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Issue 8 - Higheraspirations

Scotland Magazine Issue 8
May 2003

 

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Higheraspirations

SCOTLANDISFAMOUSFORITSSEATSOFHIGHEREDUCATION.DANNYBLYTHINTRODUCESTHEMANDLOOKSATHOWPROSPECTIVESTUDENTSSHOULDPROCEED

Onfirstthoughts,theremightn’tbetoomuchtolinktheDalaiLamawithgolferSeveBallesteros.However,somewhereinthehomeofeachhangsanhonorarydegreefromtheUniversityofStAndrews.

Thisisquitesalutaryreally.EducationinScotlandhasalwayscombinedloftyspiritualidealswitharespectforthemorepracticalaspectsofexistence.

JustasScotlandhasproducedstudentssuchasAdamSmith,whowentontopioneerthoughtonpoliticaleconomy,shehaseducatedthelikesofengineersWattandStevenson.Andtoday,traditionalacademicdisciplinesrubshouldersjustasmuchwithengineering–andevengolf–atScotland’suniversities.

It’sneverbeenastraightchoicebetweencerebralinnovationandnutsandbolts.There’saparticulartraditionofthe‘Lado’pairts’(ladofparts),inwhichstudentsareencouragedtobroadentheirknowledgebydoingmorethanjuststickingtotheircorediscipline,withtheendgoaltonurtureamoreroundedperson.

Scotlandcontinuestotakeprideinitseducationsystem,whichhasevolveddistinctlyfromthatoftherestoftheUnitedKingdom.Andthisprideiscertainlyevidentinatouroftheuniversitytownsandcitiesofthecountry.

Theseatsoflearningtendtobewellrespectedbylocalpeople–theirlandmarkbuildings,ancientormodern,generallyacceptedascentraltothelocalheritage.InScotland,there’snogreatdivisionbetweentownandgown.

TheUniversityofStAndrewsservesasaprimeexampleofthisrespect.Thoughthere’snoshortageofmakingfunofthescarlet-robedstudentsperformingtheircenturies-oldceremonies,thesamepeopleacceptthesightasbeingasmuchapartofwhatmakesStAndrewsspecialasaretheRoyal&AncientandtheOldCoursegolfcourses.

Theuniversity’simpressivestonebuildings,somedatingbacktoitsinceptionin1410,blendcompletelywiththeoldtown.Theyareoneandthesame.

Thisisalovelyplacetovisitandanexcellentplaceinwhichtostudy.There’satight-knitcommunityspirit,somefineoldpubsandninegolfcoursesinandaroundtown.PrinceWilliamisdiscoveringallthisforhimself–thoughIwonderifheknowsthatamongStAndrews’alumniisJamesCrichton,uponwhomJ.M.BarriemodelledTheAdmirableCrichton?

LiteraryalumniareaspecialityattheUniversityofEdinburgh,whereWalterScott,RobertLouisStevenson,ArthurConanDoyleand,morerecently,crimewriterIainRankinjoinanimpressivelistthatalsoincludesCharlesDarwinandDavidHume.Isupposeifyou’vebeenteachingsince1583,youwouldexpectsometrulystarstudents.

Oneofthemanypleasuresopentovisitorstothecapitalistracingtherootsofthesegreatwriters.Detailsabouttheirformerhomesandhauntsarereadilyavailableattouristoffices,andtherearealsoimpressivemonumentstovisitandanimatedguidedliterarywalkstojoin.

Withitsworldfamousfestivalandongoingculturallifestyle(whichincludesabustlingbar,pubandclubscene),thecityofEdinburghteamswithvarsitylife.Withits20,000students,420yearsofteachingandworld-renownedmedicalschool,EdinburghUniversityisthefocalpoint,butthecapitalalsoboaststhreeotheruniversities.

ThenextbiggestisHeriot-Watt,auniversitysince1966,thoughwithcollegerootsdatingbackto1821.Today,thiscentreofmanagement,lifesciencesandengineeringisoutoftown.HeadquartersistheRiccartoncampusjustoutsidethecity’swesternborder,whilethereisschooloftextiledesignatGalashielsintheBordersandacentreofislandtechnologyonOrkney,bothalsoapartof‘theWatt’,asit’sknownlocally.

Edinburgh’stwonew‘modern’universitiesarebothformercollegesgoneupintheacademicworld.NapierUniversityisoneofthefewtooffercoursesincomplementarytherapieslikereflexology,and,fittinglyforthe‘festivalcity’,newcoursesinleisureandfestivalmanagementandinternationaltourism.QueenMargaretUniversityCollegeisthesmallest,servingjustunderaquarterofEdinburghUniversity’s20,000students,mainlystudyinghealthcareandhealthsciencetopics.Lastyear,QMUCbecamethefirstuniversityevertoofferacourseingolfandcountryclubmanagement.HeadingnorthfromEdinburghbyrailisanexcellentwaytoseeScotland’sengineeringheritage.FirstyoucrosstheimpressiveForthBridge,aworld-firstinsuspension-bridgetechnology,andattheotherendofFife,youcrossviathereconstructedTayBridge,builtin1887,andofferingagreatviewofDundee.

ThisistheexperienceenjoyedbymoststudentsarrivingatDundeefortheirfirsttime.However,lookdownandyouwillstillbeabletoseetheremnantsofthefirstTayBridge,whichaftereightyearsofservice,collapsedwithgreatlossoflifeduringaterriblestormin1879.

Dundeehastwouniversities:theUniversityofDundee,traditionallystronginmedicine,lifesciencesandbio-medicalresearch,andthenewUniversityofAbertay.Butthetown’scommitmenttoscienceandtechnologyisn’trestrictedtotheacademic.BotharebroughttolifeinaninnovativenewvisitorcentrecalledSensation,whichfeatures65interactiveexhibits.However,ifyouareoneofthemanystillintriguedbythegreatraildisaster,theMcManusGalleries,Dundee’smaingalleryandmuseum,displaysawiderangeofartefactsfromthetragedy.

AlittlefurthernorthupthecoastbringsustoScotland’soilcapital,Aberdeen,alsohometotwouniversities.TheUniversityofAberdeenisanother‘ancient’,datingfrom1495,andtodayofferingawiderangeofboththemodernandtraditionalinitscourses.TeachingintheGaeliclanguageisavailable,andtheuniversityalsoincludesaresearchinstitutededicatedtoIrishandScottishstudiesinpartnershipwithDublin’sUniversityCollege.And,unsurprisingly,giventheinfluenceofoilonAberdeenlife,theuniversityalsorunscoursesonoilandpetroleumtechnologies,plus37degreecoursesdealingwithenvironmentandsustainability.

RivallingAberdeen’s12,000-strongstudentpopulationisRobertGordonUniversity,just10yearsold,butwitha250-yearcollegehistory.Today,itisfamedforitsschoolofpharmacyandhealthprofessioncourses.

StudyinginAberdeenofcoursemeansbeingatclosequarterstoallthattheHighlandsofScotlandhastoofferinthewayofscenery,wildlife,skiingandawiderangeofadventuresports.Butifyouwanttogetawayfromthecitylifealtogether,you’veanotheroptioninthe15partnershipcollegesandresearchinstitutionsthatformtheUniversityHigherInstitute(UHI),whichisexpectedtobeawardedthestatusofUniversityoftheHighlandsandIslandsby2007.ThisdisparateorganisationsaysitofferssuperbqualityoflifeandauniqueenvironmentinadditiontotopflighthighereducationthroughcoursessuchasitsMBAinArchæologicalPractice,runonOrkney,oritsmanyall-GaeliclanguagecoursesbasedonthebeautifulIsleofSkye.

If,however,youwishtocoupleHighlandproximitywithequalaccesstocitynightlife,thentheUniversityofStirlingcouldbeforyou.BothEdinburghandGlasgowarejust45minutesaway,whilesnow-cappedmountainscanbeviewedfromthecampusallyearround.Stirlingdescribesitselfasamodernfollowerofthe‘Lado’pairts’principle,and‘aplaceforchoices’.GolferCatrionaMatthewstudieshere,nodoubtgratefuloftheproximitytoGleneagles.Thisisaninnovativeinstitution,withnewcoursesemergingallthetime,suchastourismandmarketing.ThisSeptemberseesanewdegreecourseincriminologybegin.

Butiffollowingfamousfootstepsinavibrantcityisyourpreference,thentheUniversityofGlasgowisforyou.AdamSmith,JohnLogieBairdandJamesWatt(whatacontributiontotoday’sworld!)allstudiedhereatthisuniversitywhichwasfoundedin1551.GlasgowoffersatopacademicreputationandacentrallocationthatmakesitidealforvisitingallthemanyattractionsthatmakeupthisformerEuropeanCityofCulture.

AttractionsandacademiaoftencombineinGlasgow,andnotjustwiththemanyfineoldteaching,residentialandlibrarybuildingsbelongingtotheUniversityofGlasgow.AgemontheGlasgowtouristtrailisaguidedvisitaroundtheGlasgowSchoolofArt,designedininnovativeandenchantingstylebyoneofGlasgow’smostfamoussons–thearchitect,designer,artistandall-roundphenomenonCharlesRennieMackintosh.Asonetakesatour,lifedrawingstudentsaresketchingandstoneisbeingchiselledintosculpture.City,learningandcultureareasone.

OtherMackintoshworks,suchastheWillowTeaRoomsindowntownSauchiehallStreet,areeasilyreachedonfootbystudentsatthecity’sothercentrallylocatedseatoflearning,theGlasgowCaledonianUniversity.Thisisanothernewuniversity,foundedin1993,butagain,withacollegehistorydatingbacktothe1870s.Today,CaledonianincludesScotland’sbiggestbusinessschool,where,fromthisyear,aspiringentrepreneurscantakeadegreeinriskmanagement.

AndrisksgoodandbadfeaturedlargeinGlasgow’sstrongindustrialhistory.Forgenerations,itwasknownastheSecondCityoftheBritishEmpire,andthosevisitingorstudyinginGlasgowareliabletoquicklydevelopaninterestinindustrialarchæology.Glasgowcityishometomanymonumentstoitsshipbuildingandengineeringpast,whileattractionslikethenearbyNewLanarkMills,establishedbytheindustrialistandphilanthropistRobertOwen,offerasuperbinsightintohowthis,oneofthefirstareasoftheglobetoindustrialise,wasequallyoftenat
theforefrontofsocialchange.

Finally,nearbyPaisley,afamousindustrialcentreintheworldoftextiles,housesanotherofScotland’snewuniversities,theUniversityofPaisley.Theformercollegeoftechnologywasgranteduniversitystatusin1997,andtodayoffersarangeofvocationalcoursesin,forinstance,sportstechnologyandsportsinjuryrehabilitation.Amongthealumnifromitscollegedays,PaisleyliststheReverendJ.Witherspoon,oneofthesignatoriesoftheAmericanDeclarationofIndependence,andthishasencouragedittoforgestronglinkswithPrincetonUniversityintheUSA.

PerhapsthegreatesttraditionofScottisheducation,toremainoutwardlooking,seemstobealiveandwell.