Revered around the world for centuries, the University of Edinburgh is the sixth-oldest university in the English-speaking world. With alumni that changed the course of history, including Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it has captured the imagination of academics across the globe.
Founded in 1582 by the Edinburgh Town Council, it started out as a college of law. King James VI officially granted a Royal Charter to confirm college status, following a petition from the Town Council and Ministers of the City. The first students arrived the following year, and was renamed King James’s College in 1617.
In the 18th century, it was one of the most important figures in the Scottish Enlightenment, a period of time in which Scotland witnessed numerous scientific and intellectual feats. The early 19th century saw the university move into Old College, its first custom-built building. The teaching of Anatomy was added to the curriculum, while the science of surgery was also introduced and fed into other subjects. When Old College became full to capacity towards the end of the 19th century, new medical school facility McEwan Hall was built.
Between 1914 and 1918, almost 8,000 students and graduates signed up for the armed forces in World War One. By the end of the 1950s, more than 7,000 students enrolled at the university every year.
Professor Elizabeth Wiskemann was appointed as the university’s first female professor in 1958, and 15 years later Edinburgh University Students’ Association was founded. The university made headlines on an international level in 1996, when Dolly the sheep was cloned at the Roslin Institute, its animal sciences research complex. She became the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell via nuclear transfer, shooting to worldwide prominence and ushering in a new era for science.
Another pivotal moment in the university’s history came in 2011, in the form of a merger with Edinburgh College of Art, which itself was established way back in 1760. The college joined with the university’s School of Arts, Culture and Environment to develop a bigger college of art within the university premises.
The university claimed sixth position in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2018 nationally, and 27th internationally. The 2016 Complete University Guide determined that 19 subjects taught at Edinburgh ranked within the top 10 nationally. Architecture, Chemical Engineering, East and South Asian Studies, Linguistics, Middle Eastern and African Studies, Social Policy and Veterinary Medicine clinched top-five positions.
Its alumni provoke envious glances from many of the university’s counterparts, such is the pure volume of titans of industry who either studied or taught there, and went on to play a pivotal role in their respective fields. As well as the aforementioned Darwin, Bell and Doyle, Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Lord Palmerston have links to Edinburgh, in addition to no less than 23 Nobel laureates, including Sir Alexander Fleming, who famously discovered Penicillin in 1928, changing the face of medicine forever. Fleming, a Rector at Edinburgh for three terms, was later knighted.