University of Aberdeen

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University of Aberdeen
Latin: Universitas Aberdonensis

Initium sapientiae timor domini
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom


King's College, Aberdeen
University of Aberdeen arms.svg
Founded: 1495
Chancellor: HRH The Duchess of Rothesay
Endowment: £38 million
Location: 57°9’54"N, 2°6’0"W

The University of Aberdeen is a public university in the City of Aberdeen. It is one of the Ancient universities of Scotland, founded by a papal bull issued in 1495 after William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen, petitioned Pope Alexander VI on behalf of King James IV. This established King's College.[1] This dates makes Aberdeen the fifth-oldest university in the English-speaking world.

The university as it is today was formed in 1860 by a merger between King's College and Marischal College, a second university founded in 1593 as a Protestant alternative to the first.

Today, Aberdeen is consistently ranked among the top 200 universities in the world.[2] It is one of two universities in the city, the other being the Robert Gordon University.

The university's iconic buildings act as symbols of wider Aberdeen, particularly Marischal College in the city centre and the spire of King's College in Old Aberdeen. There are two campuses; the predominantly utilised King's College campus dominates the section of the city known as Old Aberdeen, which is approximately two miles north of the city centre. Although the original site of the university's foundation, most academic buildings were constructed in the 20th century during a period of significant expansion. The university's Foresterhill campus is located next to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and houses the School of Medicine and Dentistry as well as the School of Medical Sciences.

Aberdeen has approximately 13,500 students from undergraduate to doctoral level, including many international students. An abundant range of disciplines are taught at the university, with 650 undergraduate degree programmes offered in the 2012-13 academic year. Many important figures in the field of theology were educated at the university, particularly in its earlier history, giving rise to the ‘Aberdeen doctors’ in the 17th century and that of prolific Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Reid in the 18th. Five Nobel laureates have since been associated with Aberdeen.[3]


King's and Marischal Colleges

King's College, Aberdeen

The first university in Aberdeen, King's College, was founded in February 1495 by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen, Chancellor of Scotland, and a graduate of the University of Glasgow, who drafted a request on behalf of King James IV to Pope Alexander VI resulting in a Papal Bull being issued.[1] The first principal was Hector Boece, graduate and professor of the University of Paris, who worked closely with Elphinstone to develop the university. Despite this founding date, teaching did not actually start for another ten years, and the University of Aberdeen celebrated 500 years of teaching and learning in 2005.

Following the Reformation in 1560, 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 founded a second university in the city, Marischal College. 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. Aberdeen was highly unusual at this time for having two universities in one city: as 20th-century University prospectuses observed, Aberdeen alone had the same number as existed in the whole of England at the time (the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge). In addition, a further university was set up to the north of Aberdeen in Fraserburgh from 1595, but was closed down about a decade later.

Marischal College c. 1900

Initially, Marischal College offered the Principal of King's College a role in selecting its academics, but this was refused - the first blow in a developing rivalry. Marischal College, being located in the commercial heart of the city (rather than the ancient but much smaller collegiate enclave of Old Aberdeen), was quite different in nature and outlook. For example, it was more integrated into the life of the city, such as allowing students to live outwith the College. The two rival colleges often clashed, sometimes in court, but also in brawls between students on the streets of Aberdeen.

As the institutions eventually began to put aside their differences a process of attempted (but unsuccessful) mergers began in the 17th century. During this time that notable intellectual contributions were made by both colleges to the Scottish Enlightenment. Both colleges supported the Jacobite rebellion and following the defeat of the 1715 rising were largely purged by the authorities of their academics and officials.

Unification of the University of Aberdeen

The nearest the two colleges had come to full union was as the "Caroline University of Aberdeen", a merger initiated by King Charles I in 1641. Following the civil conflicts of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, a more complete unification was attempted following the ratification of Parliament by Oliver Cromwell during the interregnum in 1654. This united university survived until the Restoration of King Charles II, when all laws made during the Interregnum were declared void: thus the two colleges reverted to independent status.[5] Charles I is still recognised as one of the university's 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 College. The 1858 Act of Parliament 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 modern university

The relationship of the two ex-college campuses has changed over the years. While at the time of unification each had approximately equal numbers of students, buildings at Marischal College began to be expanded in the late-19th century with a significant rebuilding effort completed in 1906. In the 20th century, the university expanded greatly, particularly at King's College. New buildings were constructed on the land around King's College throughout the 20th century. Initially, these were built to match the ancient buildings (e.g. the New King's lecture rooms and Elphinstone Hall), but later ones from the 1960s onward were constructed in brutalist style. Meanwhile, the Foresterhill campus began to train medical students in the 1930s next to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Façade of the Sir Duncan Rice Library at King's College campus

During the mid-20th century departments which had been at Marischal College moved into one of these new buildings (most at King's College) and by the late 20th-century Marischal College had been abandoned by all but the Anatomy Department, a graduation hall and the Marischal Museum (Marischal College has now been restored as the headquarters of Aberdeen City Council). Following extensive fundraising, a £57 million new university library (the Sir Duncan Rice Library) opened in autumn 2011 at the King's College campus to replace the outgrown Queen Mother Library[7] and was officially opened by the Queen in September 2012.[8] Today, most students spend most of their time in modern buildings which provide up-to-date facilities for teaching, research and other activities such as dining. However, the old buildings at King's College are still in daily use as lecture and tutorial rooms and accommodation for various academic departments.


The original buildings of both colleges which united to form the University are much admired architectural features of Aberdeen. The main campus is now at King's College, where the original buildings are still in use in addition to many newer buildings of largely modernist style. A second campus at Foresterhill houses the School of Medicine and Dentistry.[9] In addition, there are smaller facilities at other sites such as the Royal Cornhill Hospital to the west of the city centre, and the Rowett Institute in Bucksburn.

King's College

King's College quad

The King's College campus covers an area of some 86 acres around the ancient King's College buildings and the High Street. It hosts around two-thirds of the university's built estate and most student facilities, and lies 2 miles north of Aberdeen city centre.[9] The university does not own all the buildings on the "campus" which also include private houses, shops and businesses (although many of these rely heavily on custom from the university community) and it is best thought of as a district of the city dominated by the university.

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 in the 19th century. The Crown Tower and the Chapel, the oldest parts, date from around 1500. The Crown Tower is surmounted by a structure about 40 feet 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. This crown, also known as the "Crown of Kings", frequently acts as a symbol of the university. The choir of the chapel contains 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 was converted into an exhibition and conference venue in the 1990s and today also houses the university's Business School.

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 (now 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. The Elphinstone Hall was subsequently used as a dining facility but is now used for graduations, examinations, fairs, and other large university events.

However, most students and staff spend relatively little time in these historic buildings, with a large number of modern ones housing most facilities and academic departments. Most date from the second half of the 20th century. Some of these echo the existing architecture of Old Aberdeen, such as the Fraser Noble Building with its distinctive concrete crown designed to resemble the one adorning King's College. Other buildings were constructed of stone in the 1950s (e.g. the Taylor Building and Meston Building). A number of other buildings are designed in the brutalist style, such as the Arts Lecture Theatre and adjoining William Guild Building, opened in 1969 to house the School of Psychology. Also on the site is the Cruickshank Botanic Garden which was presented to the university in 1899 and is open to the public.

Atrium of the main Sir Duncan Rice Library

The most recent building on campus is the Sir Duncan Rice Library, completed in 2011 and designed by Danish architects schmidt hammer lassen. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in September 2012 and named after Duncan Rice, a previous Principal of the university.[8] This seven-storey tower, clad in zebra-like jagged stripes of white and clear glass, replaced the smaller Queen Mother Library as the university's main library and can be seen prominently from the entire campus and much of the city. It is open to the public and outstanding views of the city and coastline are available from the upper floors. In addition to expanded facilities it also houses public exhibition space and 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.[10] Other libraries are located in the Taylor Building on the same campus (for law books and materials) and at Foresterhill (for medicine and medical sciences). The university's library service (i.e. including all libraries) holds over one million books.

Marischal College

Marischal College

Marischal College is a neo-Gothic building, having been rebuilt in 1836-41, and greatly extended several years later. Formerly an open three-sided court, the college now forms a quadrangle as additions to the buildings were opened by King Edward VII in 1906 and form the current facade from Broad Street. The building is widely considered to be one of the best examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Great Britain; the architect, Alexander Marshall Mackenzie was a native of Aberdeen. The Mitchell Tower at the rear is named for the benefactor (Dr Charles Mitchell) who paid for the graduation hall. The opening of this tower in 1895 was part of celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the university.

Teaching no longer takes place at Marischal College, with many of the departments formerly based there having moved to King's College some decades previously. While graduations and other events (such as concerts) took place in the cathedral-like Mitchell Hall in the north wing, for many years much of the building (including the frontage to the street) was derelict. A restoration project was completed in 2011 and restored the building and its ornamentation. It is now occupied by Aberdeen City Council and forms the administrative headquarters for the city, replacing the ageing St Nicholas House across the street. The project provided modernized public facilities and office accommodation for the Council as well as cosmetic rejuvenation, and involved the demolition and reconstruction of internal spaces while retaining and restoring the outer walls and windows. The University controls the north wing of the building containing the Marischal Museum and Mitchell Hall which was used in the past for graduation and other academic ceremonies.[9] Graduations currently take place at Elphinstone Hall at King's College.


Entrance to King's College Quadrangle


The Foresterhill site contains the School of Medicine and Dentistry, medical library and associated modern buildings for teaching and research. It is located at Foresterhill in the West End 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 NHS Grampian.[9]


A small campus at Hilton became part of the university estate following a merger in 2001 between the University and the Aberdeen campus of the Northern College, and temporarily became home to the university's Faculty of Education. It was located less than a mile southwest of King's College campus.[9] Following the renovation of the MacRobert Building at King's College to house the School of Education (completed in 2005), the Hilton campus was closed and sold to developers.[11] The campus was demolished and the land is now occupied by a residential development called "The Campus".

Organisation and administration

The university's structure of governance is largely regulated by the Universities (Scotland) Acts. It has 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 until the Reformation: 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.

Arms and motto

A mosaic of the University of Aberdeen coat of arms on the floor of King's College

The university's coat of arms incorporates those of the founders and locations of the two colleges it is derived from. In the top left quadrant are the arms of the burgh of Old Aberdeen, with the addition of a symbol of knowledge being handed down from above. Top right are those of George Keith, the fifth Earl Marischal. Bottom left are those of Bishop William Elphinstone. The bottom right quarter is a simplified version of the three castles which represent the city of Aberdeen [12] (this symbol of the city also appears prominently on the arms of The Robert Gordon University).

The motto of the University of Aberdeen is Initium Sapientiae Timor Domini, which translates from Latin as "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord". It is a quote from the Old Testament of the Bible, Psalm 111, verse 10. It also appears in the Book of Proverbs (9:10). The motto can be seen at the archway beside New King's on the High Street at the King's College campus, as well as other campus locations and in formal settings such as on graduation certificates.

Colleges and faculties

The university is divided into three colleges, which are further separated into a number of academic schools and other institutions (for example graduate schools, research institutes). These colleges are equivalent to faculties at other universities. Some large schools are sub-divided into departments (e.g. the Department of Archaeology is part of the School of Geosciences, which is part of the College of Physical Sciences). The Centre for Lifelong Learning is not part of any of the colleges and provides adult-education courses to the general public, even for those without the academic qualifications usually needed for admission to the university. Some of these courses lead to the award of a degree or another formal sub-degree qualification. In addition, numerous administrative departments support the university's activities.

College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • School of Divinity, History and Philosophy
Department of Divinity and Religious Studies
Department of History of Art
Department of History (including Cultural History)
Department of Philosophy
  • School of Education
Department of Education
  • School of Language, Literature, Visual Culture and Music
Department of English (including Literature)
Department of Language and Linguistics
Department of Film and Visual Culture
Department of Modern Languages (including French, Celtic, German, and Hispanic Studies)
Department of Music
  • School of Law
  • School of Social Science
Department of Anthropology
Department of Politics and International Relations
Centre for the Study of Public Policy
Department of Sociology
  • University of Aberdeen Business School

The Business School operates as an autonomous facility outside the conventional College structure aimed at placing the School in a better position to promote itself and recruit students.

  • Graduate School

There are also a number of Research Centres and Institutes

College of Life Sciences and Medicine
  • School of Biological Sciences
  • School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition - School of Medicine and Dentistry
  • School of Psychology

and is supported by:

  • Graduate School
  • Institute of Applied Health Sciences
  • Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences
  • Institute of Medical Sciences
  • The Rowett Institute
College of Physical Sciences
  • Graduate School
  • School of Engineering
  • School of Geosciences
Department of Archaeology
Department of Geography and Environment
Department of Geology and Petroleum Geology
  • School of Natural and Computing Sciences
Department of Chemistry
Department of Computing Science
Department of Mathematics
Department of Physics
  • College Research Centres
The Aberdeen Institute of Energy
Aberdeen Institute for Coastal Sciences and Management (AICSM)
Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability (ACES)
Centre for Transport Research (CTR)
Institute for Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology (ICSMB)
Centre for Applied Dynamics (CADR)
Northern Rivers Institute (NRI)
Marine Biodiscovery Centre
Centre for Micro- and Nanomechanics (CEMINACS)
Centre for Innovative Building Materials and Technologies (CIBMT)

Student life

Student organisations

Aberdeen Sports Village full-sized indoor 3G football pitch
Aberdeen Sports Village games hall

Over a hundred clubs and societies are formally affiliated with the students' association.[13] The students' association is responsible for sport at the university, which is managed by the Aberdeen University Sports Union, an AUSA committee. All registered students are eligible to join any of these clubs or societies.

The oldest student organisation at the university is the Aberdeen University Debater, founded in 1848 as the King's College Debating Society.[14][15][16] The first successful university newspaper, Alma Mater, began under the auspices of the University of Aberdeen Debating Society in 1883. In 1884, the society 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.

Each year a student-led torcher parade is held. First held in 1889, it is the largest of its kind in Europe.[17] Student groups and societies build floats and parade in fancy dress through the city centre to raise money for local charities. The local council close a number of roads to enable the event to take place.[18] Traditionally spectators donate money in the form of coppers.

The Aberdeen Future Fund is run by the Development Trust, a registered charity of Scotland, which seeks positive relationships and generosity of Aberdeen Alumni, in order to contribute to the high quality student experiences. Since founding in 1998, Aberdeen Future Fund has raised over £2.5 Million of unrestricted funds, thanks in large part to alumni. The individuals who speak to alumni to create and develop these relationships are students of the University of Aberdeen, so alumni can relate to younger generations through the University. Projects supported in the 2010/2011 year included The New Library, Sports clubs and societies, student scholarships, and medical research. Past projects have included a book fund for the Heavy Demand section in the library, providing "Safe Campus" leaflets, contributing to the student hardship fund, providing training mannequins for Clinical Skills, the organ for King's College Chapel, and funding for intramural sports.[19]


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

There are large playing fields at the back of King's College. Across the road and a down another street lies 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, synthetic cricket wicket, 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. Aberdeen Sports Village served as one of the official pre-games training venues of the Cameroon Olympic Team prior to the London 2012 Olympic Games. An aquatics centre featuring a 10 lane 50m pool and diving complex is currently being constructed on the site and is expected to open in 2014.


There are a large number of ensembles at the University of Aberdeen. Some of these are directed by academic staff, while others are run by students both in and out of the department and include; Balinese Gamelan, Baroque Ensemble, Big Band, Cantores ad Portam, Chapel Choir, Choral Society, Concert Band, Elphinstone Fiddlers, Flute Choir, New Music Ensemble, Steel Pans, String Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra, Viol Consort.

Student media

Student media organisations at the University include The Gaudie[20] (student newspaper) and Aberdeen Student Radio (ASR).[21]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about University of Aberdeen)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bulloch, John Malcolm (1895). A History of the University of Aberdeen: 1495-1895. London: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 18–19. Retrieved 2012-12-20. 
  2. "University of Aberdeen Rankings". Quacquarelli Symonds. Retrieved 2015-09-04. 
  3. "Fast Facts". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  4. "This Noble College: Building on the European tradition". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 2010-11-20. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "The New Statistical Account of Scotland - Account of the University and King's College of Aberdeen". Retrieved 2010-11-20. 
  6. "Founders' Day Service". Public Relations, University of Aberdeen, 2004-11-09. Retrieved 2010-11-20. 
  7. "The Sir Duncan Rice Library". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Queen opens new library at Aberdeen University". BBC News. 2012-09-24. Retrieved 2012-12-20. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 "Estate Strategy 2002-2007". University Estates Office. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  10. "Press Release: ‘Flagship library project to match academic ambitions’ leads next phase of University’s infrastructure investment". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  11. "University seeks "TC" former students and staff for Hilton closing events". University of Aberdeen. 2005-06-10. Retrieved 2010-11-20. 
  12. "University of Aberdeen - Armorial Tablet". The Heraldry Society of Scotland. Retrieved 2007-08-18. 
  13. "AUSA Societies Union". Aberdeen University Students' Association. Retrieved 11 July 2014. 
  14. Anderson, R.D The Student Community at Aberdeen: 1860-1939 (AUP)
  15. McLaren, C.A. Aberdeen Students 1600-1860 (AUP)
  16. Hargreaves, J.D. and Forbes, Angela Aberdeen University 1945-1981: Regional Roles and National Needs (AUP)
  17. "125th anniversary of Aberdeen Torcher Parade". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  18. "Torcher Parade road closures". Aberdeen City Council. Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  19. "Giving to Aberdeen". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 2011-09-03. 
  20. "The Gaudie". Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  21. "Aberdeen Student Radio". University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 19 September 2013.