recently it has produced several leading figures in the UK Government, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling and the Paymaster General, Tessa Jowell. Additionally, famous businessmen such as Stephen Carter and Will Whitehorn matriculated at UoA. Radio and television personalities such as Nicky Campbell, James Naughtie, Sandy Gall and Derek Rae were also students here.

The University is well known in philosophical and theological circles. Thomas Reid, the founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, and an important figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, earned his degree from Marischal College. Robert Adamson and theologian William Robinson Clark also went here. Other academics who started here include Andrew Ross, Colin Campbell and James Legge.

Alumni of the medical faculty include Patrick Manson, who made important discoveries in parasitology and was the founder of the tropical medicine field. The Kai Tak Airport was namesaked after Kai Ho, who along with Patrick Manson and Graeme Cantlie established the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese in 1887, which later became University of Hong Kong in 1911.

Ali Smith, the author of the Booker Prize nominated novel Hotel World and the Whitbread Award winning novel The Accidental, took her undergraduate degree here. Contemporary playwright Simon Farquhar; Thomas Urquhart and Archibald Forbes are also alumni known in literary circles.

Those known in architectural circles include William Thornton, the designer of the United States Capitol and Charles Mitchell who worked with John Dobson and commissioned the elegant art nouveau church of St George's Jesmond from Thomas Ralph Spence.

Other figures include botanist C. H. Gimingham; plant pathologist Lawrence Ogilvie; ornithologist J. D. Macdonald; actor Iain Glen; mountaineer Tom Patey; Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong Frederick Stewart; former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Nicol Stephen; and James Blair, the founder of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.

  • Prof. Richard Dawkins, David Attenborough, Dennis Law and J.K. Rowling are some of the high profile names to be awarded an honourary degree from the university.

Nobel Prize winners

See also: Category:Academics of the University of Aberdeen
  • George Paget Thomson Professor of Natural Philosophy (Physics) at Aberdeen from 1922-1930, together with the American physicist C J Davisson "for their (independent) experimental discovery of the diffraction of electrons by crystals". (1937)
  • John James Richard Macleod Jointly with Frederick Banting, for the research which led to the development of insulin as a treatment for diabetes. (1923)
  • John Boyd Orr, 1st Baron Boyd-Orr Director of the Rowett Institute and Professor of Agriculture from 1942 to 1945, in recognition of his contribution to the worldwide fight against hunger. (1949)
  • Frederick Soddy, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Aberdeen from 1914-1919, for his work on radioactivity and isotopes (1921)
  • Richard Laurence Millington Synge A biochemist with the Rowett Institute from 1948 to 1967, for the invention of partition chromatography - a technique used in the separation mixtures of similar chemicals that revolutionised analytical chemistry (1952)


  1. ^ "Financial Statements 2006-2007". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 2007-04-26.  
  2. ^ a b c "Aberdeen University Profile". Retrieved 2008-04-05.  
  3. ^
  4. ^ This Noble College: Building on the European tradition
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ "University of Aberdeen - Armorial Tablet". The Heraldry Society of Scotland. Retrieved 2007-08-18.  
  8. ^ "New University Library". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 20 December 2009.  
  9. ^ [ "Times University Guide"]. The Times.  
  10. ^ a b [ "Times University Guide"]. The Times.  
  11. ^ "The Times Good University Guide 2007 - Top Universities 2007 League Table". The Times.,,102571,00.html. Retrieved 2007-11-03.  
  12. ^ a b "The Guardian University Guide". The Guardian.  
  13. ^ Guardian University Guide 2008
  14. ^ Sunday Times University Guide 2010
  15. ^ Sunday Times University Guide 2009
  16. ^ Sunday Times University Guide 2008
  17. ^ "University ranking based on performance over 10 years" (PDF). Times Online. 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-28.  
  18. ^ "The Independent University League Table". The Independent.  
  19. ^ a b "The Independent University League Table". The Independent.  
  20. ^ "University league table". The Daily Telegraph.;jsessionid=HXFCSGXMNVABTQFIQMFCFGGAVCBQYIV0?xml=/news/2007/07/30/ncambs430.xml. Retrieved 2007-10-29.  
  21. ^ a b c " - University of Aberdeen Profile".!epmikfF?mode=View&profileNo=1.  
  22. ^ a b c d e "Estate Strategy 2002-2007". University Estates Office. Retrieved 2009-08-13.  
  23. ^ "Press Release: ‘Flagship library project to match academic ambitions’ leads next phase of University’s infrastructure investment". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 2009-08-13.  
  24. ^
  25. ^ University of Aberdeen. "Fast Facts". Retrieved 2006-12-10.  
  26. ^ Aberdeen University Students' Association. "AUSA Societies". Retrieved 2009-08-10.  
  27. ^ Anderson, R.D The Student Community at Aberdeen: 1860-1939 (AUP)
  28. ^ McLaren, C.A. Aberdeen Students 1600-1860 (AUP)
  29. ^ Hargreaves, J.D. and Forbes, Angela Aberdeen University 1945-1981: Regional Roles and National Needs (AUP)

External links


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