Heriot-Watt University

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Heriot-Watt University
Heriot-Watt University logo.svg
Type Public
Established 1821 – as the School of Arts of Edinburgh
1966 – as university by Royal Charter
Endowment £8.3m (as of 31 July 2016)[1]
Budget £193.2 million (2015-16)[1]
Chancellor Robert M Buchan
Principal Richard Williams
Chairman of Court Frances Cairncross
Administrative staff
Students Global: 31,000[2]
Edinburgh: 10,460 (2015/16)[3]
Undergraduates Edinburgh: 7,135 (2015/16)[3]
Postgraduates Edinburgh: 3,325 (2015/16)[3]
Location Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Campus Suburban
Other campus locations Scottish Borders
Affiliations Association of Commonwealth Universities, CESAER
Website www.hw.ac.uk

Heriot-Watt University is a public university based in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was established in 1821 as the world's first mechanics' institute (Royal Charter granted in 1966). It has campuses in the Scottish Borders, Orkney, Dubai, and Putrajaya in Malaysia.[4][5]

The university is ranked among the World's Top 500 by all three major rankings - 312 in QS World University Rankings, 351-400 in Times Higher Education World University Rankings and 401-500 in Academic Ranking of World Universities. In the latest Research Excellence Framework, it was ranked overall in the Top 25% of UK universities and 1st in Scotland for research impact. It has been rated 'silver' in the latest UK Teaching Excellence Framework.


statue of James Watt
This statue of James Watt commissioned for the School of Arts today sits at Heriot-Watt's Edinburgh Campus.

School of Arts of Edinburgh[edit]

Heriot-Watt was established as the School of Arts of Edinburgh by Scottish businessman Leonard Horner on 16 October 1821. Having been inspired by Anderson's College in Glasgow, Horner established the School to provide practical knowledge of science and technology to Edinburgh's working men.[6][7]:64–66 The institution was initially of modest size, giving lectures two nights a week in rented rooms[8] and boasting a small library of around 500 technical works.[6][7]:100 It was also oversubscribed, with admissions soon closing despite the cost of 15 shillings for a year's access to lectures and the library.[6]

The School was managed by a board of eighteen directors[6] and primarily funded by sponsors from the middle and upper classes including Robert Stevenson and Walter Scott. It first became associated with the inventor and engineer James Watt in 1824, as a means of raising funds to secure permanent accommodation. Justifying the association, School Director Lord Cockburn said:

"[The building] shall be employed for the accommodation of the Edinburgh School of Arts; whereby the memory of Watt may forever be connected with the promotion, among a class of men to which he himself originally belonged, of those mechanical arts from which his own usefulness and glory arose.[7]:103 "

In 1837, the School of Arts moved to leased accommodation on Adam Square, which it was able to purchase in 1851 thanks to funds raised in Watt's name. In honour of the purchase, the School changed its name to the Watt Institution and School of Arts in 1852.

Watt Institution and School of Arts[edit]

Heriot-Watt's time as the Watt Institution marked a transitional period for the organisation, as its curriculum broadened to include several subjects beyond mathematics and the physical sciences. While the School of Arts had catered almost exclusively to working-class artisans and technical workers, the Watt Institution admitted a large number of middle-class students, whom it attracted with new subjects in the sciences, social sciences and humanities. By 1885, the skilled working class were no longer the majority in an institution that had been created explicitly for them.[7]:133–135

A shifting class make-up was not the only demographic change to affect the student body, as in 1869 women were permitted to attend lectures for the first time. This move put the Watt Institution some way ahead of Scottish universities, who were only permitted to allow women to graduate 20 years later following the Universities (Scotland) Act of 1889.[9]:163 The decision to admit women was made in large part owing to pressure from local campaigner Mary Burton, who later became the Institution's first female director in 1874.[7]:133–135[10]

In 1870, the Watt Institution was forced to move following the demolition of Adam Square.[7]:148–153 After a brief period on Roxburgh Place, it relocated to the newly constructed Chambers Street near where its former site had stood. The move caused the Institution severe financial difficulties, which were compounded by a combination of declining funds from subscribers and increased costs from its growing student body. In 1873, the Directors turned to George Heriot's Trust for support, and agreed to a merger of the Trust's endowment with the Institution's own. The proposed merger was provisional to changes in the structure of the Watt Institution, which would see the organisation become a technical college with representatives of the Trust in management positions. Accepting these changes, the Watt Institution officially became Heriot-Watt College in 1885, and was subsequently on far firmer financial ground.[7]:160–161

The Watt Club[edit]

The Watt Club was founded at the Watt Institution on 12 May 1854, and is today the oldest alumni organisation in the UK.[11] Following the unveiling of a statue of James Watt outside the Institution, local jeweller J.E Vernon proposed that

"[a club should be formed] whose object would be to sup together on the anniversary of the birth of James Watt…and also to promote the interests of the School, by raising a fund each year to provide prizes.[7]:144–145"

Watt Club Medals are still awarded by the organisation each year to Heriot-Watt's most highly achieving students, while the Watt Club Prize is awarded by The Watt Club Council to recognise student initiative and enterprise.[12]

Heriot-Watt College[edit]

The former site of the Watt School
The former site of Heriot-Watt College on Chambers Street, today occupied by the Edinburgh Crown Office.

After the establishment of Heriot-Watt as a technical college, the new management committee set about extending the institution's buildings and strengthening its academic reputation.[13] In its new form the College was one of only three non-university institutions in the UK with the power to appoint professors, and the first of these was appointed in 1887. In 1902 the College became a central institution, while in 1904 it introduced awards for graduating students which were similar to university degrees.[13]

Expansion meant that the College made increasing demands on George Heriot's Trust throughout the first part of the 20th century, which ultimately led to the independence of the two bodies in 1927. While the Trust continued to pay Heriot-Watt a fixed sum each year, from then on the College was responsible for managing its own financial affairs.[13] Heriot-Watt continued to expand after becoming independent, opening a new extension in 1935.[7]:243

Both World Wars impacted on the speed of the College's expansion. During World War I, student numbers dropped as young men joined the army, while teaching in engineering stalled as the department was used for the manufacture of shells and munitions.[7]:213–215 During World War II, student numbers dropped again and the electrical engineering department became involved in training the armed services in the use of radar.

After the College introduced a postgraduate award in 1951, it offered awards equivalent to university degrees and doctorates in all practical respects. Recognising this, in 1963 the Robbins Report recommended that it should be awarded university status. On 1 February 1966 the recommendation was enacted, as the institution officially became Heriot-Watt University.[13]

Heriot-Watt University[edit]

Heriot-Watt Reception.jpg

The first personal chair was appointed in 1974.[14]

While Heriot-Watt continued to expand in the centre of Edinburgh after attaining university status, the institution had grown big enough that relocation was felt to be desirable.[13] In 1966 Midlothian County Council gifted the Riccarton estate north of Currie to the University and in 1969 work began on transforming the site into a future campus.[7]:252 The process of relocation to Riccarton continued until 1992, with teaching and facilities divided between the new campus and the city centre until this time.[7]:379–381

The University continued to grow after completing its move to Riccarton, constructing additional student halls, a sports centre and a postgraduate centre on the site. The institution also expanded beyond Edinburgh, merging with the Scottish College of Textiles to create a campus in the Scottish Borders in 1998, opening a campus in Dubai in 2006[7]:436–441 and a campus in Putrajaya, Malaysia, in 2012.[4]


the Edinburgh campus loch
A view of the loch at Edinburgh Campus.

Heriot-Watt currently has five campuses, and also runs distance learning programmes through 50 approved learning partners to students around the world.[15]


Heriot-Watt's main campus is located in Riccarton in South West Edinburgh on 380 acres of parkland. The campus consists of: Academic buildings, student residences, a postgraduate centre, shops, several library collections, childcare, healthcare, a chaplaincy, a variety of recreational and sports facilities, and a museum, as well as the Student Union's main premises.[16] It is also home to the Edinburgh Conference Centre and Europe's oldest research park, which opened in 1971.[7]:386

Halls of residence[edit]

Heriot-Watt's Edinburgh Campus has 2,000 furnished rooms available for students.[17]

Scottish Borders[edit]

Heriot-Watt's Scottish Borders Campus
Scottish Borders Campus

Heriot-Watt's Scottish Borders Campus in Galashiels is home to the University's School of Textile and Design.[18] The School began life in 1883 when the Galashiels Manufacturer's Corporation began running classes in practical courses for its workers. The institution gradually grew both in terms of student numbers and the number of courses it offered, and it ultimately became known as the Scottish College of Textiles in 1968. In 1998 the College merged with Heriot-Watt, leading to the creation of the School of Textiles and Design in its modern form.[7]:436–444

The School is one of the few fashion schools in the world which offers a menswear course at bachelor's degree level, and the only school in Scotland to offer a fashion communication course. It was ranked 11th place in the UK for art and design in the 2013 Complete University Guide,[19] produced a winner and five other finalists for the Scottish Fashion Awards Graduate of the Year in June 2012.[20]

While the Scottish Borders Campus shares some facilities and administrative functions with Edinburgh, it is largely self-contained. As well as its own library, accommodation and catering facilities,[21] it has its own branch of the Student Union which runs events on the site[22] and is home to a collection of textile records and artefacts.[23] A new £12m student village opened at the Campus in September 2012.[24]

In addition to the School of Textiles and Design, Heriot-Watt's Borders Business Programme is also based at the Scottish Borders Campus. The entire campus is shared with Borders College, whose students make up the majority of those who study at the site.


Heriot-Watt' s Dubai Campus opened in 2005. It was the first British university to set up in Dubai International Academic City.[25]

Offering a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses similar to those found in Scotland, the Campus facilitates student exchanges between Britain and the Emirates. It has facilities including a library, catering, computer access and shops.[26] An expanded campus opened in the city in November 2011, allowing double the number of students to study for a Heriot-Watt degree in the city.[27]


Heriot-Watt University Malaysia’s purpose-built campus opened in Putrajaya in September 2014.[28]


Heriot-Watt's campus in Stromness, Orkney, is home to the International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT), part of the University's Institute of Petroleum Engineering. The Campus provides education to a small number of postgraduate students and is host to eight members of research staff.[29][30]

Associate Campus in London[edit]

West London College is an independent higher education institution situated in the borough of Mayfair in central London. The College has offered Heriot-Watt University academic programmes as an Approved Learning Partner since 1993 and in 2012 became an Associate Campus of the University.[31]

West London College students studying on Heriot-Watt University courses are awarded the same degrees as students studying at any other Heriot-Watt University campus. They are also entitled to graduate at the same ceremony in Edinburgh.


Heriot-Watt is divided into six schools and one institute that coordinate its teaching and research:

  • The School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, incorporating petroleum engineering and renewable energy technology, architectural engineering, civil & structural engineering, construction management & surveying, geography and urban studies;[32]
  • The School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, incorporating chemical engineering, chemistry, electrical, electronic and computing engineering, mechanical engineering and physics;[33]
  • The School of Social Sciences (formerly, School of Management and Languages), incorporating accountancy and finance, business management, economics and languages;[34]
  • The School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, incorporating actuarial mathematics and statistics, computer science and mathematics;[35]
  • The School of Textiles and Design;[36]
  • Edinburgh Business School, which offers postgraduate courses at MBA, MSc and DBA level;[37]

From 1 August 2016, the former School of Life Sciences was merged with other schools, with programmes transferred to the School of Management and Languages, the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society and the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences.[38]

Rankings and achievements[edit]

(2017, national)
(2017, world)
(2018, national)
(2018, world)
(2018, national)
(2018, world)
CWTS Leiden[45]
(2017, world)
(2018, national)
The Guardian[47]
(2018, national)
Times/Sunday Times[48]
(2018, national)
Teaching Excellence Framework[49] Silver

Heriot-Watt is known for the strong prospects of its students, with 80% in graduate-level jobs or further study six months after leaving the institution.[50]

In 2011, Heriot-Watt was named as the Sunday Times Scottish University of the Year 2011–2012, with the paper emphasising the employability of the institution's graduates.[50] In 2012, it was again Scottish University of the Year 2012–2013 for the second year running, and also became UK University of the Year for student experience.[51] The same year it came 1st in Scotland and 4th in the UK in the 2012 National Student Survey.[50]

Times Higher Education's 'Table of Tables' is the combined results of the three main UK university league tables - the Good University Guide (published by The Times and The Sunday Times), The Guardian and The Complete University Guide. In the Table of Tables 2015, Heriot-Watt was placed 27th in the UK and 3rd in Scotland. It is ranked 28th in the UK by The Complete University Guide 2018 and 26th in the UK by The Guardian University League Table 2018.[52]

Heriot-Watt was ranked in the 2016–17 World's Top 500 by QS World University Rankings (at 327) and Times Higher Education World University Rankings (at 401–500). A detailed study published in 2015 by Vikki Boliver has shown among U.K. universities, Oxford and Cambridge emerge as an elite tier, whereas the remaining 22 Russell Group universities are undifferentiated from 17 other "pre-92" universities (including Heriot-Watt) which, she claims, form a second cluster.[53][54]

£128 million infrastructural boost[edit]

In recent years, the University's campus in Edinburgh has benefitted from major infrastructural projects worth £60 million, with another £68 million worth investment announced. These include the UK's first purpose built graduate centre (£6 million),[55] Scotland's elite Oriam Sports Performance Centre facility (£33 million),[56] and the UK's first FlexBIO flexible downstream bioprocessing centre (£2 million).[57] It is also constructing a 5,000m² Watt Innovation Building for £19 million[56] to boost ‘creativity and ideas generation’ on the University's growing Edinburgh campus, and has plans to host a major £65 million film studio[58] and a £2.5 million academic partnership with the oil and gas firm TOTAL.[59] However, in 2017 it was also announced that a major budget shortfall and the impact of Brexit would result in Heriot-Watt shedding 100 jobs.[60]

Students' Association[edit]

The Students' Association at Heriot-Watt is a student-led organisation headed by individuals elected from the student population. The association has represented students both locally and nationally since its foundation in 1966,[61] and is a member of both the Edinburgh Students' Forum and the National Union of Students (NUS).[62] It is also responsible for running the University's Student Union, which runs events for students and supports student societies. Over 50 societies currently exist, including the Brewing Society which organises an annual charity beer festival.[63] In addition, the Students' Association runs several services at the Edinburgh and Scottish Borders campuses including catering facilities, a nightclub, an advice centre and a student shop.[64]

Sports Union[edit]

The Sports Union is responsible for the University's 30 sports clubs[65] and runs annual social events for students involved in sport. As with the Students' Association, the organisation is headed by elected Heriot-Watt students.[66]

Notable alumni[edit]





Academia and science[edit]


Notable staff[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Annual Accounts 2016" (PDF). Heriot-Watt University. Retrieved 4 March 2017. 
  2. ^ a b "Annual statistics 2011–12" (PDF). Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c "2015/16 Students by HE provider, level, mode and domicile" (XLSX). Higher Education Statistics Agency. Retrieved 17 February 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "Heriot-Watt University: Official Opening of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia". Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  5. ^ "Heriot-Watt campuses". 
  6. ^ a b c d Jameson, R, (1824), "Some Account of the School of Arts of Edinburgh.", The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 11: 203–205 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o O'Farrell, P. N. (2004). Heriot Watt University: An Illustrated History. Pearson Education Limited. ISBN 0-273-69605-X
  8. ^ "GASHE: School of Arts, Edinburgh". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  9. ^ Barnett, H. (2011). Constitutional & Administrative Law (8th Edition). Routledge. ISBN 978-0415578813
  10. ^ "Gazetteer for Scotland: Mary Burton". Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  11. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: A Short History of the Watt Club". Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  12. ^ "Heriot-Watt Academic Registry: Prizes and Awards". Retrieved 19 June 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c d e "Records of Heriot-Watt College". NAHSTE. Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  14. ^ "Heriot Watt's new professor". The Glasgow Herald. 29 June 1974. p. 11. Retrieved 8 June 2017. 
  15. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: Study in your own country". Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  16. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: Facilities at Edinburgh Campus". Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  17. ^ "Heriot-Watt - Edinburgh Campus accommodation". 
  18. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: Scottish Borders Campus". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  19. ^ "Complete University Guide 2013: Art and Design". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  20. ^ "The Scotsman: Scottish Fashion Awards: The winners in full". Scotsman. Retrieved 14 August 2015. 
  21. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: Scottish Borders Campus". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  22. ^ "Heriot-Watt Student Union:SBC Homepage". Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  23. ^ "University guide 2013: Heriot-Watt University". The Guardian. 10 May 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  24. ^ "Accommodation at Scottish Borders Campus". Heriot-Watt University. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  25. ^ "Heriot-Watt website". 
  26. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: Facilities at Dubai Campus". Archived from the original on 4 January 2012. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
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  28. ^ "Location". Heriot-Watt. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  29. ^ "Courses". ICIT. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  30. ^ "Staff". ICIT. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  31. ^ "West London College (Associate Campus)". Heriot-Watt. Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  32. ^ "School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society". Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  33. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: School of Engineering and Physical Sciences". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  34. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: School of Management and Languages". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  35. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  36. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: School of Textiles and Design". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  37. ^ "Edinburgh Business School". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  38. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: School of Life Sciences". Retrieved 5 August 2016. 
  39. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2017 - UK". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Retrieved 15 August 2017. 
  40. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2017". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Retrieved 15 August 2017. 
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  42. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2018". Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd. Retrieved 8 June 2017. 
  43. ^ "World University Rankings 2018 - United Kingdom". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 5 September 2017. 
  44. ^ "World University Rankings 2018". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 5 September 2017. 
  45. ^ "CWTS Leiden Ranking 2017 - PP top 10%". CWTS Leiden Ranking 2017. Retrieved 19 May 2017. 
  46. ^ "University League Table 2018". The Complete University Guide. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  47. ^ "University league tables 2018". The Guardian. 16 May 2017. Retrieved 16 May 2017. 
  48. ^ "The Times and Sunday Times University Good University Guide 2018". Times Newspapers. Retrieved 24 September 2017. 
  49. ^ "Teaching Excellence Framework outcomes". Higher Education Funding Council for England. Retrieved 22 June 2017. 
  50. ^ a b c The Sunday Times University Guide 2012, 11-09-2011. Leonard, Sue, "Full steam ahead for Heriot-Watt", London.
  51. ^ "BBC News: Scottish University of the year". Retrieved 28 September 2012. 
  52. ^ https://www.hw.ac.uk/study/why/our-rankings.htm.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  53. ^ Boliver, Vikki (3 September 2015). "Are there distinctive clusters of higher and lower status universities in the UK?". 41 (5): 608–627. doi:10.1080/03054985.2015.1082905. Retrieved 14 June 2016 – via Taylor and Francis+NEJM. 
  54. ^ Havergal, Chris. "Most Russell Group universities 'little different to other pre-92s' | Times Higher Education (THE)". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 2016-06-14. 
  55. ^ RIAS. "Post Graduate Centre, Heriot-Watt University : RIAS". www.rias.org.uk. 
  56. ^ a b "Heriot-Watt University seeks architect for £19m innovation centre". 
  57. ^ "£1.7m new centre at Heriot-Watt University will let biotechnology firms scale up in Scotland". The National. 
  58. ^ "Wait years for a film studio… then two come along at once". HeraldScotland. 
  59. ^ "Heriot-Watt University signs £2.5m partnership deal". BBC News. 
  60. ^ "BBC". 
  61. ^ "Heriot-Watt Student Union: History". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  62. ^ "Heriot-Watt Student Union: What is Representation?". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  63. ^ "Heriot-Watt Student Union: A-Z of Societies". Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  64. ^ "Heriot-Watt Student Union: Services". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  65. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: Sports Union Clubs". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  66. ^ "Heriot-Watt University: Sports Union". Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  67. ^ "Coppertop: Ian Ritchie's home page". 
  68. ^ "Hassan Ali Khaire, an Oil Executive, Is Picked to Be Somalia's Prime Minister". The New York Times. 23 Feb 2017. Retrieved 5 March 2017. 
  69. ^ "Doctorate for Formula One mechanic". The Scotsman. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  70. ^ "Lee Jones". Edinburgh Rugby. Archived from the original on 30 April 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2012. 
  71. ^ Nasmyth,J. (1885, reprinted 2010). James Nasmyth, Engineer: An Autobiography. BoD – Books on Demand. ISBN 3867414599
  72. ^ "Microsoft Word - oldfells_list_jun06.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-06-14. 
  73. ^ White, Chris. "Remembering Andrew John Herbertson (1865-1915) - News - School of Geography and the Environment - University of Oxford". www.geog.ox.ac.uk. 

External links[edit]