Best universities in Scotland

Read about Scotland's best universities, often featuring in university rankings.
October 19 2016

Scotland’s epic history, vibrant cities and incredible natural beauty make it a prime destination, whether you’re more at home scaling a cliff or curled up with a good book.

Its capital is Edinburgh, where the mountains of Arthur’s Seat look down on the cobbled streets and shop fronts of the old city. Once the epicentre of the Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh still has a reputation for intellectual and creative passion.

Every August, the capital hosts the Edinburgh Festival, the largest art festival in the world. Thousands of theatre and music performances take place over the three week festival.

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Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, has benefited from intense redevelopment in recent years. Buzzing modern music venues and shopping centres now mingle with classic Victorian buildings. Glasgow’s West End is a prime location for walking, with boutiques, cafes and parks all within easy reach.

It’s worth leaving the comfort of the cities for Scotland’s untameable countryside. The rugged, mountainous highlands are open to adventurers looking for a challenge. Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles, is a short trip from Glasgow. Further afield, Scotland is surrounded by hundreds of tiny islands, only a fraction of which are inhabited. These mysterious and isolated places have kept their traditional ways of life and are full of charm.

At the end of the day, there is always the option to warm up with a glass of Scotch whisky in a local pub. Whisky can only be called “Scotch” if it’s made in a Scottish brewery according to strict instructions.

Scotland also has a reputation for excellence in its education system. Five of its 15 universities consistently rank in the top 200 in the world. It also has the monopoly on Britain’s share of ancient universities. Four of the top five universities in Scotland were founded before 1600, with the oldest, St Andrews, dating back to 1413.

University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh is Scotland’s most prestigious institution. It is ranked as one of the best universities in the world for arts and humanities, but also for computer science. Students have the privilege of studying in some of the oldest and most enchanting buildings in the city. The university has inspired some of the greatest minds in Scottish history, such as the philosopher David Hume and Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s also the place where Dolly the sheep became the first successful example of animal cloning.

University of Glasgow

Glasgow’s vivid cultural scene and nightlife are due in part to the presence of the University of Glasgow. As one of the top research universities in the UK, Glasgow produces a vast quantity of internationally-recognised papers. Glasgow rivals Edinburgh for its architecture, with over 100 listed buildings. Seven Nobel Prize winners and two Prime Ministers have studied at Glasgow. Unusually, there are two student unions at the University of Glasgow. This tradition dates from the time when male and female students attended different institutions. Glasgow University Union is famous for sports, while Queen Margaret Union’s music venue hosts internationally famous bands.

St Andrews

Scotland’s oldest university, St Andrews, is located in a town of the same name on the eastern coast of Fife. It often tops rankings of Scottish universities, and is prized for its academic rigour and excellent research. Notable alumni include six Nobel laureates and a handful of ambassadors, as well as the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond. The university has a focus on sustainability, and has decided to become carbon neutral. To help achieve this it runs initiatives such as an energy-saving competition between the student halls of residence and green spaces on campus where students can grow their own produce.

University of Aberdeen

The University of Aberdeen is one of the leading universities in the UK for graduate employment. Its campuses are a fascinating mix of old and new, reflecting the subjects they specialise in. Old Aberdeen campus has a 15th century chapel and a state of the art library, where arts and humanities students can find the perfect atmosphere to study. Life sciences and medicine are largely taught at the high-tech Foresterhill campus. The university also has a lighthouse field station and the Oceanlab research station, for studies specialising in marine ecology. Aberdeen itself is a wealthy city due to its oil industry, with plenty of luxurious restaurants and bars. It is sometimes known as the silver city due to its stunning Victorian buildings, made using local glittering granite slabs.

University of Dundee

The University of Dundee is the youngest of Scotland’s top-performing universities, established in 1967. Its mission is to "transform lives locally and globally through the creation, sharing and application of knowledge". The city of Dundee has a rich history of scientific innovation. This is reflected in the university’s consistently strong performance in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Students can walk downtown to visit the RRS Discovery, berthed in Dundee harbour, which Captain Robert Scott sailed on his first voyage to the Antarctic. 

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