Campus close-up: Heriot-Watt University

Scotland’s ‘international university’ is investing in growth at overseas and domestic sites

April 10, 2014

Source: Douglas McBride, Heriot-Watt University

Diversity: Heriot-Watt’s School of Textiles and Design in Galashiels is part of a geographically widespread offering

There is barely a university in the UK that is not falling over itself to stress its international credentials, be it in recruiting overseas students, collaborative global research or educating students to become “global citizens”.

But Heriot-Watt University has gone further than most, billing itself as “Scotland’s International University”. And it intends to do much more.

While its Scotland campus is nestled amid fields and golf courses on the western fringes of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt also has a campus in Dubai and it is building another in the Malaysian administrative capital of Putrajaya, which is set to open fully in September.

It also has the largest international student cohort in Scotland. Thirty-six per cent of students at the Edinburgh campus come from outside the UK. Across the world, the university has almost 30,000 students, including 11,500 doing distance learning MBAs.

The scale of this international presence “is a unique selling point for us – it does differentiate us from the rest of the sector”, Steve Chapman, its vice-chancellor, told Times Higher Education.

Heriot-Watt was one of the first universities to set up in Dubai’s International Academic City in 2005, and now hosts about 3,700 students.

In 2010, the university embarked on a new international strategy, which committed to opening another outpost within five years, Professor Chapman explained.

Scouting for the best site, Professor Chapman did “lots of travelling”, including visits to China and India. But Malaysia won out, partly because Heriot-Watt was already offering degrees through a petroleum university in the country – and also because a site in Putrajaya exposes Heriot-Watt to Malaysia’s administrative elite.

The university has since had “lots and lots of publicity in Malaysia”, Professor Chapman said. As a result, it receives more applications to study in Scotland from Malaysian applicants than it does from Chinese, traditionally the biggest source country.

In the past year there have been two costly collapses of UK branch campus projects: one from the University of East London in Cyprus, the other a deal by the University of Central Lancashire in Thailand that went wrong.

Professor Chapman stressed that if Heriot-Watt were to open a third location overseas, it would not be before the Malaysia campus was well established. “We’re talking another five, six, seven years” until another such venture, he said.

“But I think we’re a university that doesn’t see any problem [with expanding abroad]. If you look at somewhere like Monash [University in Australia], it has [campuses in] China, Malaysia, South Africa, India, and a very high reputation.”

With the university administering nearly 50,000 exams worldwide each year, quality assurance is a major undertaking. Last October, it emerged that in 2011-12, at the Dubai campus’ School of Management and Languages, nearly one in eight students had been found guilty of cheating, with low entry standards blamed.

The vice-chancellor argued that the discovery of the collusion between students demonstrated the soundness of the university’s controls. “We stopped that and we’ve had no recurrence of it,” he said.

Behind all these initiatives – growing branch campuses, attracting more international students in Scotland and building distance learning programmes – is a target to increase income from international student fees from £40 million in 2011-12 to £90 million by 2018.

As set out in the university’s Strategic Plan 2013-18, by the end of this period total income will have grown by 57 per cent to £235 million (from about £150 million in 2011-12).

If these plans sound like a bid for corporate world domination, Professor Chapman is keen to stress that Heriot-Watt’s sights are not set on the Middle East and Asia alone, and that it has a local and national mission about which it is equally serious.

The university’s International Centre for Island Technology is based in Stromness in the Orkney Islands, while its School of Textiles and Design is in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders.

“I’m not constantly on a plane, but I’m often travelling,” said Professor Chapman, who pointed out that he gives a “state of the union” address to each campus every year.

Last year, Heriot-Watt won the right to build a £30 million sports training centre (it will be contributing £2.5 million to the project, as will Edinburgh city council, with the Scottish government providing the rest of the funding).

“It will be one of the best, if not the best, in the UK,” Professor Chapman said, and university sports teams will have access. “When this comes, I will be able to attract the best sports science researchers round the world.”

In numbers

Number of Heriot-Watt students worldwide

Campus news

University of Liverpool
Promiscuous female fruit flies play an invaluable role in preventing the extinction of males, researchers have found. A team at the University of Liverpool, working with colleagues at the universities of Exeter, Leeds and Madrid, have found that flies in the northern parts of the US are more inclined to have multiple partners in order to reduce the occurrence of an X chromosome that causes the production of only female offspring.

Bangor University
Plans to upgrade teaching and research facilities at a Welsh university are among developments that have received backing from the European Investment Bank. Europe’s long-term lending institution has agreed to provide £45 million to Bangor University for its expansion and modernisation plans, which include upgrading teaching, research and accommodation facilities.

Royal Agricultural University
A specialist institution has opened a new £1.2 million centre that will focus on applied research. The Royal Agricultural University’s Rural Innovation Centre at Harnhill Manor Farm will work to address the challenge of ensuring sustainable food supplies for the growing global population. The opening featured demonstrations of rural skills including forging, drystone walling and hurdle-making.

University College London
First-hand accounts of a daring 18th-century prison break have been unearthed in a university archive. The handwritten testimony of how James Martin and eight fellow convicts stole a governor’s boat and escaped from Australia’s Botany Bay in March 1791 was discovered by researchers at University College London as they examined the documents of philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The escapees, who travelled more than 2,000 miles up Australia’s east coast and then to West Timor, were eventually recaptured.

University of Sheffield
Engineers have used a 3D printer to build an unmanned plane. The craft, which has a wingspan of 1.5m, was created at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. It consists of nine snap-together parts and weighs less than 2kg. It has completed a test flight as a glider, but researchers are also developing an electric propulsion system for it.

Nottingham Trent University
Criminology students will be able to become special constables as part of their course. The partnership between Nottingham Trent University and Nottinghamshire Police will allow successful applicants to supplement their studies by taking on the role of the volunteer officers, who have the same powers as regular officers. Students on the “policing pathway” will also take modules on areas such as crime reduction.

University of East Anglia
Staff and students at an English university might be hoping for a mild winter next year after their institution agreed that it would switch off some of its electric heating during periods of high electricity demand. The University of East Anglia has become the first UK university to install energy management technology across its campus. This will allow it to switch off its air handling units – which, among other roles, circulate warm air when it gets cold – if asked to do so by the National Grid.

London School of Economics
A new academic centre focused on Southeast Asia is to be established thanks to a major donation from a Singapore-based philanthropist. Based at the London School of Economics, the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre is named after an LSE alumnus who has previously given £2.5 million towards the school’s new £24 million student centre.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Please login or register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments


Featured jobs

Cloud Applications Manager

University Of Greenwich

Lecturer: Adult Nursing

University Of The West Of Scotland

Assistant Principal

Durham University

Content Manager

Cranfield University

Coaching Professional

Bpp University