Teaching at the University to 1912
From its foundation in 1451, the University of Glasgow has been empowered to grant degrees
in arts and in the higher faculties of divinity, law and medicine. However, in its earliest years teaching at the University
was largely restricted to arts and theology with a smattering of canon or ecclesiastical law. This reflected the
demands of the young men who came to study at the College, and the University's close affinity with Glasgow's Cathedral.
Until the early eighteenth century, the University primarily educated young men who were destined to make a career
in the Church.
The University's curriculum was refined in 1577 by the Nova Erectio.
This charter from James VI not only set out a system of University governance which was to last almost 300 years,
but also established a clear course of study for the College's undergraduate students. The Nova Erectio allowed for the
appointment of three regents (University teachers) each responsible for the teaching of a definite group of subjects: Greek and
Rhetoric (first year of study); Dialectic, Morals and Politics (second year of study); and Arithmetic and Geometry (third year of
study). This marked a break with the past, where regents would take a group of students through their entire course of study.
It proved, however, difficult to sustain, and the old system of unspecified regenting was reintroduced in 1642 and lasted until
This new curriculum was influenced by
Andrew Melville, University Principal from 1574 until 1580. He ensured that the
University's teaching reflected Protestant thinking, placing greater emphasis on liberal arts and securing the teaching of
Greek and Hebrew. The curriculum set out in 1577 remained the broad outline of arts study at the University until the late
Teaching was carried out through lectures and disputations (debates). The academic year began in early October and continued
through to early April with only a short break at Christmas. Following lectures, all classes met for an hour each weekday
afternoon for disputations, with two hours of debate each Saturday. For almost three hundred years, Latin was the language of
instruction, with lectures delivered and debates carried out in Latin. The use of English and Scots only gradually replaced
Latin from the early eighteenth century.
there were no formal examinations, students were required to successfully complete their studies in each subject in order to
progress through the curriculum. Questions posed in class and disputations were used to allow the regents to test the abilities
of their students. Attendance at class was first testified through the class register, and later by the issue of class tickets by
the regent or professor.
Until the nineteenth century, the only undergraduate degrees awarded by the University were Arts degrees. The Master of Arts
(MA) was awarded after five years study in Latin, Greek, Logic, Moral Philosophy, Natural Philosophy (Physics) and/or Mathematics.
A Bachelor of Arts (BA) could be obtained after only three years study, providing the student a licence to teach.
Teaching was first delivered in the cramped classrooms of the Auld Pedagogy (as the Faculty of Arts was then known) in Rotten Row.
This, however, was unsuitable for the growing numbers of students, and in the 1660s, the University moved into its long awaited
new accommodation in the High Street.
The most dramatic shift in the delivery of teaching at the University from the beginning of the eighteenth century was the
move away from the system of unspecified regenting to the establishment of professorships with chairs in specified subjects.
Unlike the attempts of the late sixteenth century to establish such a system, this move was decisive. Unspecified regenting was
abolished, and students were taught by different professors for each subject. This was accompanied by a move away from lecturing
in Latin, to the use of English and Scots by staff and students.
The establishment of professorships was supported by the Crown. The first Regius Chair, of Medicine and Therapeutics, was
established in 1637. However, it was not until Queen Anne endowed the Regius Chair of Law in 1712 that a sustained period of
support from the Crown for the establishment of professorships began. By the endownment of the last Regius Chair, of English
Literature and Language, by Queen Victoria in 1861, the Crown had provided for the foundation of fourteen chairs at the
University. The development of teaching saw the University's curriculum encompass divinity, law, medicine, oriental languages,
history, botany and anatomy, material medica, practical astronomy, mathematics and modern languages.
Teaching in Medicine, which had been briefly attempted in the mid-seventeenth century, was revived in 1714. However, it was
with the opening of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, which acted as a teaching hospital, in 1794 that the University became the
principal centre of medical studies in the United Kingdom. By 1810, there were three hundred students were enrolled in the
Faculty of Medicine. Students were taught a broad range of subjects including medicine, botany, anatomy, chemistry, natural
history, surgery, midwifery, materia medica, physiology and forensic medicine. With the move of the University to its new
site at Gilmorehill in 1870, steps were taken to ensure the continuation of practical medical education with the foundation of
the Western Infirmary. (For more information on the history of medical education at the University, see the
Faculty of Medicine.
The teaching of law at the University was confirmed with the establishment of the Regius Chair in 1712. For many years the
study of law was undertaken alongside an apprenticeship, a practice also common in the Faculty of Medicine.
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the University and its students benefitted from the teaching and research of
some of the world's leading academics. From the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, including
Francis Hutcheson and Adam
Smith, through to the world famous scientists and engineers Joseph
Black and William Thomson, Baron Kelvin of Largs, the University's
academics were at the forefront of ground-breaking developments in a wide range of fields.
Today, the University offers a wide range of studies at undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education levels in the
faculties of Arts; Education; Engineering;
Law, Business and Social Science; Medicine;
Science; and Veterinary Medicine.