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Ancient university is a term used to describe the medieval and renaissance universities of the United Kingdommarker and Irelandmarker that have continued to exist. The ancient universities in the British Isles are amongst the oldest extant universities in the world.

Great Britain and Ireland

The ancient universities in Great Britainmarker and Irelandmarker are, in order of formation:

These universities often find themselves governed in a quite different fashion to more recent additions. The ancient universities of Scotland also share several distinctive features and are governed by arrangements laid down by the Universities (Scotland) Acts.

In addition to these universities, a number of now-obsolete universities were found during this period including the University of Northampton (1261-1265) and the predecessor institutions to the University of Aberdeen founded in 1495 and 1593 (discussed below).

Following the creation of the ancient universities, no more universities were created in the British Isles until the 19th century. Precisely which was the first of these 19th century institutions constitutes the earliest post-ancient university is a matter of debate. In brief, the main university-level foundations after this time are:

The more recent Red Brick universities of the later 19th century followed were soon to follow. Thereafter a number of New Universities were formed in the late 20th century, many from the conversion of Polytechnical colleges.


University of Aberdeen

The University of Aberdeen is considered an ancient university and was formed by a union, in 1860, of King's Collegemarker (formally the University and King's College of Aberdeen), founded in 1495, and Marischal Collegemarker (formally Marischal College and University of Aberdeen), founded in 1593. While both institutions were universities and would be considered ancient in their own right, the Universities Act 1858 provided for an ancient form of governance and that:

It should be noted that Aberdeenmarker was highly unusual at the time for having two universities in one city. As 20th century University of Aberdeen prospectuses observed, this was the same number as existed in all of Englandmarker at the time.

University of Dundee

The University of Dundeemarker was established as an independent university by Royal Charter in 1967, but has a long history going back well into the 19th century, being founded as an independent University college in 1881. For most of its existence, Dundee formed a fully incorporated college of the University of St Andrewsmarker, known as University College Dundee and Queen's College at various periods.

Dundee shares all organisational features in common with the other ancient universities of Scotland by virtue of its descent through St Andrews, such as awarding the undergraduate MA degree and electing a Rector. Upon attaining its independence, Dundee also gained a number of significant schools from its parent university, including law, dentistry and the main medical school.

As a result, the University of Dundeemarker is usually considered alongside the ancient universities, particularly those in a Scottish context.

Undergraduate Master of Arts degree

The ancient universities are distinctive in offering the Magister Artium/Master of Arts (M.A.) as an undergraduate academic degree. This is commonly known as the Oxbridge MA, the Scottish MA.

The ancient M.A. has some differences between the ancient universities in Scotland and the ancient universities in England. The former award the degree at graduation with honours and a final mark, however the latter is awarded without honours and on the basis of a period of good standing as a graduated Bachelor of Arts, usually around three years.

Because MA is in use for the undergraduate Arts degree, the ancient universities award differing titles for their postgraduate Masters degrees in the Arts and Humanities such as the taught Master of Letters ("MLitt (T)"). Some confusion can arise between whether such degrees are taught degrees or the most established (and advanced) two year research degrees, although this is often specified.

Universities (Scotland) Acts

Main article: Ancient university governance in Scotland

As mentioned above, the Universities (Scotland) Acts created a distinctive system of governance for the ancient universities in Scotland, the process beginning with the 1858 Act and ending with the 1966 Act. Despite not being founded until the after the first in these series of Acts, the University of Dundeemarker shares all the features contained therein.

As a result of these Acts, each of these universities is governed by a tripartite system of General Council, University Court, and Academic Senate.

The chief executive and chief academic is the University Principal who also holds the title of Vice-Chancellor as an honorific. The Chancellor is a titular non-resident head to each university and is elected for life by the respective General Council, although in actuality a good number of Chancellors resign before the end of their 'term of office'.

Each also has a Students' Representative Council as required by statute, although at the University of Aberdeen this has recently been renamed the Students' Association Council.

See also


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