Top universities in Scotland | Top Universities

Top universities in Scotland

By Laura Tucker

Updated June 1, 2023 Updated June 1, 2023

Home of haggis, caber-tossing and the largest annual arts festival in the world, Scotland is known for its rich history, cultural diversity, striking natural landscapes, distinctive national traditions and impenetrable local accents.

Fancy studying in the northernmost part of the UK? Here are the eight top universities in Scotland, based on the 2021 edition of the QS World University Rankings®.


8. University of Stirling


University of Stirling


One of the younger institutions to make our list of top universities in Scotland, the University of Stirling was founded in 1967 by Royal Charter. Ranked joint 485th in the world, the university is situated just two miles outside of Stirling city center, where Stirling Castle sits atop the plug of an extinct volcano, presenting an extraordinary view from both above and below.

The city itself surrounds the castle, with the high ground known for its preserved Victorian Gothic architecture and the lower ground offering modernity and commercialism in a city that combines the best of old and new. Stirling was also rated the most affordable city in the UK in 2019.


7. University of Dundee


University of Dundee


Ranked 319th in the world in 2021, the University of Dundee claims to have the friendliest campus in Scotland and is situated right in the heart of Dundee city center. Many of the university’s facilities are highly modern, thanks to a recent £200 million redevelopment program.

Located on the east coast of the central lowlands of Scotland, Dundee’s industrial expansion in the 19th century led to it becoming known as the city of “jute, jam and journalism”. You may be interested to learn Dundee is known as the sunniest city in Scotland and has the mildest climate in the region.

6. Heriot-Watt University


heriot watt


Established in 1821 and located in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University is ranked joint 301st in the world. Once located solely in the city center, the university completed its move to the leafy suburb of Riccarton, approximately six miles from the city center, in the 1990s.

The new campus is situated on 380 acres of parkland and boasts some of the best sports facilities in the region. Heriot-Watt has a large population of international students, with 34 percent of its 9,615 students on its UK campuses coming from abroad.

5. University of Strathclyde


University of Strathcylde


Scotland’s third-largest university in terms of student population (with around 15,600 undergraduates alone), the University of Strathclyde is based in the city of Glasgow.

Founded in 1796 and ranked 300th in the world, the University of Strathclyde is known for its innovative and entrepreneurial ethos. 

The university now boasts a Technology and Innovation Center, which “revolutionizes the way researchers in academia and industry collaborate and innovate together” and is expected to boost both employment and investment opportunities in Glasgow.

4. University of Aberdeen


University of Aberdeen


The University of Aberdeen is ranked 207th in the world in the QS World University Rankings this year, and claims a long history, dating back to 1495.

Aberdeen is one of the most cost-effective cities for students and offers a wealth of experiences and attractions in return – including many that are free to enjoy, such as the Aberdeen Art Gallery and the Maritime Museum. 

The University of Aberdeen’s main King’s College campus is located two miles north of the city center in the Old Aberdeen district, and boasts an 11-acre botanical garden and a £57 million state-of-the-art library which opened in 2012.

3. University of St Andrews


University of St Andrews


Home to around 9,224 students, the University of St Andrews was founded in 1410, making it the oldest of the four “ancient universities of Scotland”. It’s ranked 96th in the world in 2021 and 17th among the top universities in the UK.

A small university town in rural Fife on Scotland’s east coast, St Andrews is famous for its golf course as well as its university, where more than a third of the town’s population either study or work. With the university playing such a central role in local life, the community atmosphere here is hard to beat.


2. University of Glasgow


University of Glasgow


Home to Scotland’s oldest public museum and the largest Scottish university by student population, the University of Glasgow is also the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world, having been established in 1451.

Ranked joint 77th in the world, the University of Glasgow is located in the Hillhead neighborhood in Glasgow’s West End, an area known for fashion and cultural diversity. The city’s Victorian architecture is now modishly outfitted with trendy but down-to-earth bars and clubs which appeal to the Glaswegian sense of fun, allowing it to compete with Edinburgh for the title of Scotland’s cultural capital.

1. University of Edinburgh


University of Edinburgh


Ranked first among the top universities in Scotland at 20th in the world is the University of Edinburgh, the sixth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and a part of Scotland’s capital city since 1583.

The “old town”, where the university is based, is frozen in time with its preserved medieval street plan and reformation-era buildings. The University of Edinburgh plays a distinct role in the city’s status as both a hub of knowledge and a vibrant cultural center which nurtures fringe theater and comedy. This artistic streak then feeds into the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is held every August. 


A further four Scottish universities feature in the QS World University Rankings this year, all placing at 801-1000: Edinburgh Napier University, Glasgow Caledonian University, new entrant Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh and The Robert Gordon University

This article was originally published in January 2014. It was last updated in June 2020 to reflect the latest QS World University Rankings® results. 

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This article was originally published in June 2019 . It was last updated in June 2023

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