University of Aberdeen History

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University of Aberdeen History

Founded in 1495 by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen and Chancellor of Scotland, the University of Aberdeen is Scotland’s third oldest and the UK’s fifth oldest university.

William Elphinstone established King’s College to train doctors, teachers and clergy for the communities of northern Scotland, and lawyers and administrators to serve the Scottish Crown. Much of the King’s College still remains today, as do the traditions which the Bishop began.

King’s College opened with 36 staff and students, and embraced all the known branches of learning: arts, theology, canon and civil law. In 1497 it was first in the English-speaking world to create a chair of medicine. Elphinstone’s college looked outward to Europe and beyond, taking the great European universities of Paris and Bologna as its model.

Uniting the Rivals

In 1593, a second, Post-Reformation University, was founded in the heart of the New Town of Aberdeen by George Keith, fourth Earl Marischal. King’s College and Marischal College were united to form the modern University of Aberdeen in 1860. At first, arts and divinity were taught at King’s and law and medicine at Marischal. A separate science faculty – also at Marischal – was established in 1892. All faculties were opened to women in 1892, and in 1894 the first 20 matriculated female students began their studies. Four women graduated in arts in 1898, and by the following year, women made up a quarter of the faculty.

Into our Sixth Century

Throughout the 20th century Aberdeen has consistently increased student recruitment, which now stands at 14,000. In recent years picturesque and historic Old Aberdeen, home of Bishop Elphinstone’s original foundation, has again become the main campus site.

The University has also invested heavily in medical research, where time and again University staff have demonstrated their skills as world leaders in their field. The Institute of Medical Sciences, completed in 2002, was designed to provide state-of-the-art facilities for medical researchers and their students. This was followed in 2007 by the Health Sciences Building. The Foresterhill campus is now one of Europe’s major biomedical research centres.  The Suttie Centre for Teaching and Learning in Healthcare, a £20m healthcare training facility, opened in 2009.

Investing in our Future

2012 saw the opening of the £57 million Sir Duncan Rice Library in Old Aberdeen, a great modern building to match the splendour of the University’s 500 year old campus.

The fact that the University has become what it is owes much to the determination and vision of a handful of visionaries and pioneers, including a distinguished list of scholars who in their own unique ways, helped to shape the University into the world-class institution we have today.

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