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Teaching at the University to 1914

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 1727.

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 nineteenth century.

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.

Whilst 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.

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