BY PROFESSOR ROBERT MACINTOSH

Faced with a chronic shortage of skilled workers for his clock-making business, Robert Bryson helped found the world’s first mechanics institute in 1821. Initially running classes in the evening to allow those in work to acquire new skills, the ethos of the institution we now call Heriot-Watt University was forged as a place close to industry and where career prospects could be transformed.

As Heriot-Watt University prepares to celebrate two centuries of research and education, it seems timely to reflect on the university’s place in the world.

As the first university to win the Sunday Times International University of the Year award, it is clear that there is something distinctive about Heriot-Watt. Aspects of our mission remain unchanged. Our desire to foster close links with industry and to supply skills to the economy is undimmed. Our belief in the transformative power of education remains unwavering.

However, Robert Bryson might be surprised at other aspects of today’s Heriot-Watt. With campuses in three countries and students in many more, the international reach of the university is striking. Since launching two years ago, the number of Heriot-Watt students taking up the chance to move between our three campuses via the Go Global programme has grown rapidly. From our deep Scottish roots, a genuinely international university is emerging.

Originally, our student community was restricted to those living in and around Edinburgh. Today, we comprise a vibrant and diverse community of students and staff. The globalisation of higher education means that many other universities also welcome international students.

But Heriot-Watt is one of only a handful of multi-campus, multi-cultural universities. We still create opportunities for those in work to refresh or expand their skills through our online programmes. The Edinburgh Business School has over 10,000 students studying in over 100 countries. This year, Heriot-Watt welcomed its first ever Graduate Level Apprenticeship students, creating a new pathway to higher education for those in work and representing in many ways a reconnection to our founding mission.

We are also reshaping the way in which we deliver our research to address the challenges facing society. Few of these challenges can be addressed by lone researchers working within the boundaries of traditional disciplines. As a result, researchers across both our campuses and our subject areas are collaborating in new ways. From robotics to energy and from smart fabrics to financial markets, our researchers are delivering solutions that make a difference.

The excellence of our research has been recognised in a variety of ways and we are particularly proud of the impact that our research has had.

The university sector is changing fast. Pedagogy is moving toward blended forms of collaborative learning, the role of the lecture is being challenged, the nature of our student community is changing and private provision is on the increase. In an increasingly diverse and global higher-education landscape, Heriot-Watt is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that our status as a multi-campus, multi-cultural, industry-linked university creates.

As we approach our 200th birthday, we are already thinking about the next 200 years.

Professor Robert MacIntosh is Head of School of Social Sciences, Heriot-Watt University.