Origins of our name

The University’s name commemorates George Heriot, the 16th century philanthropist and financier to King James, and James Watt, the great 18th century inventor and engineer: two successful, leading edge professionals of their time, whose skills and attitudes are still reflected in the ethos of the University today.

Our history began in 1821 when the School of Arts of Edinburgh was established, the world’s first Mechanics Institute, which revolutionised access to education in science and technology for ordinary people.

In 1852, the name changed to the Watt Institution & School of Arts, and again in 1855, to Heriot-Watt College. We finally became Heriot-Watt University in 1966 by Royal Charter.

Practical education from the beginning

Heriot-Watt’s heritage is rooted in the provision of education for working people and professionals. When the School of Arts was established in 1821 its purpose was to "address societal needs by incorporating fundamental scientific thinking and research into engineering solutions".

The School also demonstrated the pioneering tradition that underpins the University today, when it welcomed women in 1869, 20 years ahead of other institutions.

A focus on the practical application of knowledge and learning for the betterment of society is an essential characteristic of Heriot-Watt University. Throughout the early and mid 1900s the academic curriculum of the college developed with a strong emphasis on the needs of industry. A snapshot of this includes:

  • the Department of Mining established in 1913 due to demand from the coal industry

  • programmes in Physical Chemistry, Fuel Science, Metallurgy and Intermediates introduced in 1919

  • the Department of Building established in 1934 to provide tuition up to Associateship standard

  • Brewing given departmental status in 1950 and the introduction of classes in Management Studies

  • a new Associateship programme in Civil Engineering introduced in 1953.

The University

  • Our 190-year history began in 1821, when we established the world’s first Mechanics Institute (the School of Arts of Edinburgh). 

  • We have 1,737 members of staff, including 480 academic and 180 research staff. 

  • We offer over 400 programmes through our 6 academic schools and 2 postgraduate institutes. 

Our international reach

  • Approximately 25,000 Heriot-Watt students studying globally. 

  • 35% (2,742) of students on our UK campuses come from 123 countries outside the UK. 

  • We have 152 exchange and visiting students. 

  • There are 13,000 students studying Heriot-Watt programmes through 43 approved learning partners in 35 countries around the world. 

Our research

Heriot-Watt University delivers globally relevant and pioneering research with real impact. Our research informs policy, changes the world we live in and solves real problems for business and industry. In the REF 2014 survey of all UK universities:

  • 82% of our research was found to be world-class

  • we were 1st in the UK for General Engineering (joint submission with Edinburgh University)

  • we were 2nd in the UK for Architecture, Built Environment and Planning (joint submission with Edinburgh University)

  • we were 5th in the UK for Mathematical Sciences (joint submission with Edinburgh University).

Our students

  • 7,880 students on our UK campuses, including 5,800 undergraduates and 2,080 postgraduates. 

  • 3,181 students at our Dubai Campus, including 2,181 undergraduates and 1,000 postgraduates. See our student profiles. See our Dubai student profiles.

  • The Watt Club, our alumni association, was founded in 1854 making it the oldest graduate club in the UK. The Club connects over 88,000 of our alumni.

Our campuses

  • We have 5 campuses: 3 in the UK - Edinburgh, Scottish Borders and Orkney - 1 in Dubai and 1 in Malaysia. 

  • 12 halls of residence on our Edinburgh Campus, accommodating over 1,600 students. See the accommodation on our Edinburgh Campus.

  • £34 million investment underway to build new residences at Edinburgh and Scottish Borders Campuses and to improve student experience. 

  • £35 million invested in the Dubai Campus which will treble capacity to accommodate up to 6,000 students. 


  • £6 million in scholarships and bursaries awarded to over 400 students each year.

  • £142.6 million income and £139.9 million expenditure. 

Our culture

  • We hold the Bronze Award from the Athena SWAN Charter recognising excellence in championing employment of women in the fields of science and technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Contact Us

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Telephone: 0086-18890015191

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