Higher Education Postcard: Heriot-Watt University

This week's postcard from Hugh Jones' postbag comes from a university which began life as the first Mechanics Institute in the world.

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

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Greetings from Edinburgh!

Today’s postcard shows Heriot-Watt University, located in Riccarton in the South-West suburbs of Edinburgh.

Heriot-Watt is – uniquely, I think, in UK higher education – named after two modern people: James Watt the inventor and engineer and George Heriot the philanthropist. (If you bring saints into the equation, there’s at least one other. Quiz question – can you name all the universities in the UK named after people? Give your answers in the comments.)

It grew out of what is claimed to be the first Mechanics Institute in the world – the Edinburgh School of Arts, founded in 1821. Which also means that this year is Heriot-Watt University’s 200th anniversary. (The University, by the way, has a very good account of its history – well worth a look.)

The School of Arts became the Watt Institution and School of Arts after the Watt Subscription Fund gave money to enable the purchase in 1851 of a building for the School. The Institution became Heriot-Watt College in 1885 following the merger of the School’s endowment with the George Heriot Trust.

In 1902 the College was designated a “central institution” – a particular term within Scottish HE – and its Associateship gained recognition as equivalent to a degree. It linked with Edinburgh University to enable science and engineering students to gain an actual degree. Eric Liddell – he of Chariots of Fire fame – was one such beneficiary of this link.

University status came in 1966, as one of the technological universities established across the UK at that time. Soon thereafter the university was gifted a site in Riccarton for the construction of a new campus, enabling it to grow. The card shows this campus in the early stages of its development – after 1974, when the first buildings were opened, but before 1976 when the card is postmarked.

The university has the oldest alumni association in the world – the Watt Club, founded in 1854 after a night’s drinking in the Guildford Arms, Edinburgh. The club raised funds to honour the memory of James Watt and to promote the interests of the then Watt Institution. The Watt Club Medal, inaugurated in 1890, continues to be awarded to high-achieving students.

The card says, enigmatically, “This is where we are staying – and where they are shooting, weather very hot, too hot for shooting”.

7 responses to “Higher Education Postcard: Heriot-Watt University

  1. A good list, Mike – Queen Margaret too

    Sheffield Bassett’s University was one of the names touted for Sheffield Hallam. I quite like the idea of academic gowns based on Bertie Bassett …

  2. Does Trinity Laban count? Named after 4, 2 or 1 people I guess, depending on theological perspective.

  3. Murray Edwards College, Cambridge is named after two (or, more accurately, three) people. New Hall – as it was previously – was over 50 years old when it decided that ‘new’ didn’t quite cut it and, after a very handsome bequest by the philanthropists Ros and Steve Edwards, it was renamed to honour them and Dame Rosemary Murray, first President of the College.

    It is therefore not only named after at least two actual people, it’s also the only HE institution I know of named after a woman who is not royal or saintly. Also the only one named after two women and the only one named after two women both called ‘Ros’ in some form.

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