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University of Glasgow

The University of Glasgow is the largest of the three universities in Glasgow, Scotland. It was founded in 1451 by papal bull of Pope Nicholas V, at the suggestion of King James II, giving Bishop William Turnbull permission to add the university to the city's cathedral. Its founding came about as a result of King James II's wish that Scotland have two Universities to equal Oxford and Cambridge of England. It is the second oldest university in Scotland (the 4th oldest in the United Kingdom), the oldest being the University of St Andrews (founded in 1413). The Universities of St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen are ecclesiastical foundations, while Edinburgh is a city foundation.

Glasgow University's main buildings
Glasgow University's main buildings

Glasgow has enjoyed a (usually friendly) rivalry with St Andrews since its creation, and with Edinburgh University since its foundation in 1583. Of all the universities and tertiary education establishments in Scotland, only Glasgow and Edinburgh offer a complete range of professional studies including law, medicine, dentistry, and engineering, combined with a comprehensive range of academic studies including science, social science, ancient and modern languages, literature, and history.

In 2003 the university had around 17,000 students and 4,500 members of staff. Over 3,600 of these are postgraduate students, while around 2,600 are foreign students.

The university is a member of the Russell Group of elite British Universities and is a founder member of the international organisation Universitas 21.



The university's initial accommodations were part of the complex of religious buildings in the precincts of Glasgow Cathedral. This coexistence became increasingly uneasy with time, particularly following the protestant reformation, after which Glasgow became a predominantly dissenting city. In the 17th century this, combined with the university's growth and the broadening and secularisation of its curriculum, led it to establish its own two-quadrangled building outside the cathedral precincts, on the nearby medieval High Street.

A model of the university's old High Street campus
A model of the university's old High Street campus

Over the following centuries, the university's size and scope continued to expand. It was a centre of the Scottish Enlightenment and subsequently of the industrial revolution, and its expansion in the High Street was constrained by the density of the burgeoning mercantile district.

Consequently in 1870, it moved to a (then a greenfield site) on the Gilmorehill in the West End of the city (around three miles west of its prior location), enclosed by a large loop of the River Kelvin . Its accommodations there were a number of custom-made buildings, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the Gothic revival style. The largest of these (now called the Gilbert Scott Building) echoed (in a far grander scale) the High Street campus' twin quadrangle layout. Between the two quadrangles Scott built an open cloister, above which are his grand Bute Hall (used for examinations and graduation ceremonies), and the buildings' signature Gothic bell tower. The sandstone cladding and Gothic design of the buildings' exterior belie the modernity of its Victorian construction — Scott's building is hung on a (then cutting-edge) riveted iron frame, with a lightweight wooden-beam roof.

Even these enlarged premises could not contain the ever-growing university, which quickly spread across much of Gilmorehill. The 1930s saw the construction of the award-winning round reading room (it is now a grade-A listed building) and an aggressive programme of house purchases, in which the university (fearing the surrounding district of Hillhead was running out of suitable building land) acquired several terraces of Victorian houses and joined them together internally. The departments of Psychology, Computing Science, and Eastern European Languages continue to be housed in these terraces.

More buildings were built beside the main buildings, filling the land between University Avenue and the river with natural science buildings and the faculty of medicine. The medical school spread into neighbouring Partick and joined with the Western General Infirmary. The growth and prosperity of the city, which had forced the university's relocation to Hillhead, again proved problematic when more real estate was required. The school of veterinary medicine, which was founded in 1862, moved to a new campus in the leafy suburb of Garscube in 1954. The university later moved its sports ground and associated facilities to Anniesland (around two miles west of the main campus) and built student halls of residence in both Anniesland and Maryhill.

The computing science department, housed in a row of terraced houses
The computing science department, housed in a row of terraced houses

The growth of tertiary education from the 1960s led the university to build numerous modern buildings across the hill, including several brutalist concrete blocks: the Maclaurin building (housing the department of mathematics, named after university graduate Colin Maclaurin); the Boyd Orr building (a squat grey concrete tower housing lecture rooms and laboratories); and the Adam Smith building (housing the social science faculty, named after university graduate Adam Smith). Other additions around this time, including the glass-lined library tower and the amber-brick geology building were more in keeping with the Gilmorehill's leafy suburban architecture. Interestingly, the erection of these buildings around 1968 also involved the demolition of a large number of houses in Ashton Road, and rerouting the west end of University Avenue to its current position.

The University's Hunterian Museum resides in the Gilbert Scott Building, and the related Hunterian Gallery is housed in buildings attached to the University Library. The latter includes "The Mackintosh House", a rebuilt terraced house designed by, and furnished after, architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The university opened a campus in the borders town of Dumfries. The Crichton campus, designed to meet the needs for tertiary education in an area far from major concentrations of population, is jointly operated by the University of Glasgow, the University of Paisley, Bell College , and the Open University. It offers a modular curriculum, leading to one of a small number of liberal arts degrees.

In October 2001 the century-old Bower Building (home to the university's botany department and biological museum) was gutted by fire. Manuscripts by naturalist Charles Darwin, together with a large number of samples obtained on his expeditions, were destroyed. The interior and roof of the building were largely destroyed, although the main facade remained intact. After a £10.8 million refit, the building re-opened to staff and students in November 2004.

The Wolfson Medical School Building, with its award-winning glass-fronted atrium, opened in 2002 [1].

The university is currently over a number of different campuses. The main one is the Gilmorehill campus, in Hillhead. As well as this there is the Vet School at the top of Maryhill Road, on the Garscube Estate. The University also operates a Dental School in the city centre; as well as the aforementioned Crichton campus in Dumfries; and in 2003 they opened their new Education Faculty Building (the St Andrews Building, replacing Bearsden's St Andrews Campus) in the Woodlands area of the city on the site of the former Queens College, which had in turn been bought by Glasgow Caledonian University, from whom the university acquired the site.

As well as these teaching campuses the university has halls of residence in and around the North-West of the city. They have the Murano Street halls in Maryhill; the Wolfson halls, also in Maryhill; Queen Margaret halls, in Kelvinside ; Reith halls, in North Kelvinside; Kelvinhaugh Gate, in Yorkhill ; and the Maclay halls in Park Circus .

The university also has a large sports complex in their Garscube Estate, beside their Wolfson Halls and Vet School. This is a new facility. They sold their previous sports ground (Westerlands) which was in Anniesland.


The management body, which is responsible for contractual matters; employing staff; and other matters such as the maintenance of the university property is the University Court. The Court takes decisions about the deployment of resources as well as formulating strategic plans for the university. The Court is chaired by the Rector (see below for more information), who is elected by all the matriculated students at the university.

However, day to day management of the University is undertaken by the Principal (who combines this role with that of Vice-Chancellor) and the Secretary of Court. The current principal is Sir Muir Russell who replaced Professor Sir Graeme Davies in October, 2003. The current secretary of court is David Newall .

The body which is responsible for the management of academic affairs, and the awarding of all degrees is the University Senate. The senate consists of various academics and is chaired by the Prinicpal of the university.

There are also a number of committees of both the Court and Senate that make important decisions and investigate matters referred to them. As well as these bodies there is a General Council made up of the university graduates that is involved in the running of the university. The graduates also elect the Chancellor of the university. A largely honorific post, the current Chancellor is Sir William Kerr Fraser , a former Principal of Glasgow University.

There are also five Vice-Principals, each with a specific remit. There is a Vice-Principal in charge of Learning and Teaching (who also acts as the Clerk to Senate); a Vice-Principal Estates; a Vice-Principal Research; a Vice-Principal External Relations; and a Vice-Principal Staffing. They each play a major role in the day to day management of the university.


There are currently ten faculties at Glasgow University. They are Arts; Biomedical and Life Sciences; Education (formed when the university merged with St Andrews College of Education); Engineering; Information and Mathematical Sciences; Law and Financial Studies; Medicine; Physical Sciences; Social Sciences; and Veterinary Medicine.

The Veterinary School is perhaps Glasgow's most famous Faculty, having wrought the personalities of James Herriot (aka Alf Wight), Eddie Straiton ("The TV Vet"), Sir William Weipers , among many others and has the distinction of having its degree recognised not only by the UK, but also the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, as well as most other countries in the world, an honour shared by only a handful of other institutions.

The Medical Faculty is also one of Glasgow's greatest strengths. Traditionally considered one of the top schools in the UK, it placed first in The Times' 2004 ranking of UK university medical departments.


Unlike the majority of Scotland's universities, the student body at the University of Glasgow are not members of the National Union of Students. Neither does their representative body take the form of a Students' Association, as it does at the other Scottish universities. However every student is automatically a member of the Glasgow University Students' Representative Council (SRC) and they have the right to stand for election to this body and elect its members. The President of the SRC along with one other SRC member, the Court Assessor, sits on the university's court (the overall management body of the university) and a number of SRC members sit of the university's Senate (the body that directs the academic affairs of the university, including overseeing student discipline). Each student has the right to opt out of being a SRC member, although this very rarely happens.

Students also elect a Rector (officially styled the Lord Rector) who holds office for a three year term and is legally entitled to chair the university court. This position is in practice largely an honorary and ceremonial one, and has been held by political figures including William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, Andrew Bonar Law, Robert Peel, Raymond Poincaré, Arthur Balfour, and 1970s union activist Jimmy Reid, and latterly by celebrities such as TV presenters Arthur Montford and Johnny Ball, musician Pat Kane , and actors Richard Wilson, Ross Kemp and Greg Hemphill. In the past few Rectors have actually been present to perform the duties of their office, although in modern years there has been a trend to elect people on the expectation that they will be a working rector. Ross Kemp was asked to resign by the SRC (which he did) for what they felt was a failure to act as a working rector. In 2004, for the first time in its history, the University was left without a Rector as no nominations were received. When the elections were run in December, Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was chosen for the post.

The Wolfson Medical School and Boyd Orr buildings
The Wolfson Medical School and Boyd Orr buildings

Students can also be members of one of the university's two student unions, Glasgow University Union (GUU) and the Queen Margaret Union (QMU). These are largely social institutions, providing their members with facilities for dining, recreation, socialising, and drinking, and both have a number of meeting rooms available for rental to members. Students are currently barred from holding membership of both unions, although they can use most of the facilities of both provided they are a member of one. A significant attempt was made to introduce Automatic Joint Student Membership at the end of the 2003/2004 session, which would see all matriculated students automatically become a member of both unions. However, this failed when the GUU dismissed on a technicality a resolution to make the necessary constitutional changes.

Sporting affairs are regulated by the Glasgow University Sports Association (previously the Glasgow University Athletics Club) which those students who join one of the sports clubs active at the university must join.

There is also an active student media scene at Glasgow University, regulated by the SRC. There is a newspaper, the Glasgow University Guardian ; a magazine, Glasgow University Magazine (or GUM for short); a television station, Glasgow University Student Television ; as well as a radio station, Subcity . Independent of the SRC, the Queen Margaret Union publish a fortnightly magazine, qmunicate , and Glasgow University Union produce the GUU Independent . Many of those involved in these have gone on to find a career in the media.

Alumni and faculty

See: List of Alumni and Faculty of the University of Glasgow

Famous scholars associated with the university include Lord Kelvin, Adam Smith, James Watt, John Logie Baird, Colin Maclaurin, and Joseph Lister. Philosopher Francis Hutcheson studied at Glasgow, and protestant reformer John Knox may also have done so. In more recent times, the university boasts of having Europe's largest collection of life scientists.

See also

Lord Rector of Glasgow University

External links

Last updated: 05-07-2005 16:01:14
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04