Founded by the Edinburgh Town Council, the university began life as a college of law using part of a legacy left by a graduate of the University of St Andrews, Bishop Robert Reid of St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney. Through efforts by the Town Council and Ministers of the City the institution broadened in scope and became formally established as a college by a Royal Charter, granted by King James VI of Scotland on 14 April 1582 after the petitioning of the Council. This was an unusual move at the time, as most universities were established through Papal bulls. Established as the "Tounis College", it opened its doors to students in October 1583. Instruction began under the charge of another St Andrews graduate Robert Rollock. It was the fourth Scottish university in a period when the much more populous and richer England had only two. It was renamed King James's College in 1617. By the 18th century, the university was a leading centre of the Scottish Enlightenment.
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 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 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 Scotland's oldest purpose-built concert hall, 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 two oldest schools – law and divinity – are both well-esteemed, with law being based in Old College and divinity 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 medical school is renowned throughout the world. It was widely considered the best medical school in the English-speaking world throughout the 18th century and first half of the 19th century. (The first medical school in the United States was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 1765 by Edinburgh alumni John Morgan and William Shippen). It is ranked 1st in the UK's most recent RAE. The Edinburgh Seven, the first group of matriculated undergraduate female students at any British university, began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869. Although they were unsuccessful in their struggle to graduate and qualify as doctors, their campaign gained national attention and won them many supporters including Charles Darwin. It put the rights of women to a University education on the national political agenda which eventually resulted in legislation to ensure women could study at University in 1877. In 2015 the Edinburgh Seven were commemorated with a plaque at the University of Edinburgh, as part of the Historic Scotland Commemorative Plaques Scheme.
On 1 August 2011, the Edinburgh College of Art (founded in 1760) merged with the University of Edinburgh. As a result, 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.
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).
In 2002 the university was reorganised from its nine 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.
The College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences 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. It includes the oldest English Literature department in Britain. It was ranked 12th in the world according to the Times Higher Education 2014–15 Ranking. The college leads Scotland's Economic & Social Research Council Doctoral Training Centre (DTC): The Scottish Graduate School of Social Science is the biggest of 21 ESRC-accredited DTC's in the United Kingdom.Business School
Edinburgh College of Art
Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
Moray House School of Education
School of Divinity
School of Economics
School of Health in Social Science
School of History, Classics and Archaeology
School of Law
School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
School of Social and Political Science
The Office of Lifelong Learning
The College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine has a long history as one of the best medical institutions in the world. 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. 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.
Graduates of the University of Edinburgh Medical School have gone on to found five out of the seven 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, and discover the SARS virus. 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 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.University of Edinburgh Medical School
Royal School of Veterinary Studies
School of Biomedical Sciences
School of Clinical Sciences and Community Health
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. 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. 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.School of Biological Sciences
School of Chemistry
School of Engineering
School of GeoSciences
School of Informatics
School of Mathematics
School of Physics and Astronomy
As its topics of study have grown and diversified the university has expanded its campuses such that it now has six main sites:
The Central Area includes George Square, the Informatics Forum, The Dugald Stewart Building, Old College, New College, McEwan Hall, St Cecilia's Hall, Teviot Row House, the old Medical School buildings in Teviot Place, and surrounding streets in Edinburgh's Southside. It is the oldest region, occupied primarily by the College of Humanities and Social Science, and the Schools of Computing & Informatics and the School of Law, as well as the main university library. The Appleton Tower is also used for teaching first year undergraduates in science and engineering. Meanwhile, Teviot Place continues to house pre-clinical medical courses and biomedical sciences despite relocation of the Medical School to Little France. Nearby are the main EUSA buildings of Potterrow, Teviot and Pleasance. Old residents of George Square include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Some of these buildings are used to host events during the Edinburgh International Festival every summer. The main library (Edinburgh University Library) is also located at George Square. 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.
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, 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, 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.
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, three-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. 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. A year later Polly and Molly were cloned, both sheep contained a human gene.
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.
In terms of average UCAS points of entrants, Edinburgh ranked 9th in Britain in 2014. According to the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, approximately 31.5% of Edinburgh's undergraduates come from independent schools. The university gives offers of admission to 49.2% of its applicants, the 4th lowest amongst the Russell Group.
As of the end of 2016, the university has a higher proportion of female than male students with a male to female ratio of 39:61 in the undergraduate population. The undergraduate student body is composed of 37% Scottish students, 31% from the rest of the UK, 11% from the EU and 20% from outside of the EU.
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. Edinburgh is a member of the 'Sutton 13' of top ranked Universities in the UK.
In the 2014 UK Research Excellence Framework, the Edinburgh was ranked fourth in the UK and first in Scotland. The results also indicate that the university is home to over 35% of Scotland’s 4* research. In 2008, the RAE rated the medicine and informatics 1st in the UK. Edinburgh places within the top 10 in the UK and 2nd in Scotland for the employability of its graduates as ranked by recruiters from the UK's major companies. A 2015 government report found that Edinburgh is one of only two Scottish universities (along with St Andrews), London-based recruitment and elite professions such as investment banking consider applicants from. Edinburgh was ranked 13th overall in the The Sunday Times 10-year average (1998–2007) ranking of British universities based on consistent league table performance.
The QS World University Rankings 2015 ranked Edinburgh 17th in the world. The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016 ranked Edinburgh 24th in the world. In 2015, the Academic Ranking of World Universities placed Edinburgh as 47th overall and 6th in the UK. Edinburgh is ranked 31st in the world (5th in the UK) in the 2016 Round University Ranking.
The noticeable disparity between the University of Edinburgh's research capacity, endowment and international status on the one hand, and its ranking in national league tables on the other, is largely on account of the central role which 'student satisfaction' plays in the latter. The University of Edinburgh was ranked bottom in the UK for teaching quality by its students in the 2012 National Student Survey. According to The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2015, "The university is trying to address undergraduates’ concerns with a new personal tutor system and a peer support scheme. However, Edinburgh achieved an unwanted clean sweep of rock bottom rankings among universities in this year’s National Student Survey (NSS) for questions to do with the promptness, usefulness and extent of academic feedback, suggesting the university still has a long way to go to turn around a poor position". In the 2017 guide, Edinburgh fell to its worst ever position of joint 37th (placed with local Heriot-Watt University) in a domestic league table. The fall was attributed to lower NSS scores combined with a significant drop (78.6% to 73%) in the graduate prospects of its graduates.
In the 2016 Complete University Guide, 19 out of the 50 subjects offered by Edinburgh rank within the top 10 nationally, with Architecture, Chemical Engineering, East and South Asian Studies, Linguistics, Middle Eastern and African Studies, Social Policy and Veterinary Medicine occupying top 5 positions. The Times World University Rankings listed the University in 30th place worldwide for social sciences.
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. 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.
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.
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. The EUTC also fund and run acclaimed student improvised comedy troupe The Improverts during term time and fringe. 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, 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.
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.
The Journal was an independent publication, established in 2007 by three students at the University of Edinburgh, and was also distributed 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 was the largest such publication in Scotland, with a print run of 14,000 copies and was produced by students from across the city. It folded, however, in 2015.
Fresh Air is an alternative music student radio station, one of the oldest surviving student radio stations in the UK. It was founded in October 1992.
In September 2015, Edinburgh University Student Television (EUTV) became the newest addition to the student media scene at the university, producing a regular magazine styled programme, documentaries and other special events.
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. The Scottish Varsity, also known as the "world's oldest varsity match", is played annually against the University of St Andrews.
During the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the University of Edinburgh alumni and students secured four medals – three gold and a silver. 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.
There are a number of campaigning societies at the university. The largest of these include the environment and poverty campaigning group People & Planet and the Amnesty International Society. International development organisations include Edinburgh Global Partnerships, which was established as a student-led charity in 1990. There is also a significant left-wing presence on campus, 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. Protests, demonstrations and occupations are a regular occurrence at the university.
The activist group People and Planet took over Charles Stewart House in 2015 and again in 2016 in protest over the Universities investment in Arms and Fossil fuels In May 2015, a security guard was charged in relation to the occupations
There are three student-run co-operatives on campus: Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative, providing affordable housing for 106 students; The Hearty Squirrel Food Cooperative, selling 'healthy, local, ethical, organic and Fairtrade' food; and the SHRUB Co-op, a 'swap and re-use hub' aimed at reducing waste and promoting sustainability. The co-operatives form part of the Students for Cooperation network.
The Edinburgh University Library pre-dates the university by three years. Founded in 1580 through the donation of a large collection by Clement Littill, its collection has grown to become the largest university library in Scotland with over 2.5 million volumes. These are housed in the main University Library building in George Square – one of the largest academic library buildings in Europe, designed by Basil Spence.
The library system also includes an extensive number of faculty and collegiate libraries.
The university is associated, through alumni and academic staff, with some of the most significant intellectual and scientific contributions in human history, including laying the foundations of Bayesian statistics (Thomas Bayes), quantum mechanics (Max Born), nephrology (Richard Bright), the theory of evolution (Charles Darwin), the initial development of sociology (Adam Ferguson), modern geology (James Hutton), antiseptic surgery (Joseph Lister), classical theory of electromagnetism (James Clerk Maxwell) and thermodynamics (William John Macquorn Rankine); the discovery of carbon dioxide (Joseph Black), latent heat (Joseph Black), specific heat (Joseph Black), the HPV vaccine (Ian Frazer), the Higgs mechanism (Peter Higgs and Tom Kibble), the Hepatitis B vaccine (Kenneth Murray), nitrogen (Daniel Rutherford), chloroform anaesthesia (James Young Simpson) and SARS (Nanshan Zhong); and the inventing of the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell), the hypodermic syringe (Alexander Wood), the kaleidoscope (David Brewster), the telpherage (Fleeming Jenkin), the vacuum flask (James Dewar), the ATM (John Shepherd-Barron), the diving chamber (John Scott Haldane), and in-vitro fertilisation (Robert Edwards).
Other alumni and academic staff 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, biologist Ian Wilmut, geologists Archibald Geikie and William Edmond Logan, physicists Sir David Brewster, John Robison and Peter Guthrie Tait, writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, Sir Walter Scott and Alistair Moffat, economists Kenneth E. Boulding, James Mirrlees and John Hardman Moore, historian Sir Tom Devine, actor Ian Charleson, composers Kenneth Leighton, James MacMillan, and William Wordsworth, chemists William Henry, David Leigh, Guy Lloyd-Jones and Alexander R. Todd, botanist Robert Brown, surgeon James Barry, mathematician Colin Maclaurin, polymath Thomas Young, philosopher David Hume, pilot Eric "Winkle" Brown, former BP CEO Tony Hayward, former director general of MI5 Stella Rimington, theologians John Dickie and Robert Preus, mathematician (Fields medallist) and president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Sir Michael Atiyah,former Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir John Anderson and now Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh the Member of Parliament for Ochil and South Perthshire.
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 John Knox or George Buchanan. The hat was last restored in 2000, when a note from 1849 was discovered in the fabric. In 2006, a University emblem taken into space by Piers Sellers was incorporated into the Geneva Bonnet.Harvard University, an American Ivy League university, had its medical school founded by three surgeons, one of whom was Benjamin Waterhouse, an alumnus of Edinburgh Medical School.
Dalhousie University, Canadian U15 university, founded in 1818. In the early 19th century, George Ramsay, the ninth Earl of Dalhousie and Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor at the time, wanted to establish a Halifax college open to all, regardless of class or creed. The earl modeled the fledgling college after the University of Edinburgh, near his Scottish home.
McGill University, Canadian U15 university, founded in 1821, has strong Edinburgh roots and links to the University of Edinburgh as McGill's first (and, for several years, its only) faculty, Medicine, was founded by four physicians/surgeons, including Andrew Fernando Holmes and John Stephenson, who had trained in Edinburgh.
University of Pennsylvania, an American Ivy League university, has long-standing historical links with the University of Edinburgh, Penn's School of Medicine was founded by John Morgan, an Edinburgh medical graduate and was modeled after Edinburgh Medical School.
Princeton University, an American Ivy League university, had its academic syllabus and structure reformed along the lines of the University of Edinburgh and other Scottish universities by its sixth president John Witherspoon, an Edinburgh theology graduate.
The College of William & Mary, the second-oldest university in the USA, was founded by Edinburgh graduate James Blair, who served as the College's founding president for fifty years.
Columbia University, an American Ivy League university, had its medical school was founded by Samuel Bard, an Edinburgh medical graduate.
University of Sydney, the first Australian university, was founded by Charles Nicholson, a physician and graduate of the University of Edinburgh Medical School.