Abertay University History

By | 3rd April 2017

Abertay University History

Abertay University, operating name for the University of Abertay Dundee since 2014, is one of two public universities in the city of Dundee, Scotland. The other is the University of Dundee. In 1872, Sir David Baxter, 1st Baronet of Kilmaron, left a bequest for the establishment of a mechanics’ institute in Dundee. As early as 1902 it was recognised by the Scottish Education Department as an educational hub, and was one of the first to be designated a central institution, akin to an ‘industrial university’. It continues to have a vocational focus and is associated with Dundee’s rise as a centre for computer games.

Abertay was the first University in the world to offer a computer games degree, and the first in the UK to be recognized as a Centre for Excellence in Computer Games Education. In 1999 it developed and continues to host ‘Dare to be Digital’ the international competition for computer games students. Abertay was also the first to offer a degree in Ethical Hacking and Countermeasures, starting in 2006. According to the results of the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF2014) published on 18 December 2014, Abertay was the highest ranked modern university in Scotland for ‘research intensity’. According to the Princeton Review 2015, Abertay ranked 12th place in the top 25 schools in the world to study video game design.


The following history to 1988 provides a summary account that relies primarily on the book published by Dundee Institute of Technology in 1989, ‘The First Hundred Years: 1888-1988’. Where additional sources have been used, post 1988, these have been cited accordingly.

The Baxter bequest (1872)

In 1872 Sir David Baxter, 1st Baronet of Kilmaron, died and bequeathed £20,000 (£1,581,200 adjusting for inflation) for the establishment of a mechanics’ institute in Dundee. The Baxter bequest was intended to create an educational establishment permitting young (male) working mechanics and other craftsmen to better themselves. After some years of delay the trustees finalised a scheme and met the conditions of the bequest and the Dundee Technical Institute opened on 15 October 1888 in grounds, purchased from University College, Dundee, adjacent to Small’s Wynd, Dundee. Initially 238 students enrolled and classes were conducted based on the syllabus of the Government Science and Art Department of South Kensington and the City & Guilds of London Institute. Subjects were primarily scientific and technical although applied art was also taught, and jute spinning and textile design were soon added to the portfolio.

In 1901 the Dundee Technical Institute enrolled 723 part-time students and was one of the first education hubs to be recognised as a ‘central institution’ by the Scotch Education Department. In 1906 a new site in Bell Street, Dundee was purchased to build a larger complex to accommodate a growing student population. In 1911 the completed complex was formally opened as the Dundee Technical College & School of Art. The portfolio had by now expanded again to include marine engineering and navigation.

The First World War retarded enrolments and growth but the vocational nature of the institute meant that its classes were highly relevant to the war effort. Records show that the first women students enrolled in 1914. After the war, the institute continued to expand adding a new school of pharmacy, and more specialist classes in engineering and building. Commercial classes in finance, economics and accounting were added to support trade at home and abroad.

The Duncan of Jordanstone bequest (1909)

In 1909 James Duncan of Jordanstone left £60,000 (4,993,263 adjusting for inflation) to establish an art college in Dundee. It was only after a lengthy legal battle surrounding this bequest and the right of the existing college to spend the money, that a new scheme was entered into in 1933 permitting the establishment of the Dundee Institute of Art and Technology. The scheme allowed for separate technical and art colleges under a single governance framework. Plans for a new art college were drawn up in 1937. However, owing to the outbreak of the Second World War, plans were delayed and construction did not begin until 1953. The college of art became a formally separate institution, known as the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, in 1975, remaining independent until 1994 when it became part of the University of Dundee.

First degrees (1951)

After the Second World War enrolments and the scope of delivery continued to expand, as did the reputation of the Institute. By 1951 the Institute was teaching courses that led to examinations for the external degrees of the University of London in pharmacy, mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering. In 1955 the National Council for Technological Awards was established and validated diplomas in technology which were equivalent in standard if not in name to honours degrees. In 1963 the Robbins Committee on Higher Education set out the principle that higher education should be available to all who wanted it and were suitably well qualified. The Committee recommended that the government should expand higher education in the UK, particularly in science and technology.

University status (1994)

Abertay University was created in 1994, under government legislation granting the title “University of Abertay Dundee” to the Dundee Institute of Technology. Since 2014 the University has promoted itself as Abertay University. Abertay was the first university in the world to offer a “computer games” degree in 1997. Abertay was the UK’s first University to be recognised as a Centre for Excellence in Computer Games Education, and is associated with a business support programme for computer game startups.