Their journey From a pioneering institute born out of the Scottish Enlightenment, today we are shaping the world, a global university, a leader in transnational education. Echoing our founding principles of tailoring our curriculum to the needs of modern society, we are a powerful driver of the economy wherever we are in the world. In all of our communities we create a distinct university experience, a springboard for an international career.
We are proud that since our foundation in 1821, we have been outward looking pioneers of education, in pursuit of knowledge to the benefit of society and the world. Read the story of Heriot-Watt University:
Since our foundation in 1821, we have been outward looking pioneers of education in pursuit of knowledge to benefit the society and the world.
Pioneering Education since 1821
It all began with a conversation...a conversation between two Edinburgh businessmen that would pioneer education for working people.
Leading a revolution in education
In 1 Oct 1821 the School held its first lecture at St Cecilia's Concert Hall in Niddry Street, Edinburgh. The subject: chemistry. Over 300 people packed the venue. Several hundred were turned away. Within a month over 450 students had enrolled. Thirty years later over 700 Mechanics Institutes had been established across Britain. Emigrants took the movement as far as Australia and America.
Education becomes a right not a privilege
In 1821 Edinburgh was the centre of the Scottish Enlightenment led by radical thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Hume. Education was regarded as the vehicle for moral and material self improvement and a way of addressing the challenges of the industrial revolution. Leonard Horner, a linen merchant and social reformer met his friend Robert Bryson, one of Scotland's finest clock makers, in his shop on Edinburgh’s South Bridge. Bryson complained that his apprentices needed a mathematical education.
But the only classes available were too expensive and held while they were at work. Horner came up with the idea to provide evening classes at fees that working men could afford. With financial backing from influential Edinburgh citizens; author, Sir Walter Scott, judge and conservationist Lord Cockburn, and the Craig family of Riccarton, Edinburgh School of Arts, the world’s first Mechanics Institute, was born.
A revolution in education has begun.
Opportunities for women
Twenty years before legislation forced Scottish universities to open their doors to women in 1889, Mary Burton (1819–1909), a pioneering campaigner for educational and social reform, led a successful campaign to persuade the Directors of the Watt Institution to admit women students – a truly radical step at the time.
She was one of the first women elected to serve on Parochial and School Boards and a tireless advocate for women's suffrage. Mary believed that boys as well as girls should be taught to sew, knit and cook for themselves. She went on to become the first woman on the School's Board of Directors and later a Life Governor of Heriot-Watt College. She also took an active interest in the cultural life of the college as Honorary President of the Watt Literary Association.
Mary Burton inspired many women of her time and beyond to break into and excel in roles previously only held by men. Among them, pioneering geologist Dame Marie Ogilvie Gordon (1864–1939) and Christina Miller (1899–2001).
Marie Ogilvie Gordon
Originally from Aberdeen, Marie Ogilvie Gordon began her scientific career at Heriot-Watt College in 1887 where she studied towards a degree by distance learning. In 1890, she gained a BSc from the University of London specialising in geology, botany and zoology. Three years later she became the first woman to receive a Doctor of Science from University College London with her thesis on the geology of the southern Tyrol. In the 1900s she was the first female to gain a PhD from Munich University. In 1919 she was elected one of the first women Fellows of the Geological Society. Following the publication of her seminal study of the geology of the Tyrol Dolomites in 1927, she went on to win the Society’s Lyell medal for her pioneering research on plate tectonics in 1932.
Dr Christina (Chrissie) Miller overcame society’s perceptions of deafness to pursue a distinguished career as a research chemist and an inspirational teacher and mentor to generations of students. She worked as a laboratory demonstrator while a student at Heriot-Watt College in 1920. Dr Miller was the first women chemist to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Spirit of Christina Miller lives on
Today, the spirit of Christina Miller lives on at Heriot-Watt with women continuing to play an important role in teaching, learning and research.
They are global
They have five campuses across the world: Edinburgh, Scottish Borders, Orkney, Dubai and Malaysia, as well as 53 Approved Learning Partners (ALPs) and educational collaborative partners in 150 countries
They have over 29,000 students studying with us at our campuses and online through distance learning (year end 2017)
One third of their on-campus students studying in Scotland are from outside the UK, making Heriot-Watt one of the most internationally diversified of any UK university
They are connected
Where they rank
Heriot-Watt University is consistently ranked at a high level across a number of key university league tables.
From their research performance to student satisfaction, graduate employability and the quality of our teaching, Heriot-Watt's status as a world-class university is independently confirmed.
Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019 The Times Higher Education World University Rankings use 13 performance indicators to examine universities across all of their core missions – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.
Ranked in the top 350 universities worldwide (301-350).
Heriot-Watt is ranked 37th in the world, 13th in the UK and 3rd in Scotland for our international outlook, a score based on the percentage of the university's international staff, the level of international co-authorship of academic papers and the percentage of international students studying with the University.
Times Higher Education 'Table of Tables'
THE'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 is placed 27th in the UK and 3rd in Scotland
Times Higher Education Golden Age Rankings 2018
THE's Golden Age University Rankings measures universities established between 1945 and 1967 for their teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income.
Heriot-Watt is ranked 55th out of 200 institutions, from 44 countries.
Guardian University Guide 2019