The Origins of Scotland’s Higher Education

Maddie MacKenna

I think it’s time for a more educative article, my bonnie lads and lasses…

We have talked about Scottish folklore and fairies, and while that’s all very interesting and full of imagination, I can’t help but wonder…

What was going on in the everyday life of people in Medieval Scotland? How did people educate themselves in the 15th century, if they did so at all…?

These thoughts led me to an astonishing fountain of information regarding the ancient universities of Scotland! 

I was so intrigued by my findings that I had to share them with you, my loyal readers.

How It All Started

Who would have thought that the Universities that were formed in Scotland in the 16th century were the only ones that existed in the country until the 20th century!  

I’ve got to tell you, I was as surprised as you are…

Now…which were these Universities?

First of all, there was the University of St. Andrews, founded in 1413! This University owes its origins to a society formed in 1410. After a charter was issued, the society attracted some of the most educated men in Scotland to work as professors. In 1413 the society was confirmed to be a University with six papal bulls. 

The University of St. Andrews is, until this day, very famous for its research. And the small city of St. Andrews is simply majestic…

St Salvator’s Chapel, St Andrews. Image source.

Moving on, the second University founded in Scotland was the University of Glasgow, in 1451. The University was founded after the request of King James II.

You want to know why? It was the King’s wish for Scotland to have two impressive universities, such as England did with Cambridge and Oxford.

Once more, the rivalry between England and Scotland shows its face, but in a more civilized way this time. Wouldn’t you agree?

Just take a look at this breathtaking building…

The Main Building of the University of Glasgow, from Kelvingrove Park. Image source. 

Third on our list is the magnificent University of Aberdeen, established in 1495, which has a rather complicated history. Be sure to search for it…it is rather interesting. 

And, last but not least, is the acclaimed University of Edinburgh, founded in 1558. By the 18th century, the University of Edinburgh played a huge role in the development of the Scottish Enlightenment, a period characterized by very important intellectual and scientific accomplishments.

The University of Edinburgh’s Robert Adam-designed Old College, home of its Law School. Image source.

It is important to note that by this time Scotland had created four acclaimed Universities, while the much larger England had only two…

Who could have thought that our lovely Scotland had such an important and strong presence when it comes to education?

A Different Approach

But what could one person study at these Universities?

Of course, subjects were much different compared to those offered at our universities today.  In general, at the Universities of the Medieval period, one could only study one of the following: Liberal Arts, and the higher disciplines of Law, Theology, and Medicine. 

The Universities were the evolution of the much older Christian Cathedrals schools and monastic schools.

So, it turns out that Scottish history is rich with various information. Isn’t that right?

We keep hearing about all the famous Scottish and English wars but as it turns out there is much more to our beloved Scotland than that.

It is true what they say: the more you read about something the more interested you become in it… 

I can’t wait to learn more about the Universities of the Medieval period and report back to you. I surely hope I have inspired you to do the same! 

Until next time…

Written by Maddie MacKenna

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