In the middle ages, there were no universities in Scotland and young Scottish people had to go abroad to study. Many of them went to study in France, to Paris University. In May 1410 a group of academics, mainly graduates of Paris University and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, started a school of higher learning in St Andrews, which offered courses of lectures in logic, philosophy, and law. Later the school turned into a university.
The town of St Andrews had not been chosen as the place for the first university of Scotland by chance. It was located not far from Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. In the 15th century, the town of St Andrews was already an important religious centre of the country. It had a monastery, a cathedral and several churches. The town was well-known in Europe.
By the middle of the 16th century, St Andrews was quite a big university and had three colleges. Even today some of the university buildings date back to this period and they are still in use. In the 17th to 19th centuries, St Andrews University went through a period of decline. It had serious financial problems, and the number of students got very low. It was recorded that in 1773, the university had only 100 students.
However, in the 19th century the town of St Andrews became a trendy holiday destination. The railway arrived in the town, the population increased, and a lot of new streets and houses were built. The University of St Andrews got back its fame as one of the best universities: the number of students and professors increased.
Today St Andrews University has a world-class reputation in teaching and research. It is considered to be one of the best in the United Kingdom. The University population (staff and students) numbers nearly 9,000. They come from more than 100 countries. St Andrews’ graduates include statesmen, inventors, authors, political leaders and journalists.
No wonder the university has many traditions. One of them is the red academic gown which is usually worn at formal university occasions (several times a year). First-year-students wear their gowns on the shoulders, then, in the second year, off the shoulders. Third-year-students wear the gown off the left shoulder or on the right shoulder. A fourth-year-student will wear the gown off both shoulders, across the elbow.
Another famous tradition that many students choose to take part in is the May Dip. They get into a freezing North Sea at sunrise on the first of May. The students believe that this ritual will bring them good luck in exams. If you do not like a cold swim, you can just look after your friends’ clothes on the beach. It will also help you to have good luck!