Happy Saint Andrew’s Day! In honour of Scotland’s national day, we’ve compiled a list of the ten best universities in Scotland. Check it out!
Scotland is a country that academically punches above its weight. Despite having only about 5.5 million inhabitants, there have been many notable Scots in fields such as medicine and engineering. Television, telephone, refrigerator, steam engine, pneumatic tyres, flushing toilets, penicillin and MRI scanners are just some of the inventions made by Scottish inventors. So it’s no wonder that Scotland also has many great universities. If you’re interested in studying in this fascinating country, be it for you whole degree or a year abroad, check out this list for some ideas on what university might suit you best.
The rankings in this article are based on the famous QS rankings and their World University Rankings 2024.
1. University of Edinburgh
Global university rank: 22nd
The University of Edinburgh was founded in 1583. Even though this gives it a lot of history, in the long tradition of Scottish higher education, Edinburgh isn’t actually the oldest, but the youngest of the four “ancient universities of Scotland”. It is the best though, being ranked as the 22nd best university in the whole world. With over 40,000 students enrolled, Edinburgh University is among the ten largest universities in the UK. It played a significant role in the Scottish Enlightenment, and was a big factor in Edinburgh receiving the nickname “Athens of the North”. The university’s famous alumni include Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, the naturalist Charles Darwin and authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and J. K. Rowling.
2. University of Glasgow
Global university rank: 76th
Even older and even larger than Edinburgh University is the University of Glasgow. Founded way back in 1451, today it has almost 45,000 students. In the 19th century Glasgow Uni was one of the first universities in the United Kingdom to also educate students from middle class backgrounds, not just those from wealthy families. Today it’s among the best universities in the world, and has especially strong programmes in Anatomy and Physiology, Veterinary Science, and English Language and Literature. The university’s famous alumni include three British prime ministers, three Scottish first ministers, four Nobel Prize winners and James Watt, the inventor of the Watt steam engine.
3. University of St Andrews
Location: St Andrews
Global university rank: 95th
The University of St Andrews was founded in 1413, making it the oldest university in Scotland, the third-oldest in the English-speaking world and the19th-oldest in the world. It has the highest proportion of international students of any university in Scotland, with about 45% of St Andrews students coming from outside the United Kingdom, representing around 150 different nationalities. It is the oldest university in the United Kingdom after Oxford and Cambridge, and this history can be seen in its academic offering still today: some of the highest-ranked degree programmes at St Andrews are in Philosophy, Classics and Ancient History, and Theology.
4. University of Aberdeen
Global university rank: 208th
The University of Aberdeen is also one of Scotland’s four ancient universities, having been founded back in 1495. This makes it the fifth-oldest university in the entire English-speaking world. Given the large impact of the oil industry in the city of Aberdeen, it’s no surprise that the university has an excellent Mineral and Mining Engineering programme. Other highly-rated programmes at Aberdeen Uni include Theology, Archaeology and Anthropology. The university’s School of Medicine and Dentistry forms one of the largest health campuses in Europe along with the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. A total of five Nobel Prize winners are associated with the University of Aberdeen.
5. Heriot-Watt University
Global university rank: 235th
Heriot-Watt University can trace its origins back to 1821 and the founding of the School of Arts or Edinburgh. It was named after James Watt, the inventor of the Watt steam engine, and George Heriot, a local goldsmith and philanthropist, and gained university status in 1966. Heriot-Watt’s main campus is in Riccarton, South West Edinburgh and the university has satellite campuses in the Scottish Borders, Orkney, Dubai and Malaysia. It has some very highly-rated programmes in engineering, with the Petroleum Engineering programme being ranked as the 12th best in the world.
6. University of Strathclyde
Global university rank: 276th
Taking its name from the medieval Kingdom of Strathclyde, the University of Strathclyde was founded in 1796 as the Andersonian Institute, and gained university status and its current name in 1964. It’s a university with an international feel, with about 25% of the student population coming from outside the United Kingdom. It was also the first university to receive Times Higher Education’s University of the Year award twice. Some of Strathclyde’s strongest programmes are in Library and Information Management, Pharmacy and Pharmacology, and Hospitality and Leisure Management.
7. University of Stirling
Global university rank: 431st
The University of Stirling is located in the Central Belt of Scotland. It’s another one of the UK universities founded in 1960s, having been established in 1967. The beautiful campus in the old Airthrey Castle estate has been selected as one of the UK’s top 20 heritage sites of the 20th century. Stirling Uni is especially well-known for its high-quality sports education: it’s a top 100 university in the world for studying Sports-Related Subjects and has excellent sports facilities, including the National Swimming Academy. The university’s women’s football team plays in the second tier of the Scottish league pyramid.
8. University of Dundee
Global university rank: 441st
The University of Dundee can trace its origins to the foundation of the University College in 1881, when it was a constituent college of the University of St Andrews. It gained full university status in its own right in 1967. Almost a third of students at the University of Dundee are from outside the UK, making the campus a place with a truly international atmosphere. The university has particularly strong programmes in Biological Sciences, Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Art and Design, and Medicine. Notable staff and alumni include the Nobel Prize winners Sir James Black (1988 in medicine) and Ronald Coase (1991 in economics), George Robertson, a former secretary general of NATO and Margaret Fairlie, Scotland’s first female professor.
9. Edinburgh Napier University
Global university rank: 801-850th
Edinburgh Napier University was founded in 1964 as the Napier Technical College. It gained full university status and took the name Napier University in 1992. In 2009 it got its current name, Edinburgh Napier University. It has just under 15,000 students, about a third of whom are from outside the United Kingdom. The university’s highest-ranked programme is in Hospitality and Leisure Management which is ranked as being among the best 160 such programmes in the world. The university has three separate campuses around Edinburgh.
10. Queen Margaret University
Global university rank: 851-900th
Queen Margaret University was established in 1845 and named after Saint Margaret, a Scottish queen from the 11th century. A smaller university of only about 5,000 students, Queen Margaret Uni is located in Musselburgh, just outside Edinburgh, where a modern, new campus was opened in 2008. The campus cost about £100 million to build, meaning Queen Margaret University’s students can now study in modern and high-quality facilities. The QMU campus has also been called the greenest university campus in the UK.
So there you have it, the 10 best universities in Scotland. Edinburgh has four universities on this list (including QMU in Musselburgh), Glasgow has two and St Andrews, Aberdeen, Stirling and Dundee have one each. All the universities that made this list were judged by QS to be among the best 1,000 in the world, so you can get a high-quality education in any of these universities. So all that’s left to do is choose the right university and the right degree programme for you and send in your application. Good luck!