Scottish Intellect, The [Radio Scotland]



Billy Kay celebrates the 600-year history of Scottish universities.


In the Scottish Intellect Billy Kay celebrates 600 years of Scottish university history, explores its distinctive traditions and discovers why, at the time of the Enlightenment, leading figures like Voltaire could write, "It is to Scotland that we look for our idea of civilisation".

In the first programme we focus on the creation of the three pre Reformation universities - St Andrews founded between 1410 and 1413, Glasgow founded in 1451 and King's College Aberdeen founded in 1495.

All were founded by Bishops and all prepared boys for work in the church.

We hear of the strict regime they faced, so strict that the only female allowed in one of the cloistered colleges of St Andrews was the laundress and she had to be over 50 years old! Boys will be boys though, and fighting frequently broke out among students from different colleges in Aberdeen and St Andrews.

In one incident, arrows were fired into a faculty meeting in St Andrews.

Historians like Roger Mason and Steven Reid point out that students at this time could be as young as 14, while their Regent masters could be as young as 19, so these were teenage boys living away from their parents and trouble was endemic!

Throughout the series, Billy speaks to students today and they compare and contrast their university experience with that of students down through the ages - both academic and social.

At the Glasgow University Union, for example, after a drink in the famous Beer Bar, Billy is astonished to learn that one of the thriving societies that uses the Union is an august institution called the G.U.P.D.C....the Glasgow University Pole Dancing Club!! Over in St Andrews equally eclectic societies include the Fine Chocolate Society, the Doctor Who Society and the Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society!

What the students in medieval times would have made of these is anyone's guess, but the daftness and excessive behaviour of students throughout history is recalled by Madame Catherine Béranger of Orléans who recalls that the Scottish law students there in the 15th century were criticised by the townsfolk for their high jinks, pranks and "drinking too much".

Yet along with the reputation for boisterous behaviour, even before the foundation of the Scottish universitieswhen Scots were travelling to Paris and Bologna for higher education, they were already establishing the country's European intellectual credentials.

John Duns Scotus e.g planted the illustrious tradition of Scottish philosophy in Cologne as early as the turn of the 14th century.

If there are similarities in student life down through the ages, one of the major differences is that across Europe right through till as late as the 1720's, no one used their native vernacular at all, as all instruction was given in the international lingua franca of Latin.

Fortunately, we were good at it, producing at the time of the Reformation the great Humanist poet and master at St Andrews and Glasgow University, George Buchanan.

Throughout 17th century Europe in all of the universities across the continent, Buchanan was regarded as by far the greatest writer to come out of the British Isles at a time when vernacular writers like Shakespeare were comparative unknowns!

Among those also taking part in the programme: Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell, Norman Reid, Robert Crawford, Claire McLoughlin and Isla Woodman from the University of St Andrews; David Birrell, Jordan Stodart, Lesley Richmond, Professor Andrew Hook and Professor Alexander Broadie from the University of Glasgow; Siobhan Convery, Professor Peter Davidson and Professor Jane Stevenson from the University of Aberdeen.

Shona Reid, Lisa Darroch and Paul Stewart from the University of the West of Scotland.

An Odyssey Production for Radio Scotland.

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Billy Kay celebrates the rise of the Tounis Colleges following the Reformation.


Billy Kay celebrates the rise of the Tounis Colleges after the Reformation - with new Protestant universities founded in Edinburgh, Fraserburgh and Marischall College, Aberdeen.

Fraserburgh did not survive long, but the other two became enormously influential.

These were part of a huge expansion in higher education that took place across Europe at the time, and were very different from the older ecclesiastical foundations like St Andrews, Glasgow and King's College.

They were also better funded, with support from the local community, and especially in the case of Marischall College, from wealthy Protestant Scots in the Baltic ports who sent money home.

One of them, the Danzig merchant Robert Gordon donated funds to Marischall and for the college named after him which eventually became the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

We look at the role of Reformers like Andrew Melville and discuss whether the roots of the Scottish Enlightenment and the rise of the Scottish universities in the 18th Century lay in the Reformers' desire for a school in every parish and access to the universities for a broad section of society in this earlier period of the later 16th century.

Certainly by the middle of the 17th century, literacy was widespread in the towns of Scotland, and this paved the way for the ideas of the Enlightenment to percolate down through the society.

However, while basic education was widespread, in its higher echelons, most Scots still felt that to complete their education, they had to go abroad.

For Scots catholics whose religion was proscribed after the Reformation there was access to the Scots Colleges attached to the great universities of Catholic Europe in places like Rome, Madrid and Paris - the one in Rome still exists as a seminary.

There were also various Schottenklöster - Scottish Cloisters - ancient monasteries in German cities like Erfurt and Würzburg where Scottish savants like Andrew Gordon thrived in the 18th century.

Tom McInally author of the book The Sixth Scottish University, The Scots Colleges Abroad: 1575 to 1799 argues that before the dramatic surge ahead of the Scottish universities in the first half of the the 18th century, the Scots Colleges in Europe offered a better education than what was on offer at home!

Certainly very few foreign students came to Scotland until the period of the Enlightenment.

Many commentators suggest that it was contact with the universities of another Calvinist nation, the Netherlands that acted as a catalyst for the take off of the Scottish universities.

Dutch universities like Leiden, Franeker, Groningen and Utrecht attracted as many as 1500 Scottish students, and many of those like Viscount Stair in law and Sir Robert Sibbald in medicine returned to Edinburgh and reformed the university on Dutch lines.

Billy visits the oldest Dutch university Leiden and speaks to Dr Esther Meijers of Reading University who did her dissertation on the Scottish students in the Netherlands.

At the end of the programme Billy looks ahead to the Scottish universities influence on America.

The combination of learning and piety which survived from the days of the Reformation and thrived among the moderate literati of the Scottish Kirk would have a profound effect on the Scottish universities and the intellectual colonies they established in the fledgeling United States at centres like Princeton and Philadelphia.

Among others taking part in the programme: Michael Lynch, Steven Reid author of Humanism and Calvinism, Andrew Melville and the Universities of Scotland, 1560 - 1625, Paul Dukes and Peter Davidson of Aberdeen University, and students, Will Symington, Michael Brown and Euan Kay of Edinburgh University.

An Odyssey Production for Radio Scotland.

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Billy Kay traces the Scottish intellectual influence on American colleges like Princeton.


Billy Kay visits Princeton University in New Jersey which began life as a Presbyterian seminary supported by the Kirk and developed into one of the top three Ivy League Colleges of the United States.

Through the influence of its President John Witherspoon, it was also the principle conduit through which the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment percolated down in to American society.

Witherspoon was a minister from Paisley who was regarded as an evangelical traditionalist in Scotland, famous for satirising the Moderates in the kirk and the society...yet when he came to America he made sure that the brilliant men he had criticised back home like the agnostic David Hume became part of the curriculum at Princeton.

He modelled Princeton on the education he himself had received at the University of Edinburgh and it became a magnet for the American elite.

He went on to become a signatory of the Declaration of Independence...a document whose ideals of "...Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" are seen by many as an expression of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Princeton influenced many American colleges, while the College of William & Mary in Virginia had direct Scottish input through William Small from Aberdeen, who profoundly influenced the development of Thomas Jefferson.

Billy explores the on-going Scottish and Presbyterian ethos in Princeton, speaking to Iain Torrance, President of Princeton Theological Seminary and to Will Storrar, Director of the Centre of Theological Enquiry - both men are Church of Scotland ministers and feel at home in a campus which has a statue of a Church of Scotland minister, John Witherspoon, at its core.

Incidentally, that statue has a twin which stands outside the University of the West of Scotland in Paisley, the work of Sandy Stoddart.

Another contemporary echo of Witherspoon's legacy lies in the films of the actress Reese Witherspoon, one of his descendants.

The Scottish intellectual legacy at Princeton lasted till the end of the 19th century when another charismatic Scot, the minister and philosopher James McCosh became President and wrote his book A History of Scottish Philosophy there.

He also introduced innovations which became part of American college life such as direct appeals to alumni and American football matches between colleges which marked the beginning of the original ivy league!

The pride of Scots in America regarding their outstanding contribution there, is perfectly expressed in the memoirs of the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who recalled being interviewed for a job as a young man in Pittsburgh back in 1870.

The boss asked him, "Are you native born?"

Carnegie answered, "No, Sir, I am a Scotchman".

When he recalled the incident in later life he said that it made him "feel as proud as ever Roman did when it was their boast to say, "I am a Roman citizen".

Among others taking part in the programme: At Princeton: Lionel Gossman, John Murran and Bob Durkee, Vice President of Princeton University.

Professor Andrew Hook of Glasgow University, Gordon Graham of Princeton Theological Seminary, Professor Cairns Craig of Aberdeen University.

An Odyssey Production for Radio Scotland.

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Billy Kay explores the crucial role of medicine in the rise of the Scottish universities.


Billy Kay explores the role of medicine in the rise of Scottish universities - its influence in places like Philadelphia and links to the Dutch universities of Leyden and Utrecht.

In the 18th and early 19th century the Scottish universities had a global reputation for the quality of its courses in medicine and development of related sciences like Botany and Chemistry.

At one point, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow between them were producing 95% of Britain's doctors and exporting them all over the world.

These medical men also made a lot of money - the famous obstetrician William Hunter e.g.

became Glasgow University's greatest patron, while according to Professor Michael Moss many made fortunes trading in opium in the Far East.

At least back then they had the excuse that the drug was widely in use for pain relief as a medication!

Edinburgh in particular attracted students from America who were encouraged by the words of Benjamin Franklin..."You have great Advantage in going to study at Edinburgh at this Time, where there happens to be collected a Set of truly great Men, Professors of the several Branches of Knowledge, as have ever appeared in any Age or any country."

Among those who came were men like Benjamin Rush, who went back to America and became a founder of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Billy visits the college and hears glowing testimonies to the influence of Scottish medicine on the development of medicine in the United States.

Benjamin Rush summed it up perfectly when he wrote, "The two years I spent in Edinburgh I consider the most important in their influence upon my character and conduct of any period of my life."

One of the remarkable features of this period of the Scottish Enlightenment was the link between intellectual conversation and conviviality....with learned and drinking societies whiles becoming indistinguishable, as they were all "knee deep in claret" in the howffs of Auld Reekie.

Looking back on his Edinburgh years, the writer James Boswell wrote, "Each glass of wine produced a flash of wit like gunpowder thrown into the fire - puff puff!" His mentor, the Scotophobe Dr Johnson, begged to differ.

"Drinking does not improve conversation.

It alters the mind so that you are pleased with any conversation." We follow Dr Johnson to St Andrews University, the only Scottish university not to thrive in this period, and wonder whether the university's welcome to the metropolitan savant was the beginning of its reputation as an anglicised institution within Scotland.

Robert Crawford discusses the status of Scottish vernacular culture within our universities and points out that it was the Scots who established English as a university subject because of their anxieties to remove scotticisms from their written and spoken English! Curiously, an Edinburgh graduate John Witherspoon attempted to do exactly the same with "americanisms" in the speech of students at Princeton.

Back in Edinburgh and St Andrews, English students today testify to the fact they take up Scottish culture while they are up here, becoming doyens of the Reeling Society and in the case of Siobhan Talbott becoming a devoted shinty player! Siobhan also studied Scottish history at St Andrews and is now teaching at Manchester University, where she teaches the history but misses the shinty!

Billy also follows in the footsteps of Boswell to Utrecht in the Netherlands where hundreds of Scots aristocrats studied law before setting off on the Grand Tour.

They brought expertise in law and medicine back to Scotland, showing the global nature of university learning throughout the ages.

An Odyssey Production for Radio Scotland.

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Billy Kay traces the role of the university in Glasgow's mercantile and industrial history


In "Democratic Intellectualism", Billy Kay visits the University of Glasgow to discover how the rise of the university parallels the development of the city.

Adam Smith's magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations was influenced by discussions with the city's merchants trading with the Americas.

James Watt experimented on the steam engine while repairing scientific instruments at the university.

The Foulis brothers who came from a modest background created a publishing press that was famous throughout Europe and established a very Glaswegian tradition that married the pragmatic and practical with the creative and intellectual.

Among their workers was a poet called John Mayne who celebrated Glasgow's vibrant university scene and stressed the centrality of the University in the identity of the city's burgeoning population - If ye've a knacky son or twa ,

To Glasgow College send them a'

Where, for the Gospel or the Law

Or classic Lair,

Ye'll find few places hereawa'

That can compare

There they may learn, for sma' propine,

Physician, Lawyer or Divine:

--- the gem that's buried in the mine

Is polish'd here ,

Till a' its hidden beauties shine,

And sparkle clear.

Billy also explores the idea of The Democratic Intellect - the title of a seminal book on the Scottish university tradition by George Elder Davie who feared that the broad-based, generalist Scottish tradition was being eroded through contact with the English tradition of early specialisation.

Scottish universities also enjoyed a history of democratic access and we discover that African American and Jewish American doctors studied in Glasgow when there were severe restrictions and quota systems for them in the United States.

Dr Lionel Gossman, the former Professor of Romance languages at Princeton University, who comes from Glasgow's Jewish community talks of his pride in his alma mater which gave him every chance in life, and to which he still contributesas an alumnus in exile.

Billy also visits the famous Beer Bar in the Glasgow University Union and talks to present day students David Birrell and Jordan Stodart of Glasgow and Tom Radford of Strathclyde University on the balancing act students perform trying to get a good degree while getting as much out of university life as possible.

On the latter, they enthuse about the Union's great annual event called Daft Friday....which was begun just over a century ago by students who later became well known as the playwright James Bridie and the Unionist politician, Walter Elliot.

Elliot was also the man who first coined the term "democratic intellectualism" to describe the pride he felt in the Scottish university tradition.

The current Chancellor of Glasgow University, Sir Kenneth Calman endorses this sentiment and its importance to Scottish identity.

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Billy Kay explores the rise of life sciences and computer games in Dundee's universites.


In programme six of the Scottish Intellect Billy Kay examines the phenomenal impact that two very different university subject areas have had on the life of Dundee - Life Sciences at the University of Dundee and Computer Games/Digital Media at the University of Abertay.

Both are world leaders in their fields and enjoy global reputations.

At Dundee, Billy talks to Sir Phillip Cohen, the world's most cited Biochemist and hears how back in the 1940's the first Biochemist came to Dundee as part of the Physiology Department.

The Australian Robert Cook though had ambitions for his subject and used to enfuriate his superiors by writing on headed notepaper with the name Department of Biochemistry on it, even when no such department existed! At that time University College, Dundee was part of the University of St Andrews and only became independent as the University of Dundee in 1967.

It was in the 1970's though when a new Principal Adam Neville arrived that Biochemistry expanded.

He recognised the brilliant research that was going on there and funded the expansion of the department at the expense of other disciplines.

Sir Phillip tells the story that a major boost to fund rasing came when Sean Connery made a donation of part of his fee from the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves! It was'nt enough for the new building required but Connery's glamour helped bring in other funding sources and Sir Phillip used the story unashamedly to attract the best PHD students.

Billy also talks to Professor Mike Ferguson who leads a team which works on tropical diseases like Malaria, Leishmaniasis, Chaga's Disease and human African Sleeping Sickness which attack hundreds of thousands of people in the very poorest parts of the world.

We contrast the balancing act required by humanitarian science like this which has no commercial value and the multi million pound pharmaceutical companies which have emerged from research initiated in Dundee...companies like Millipore and Axis Shield.

At the University of Abertay, Billy talks to students Mark Hastings, Alex Zeitler Robert Ballantyne, and Charlie Czerkawski who are doing their postgrad Proffessional Masters in Games Development or Mprof degree.

They have been designing a game for Smartphones based on the Rubik cube, where if the hero reaches his goal, he gets to have breakfast with God! Abertay Professors Henry Fortuna and Gregor Whyte describe how their course builds on traditions of design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, commercial graphics which have flourished for a century in the comics of DC Thomson, and technical innovation which abounded at the Technical Institute founded in 1888, the forerunner of Abertay Itself.

They and the digital media entrepreneur Chris van der Kuyl describe how global game hits like Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings emerged out of the local scene led by people like David Jones and Russell Kay.

One of the main reasons however that so many young Dundonians got into computer programming was the ready availability of Spectrum ZX computers whose manufacture Sir Clive Sinclair had outsourced to the Timex factory in Dundee.

It may be an apocryphal story but Chris insists the story back then was that you could get one "for a fiver and 20 Embassy Regal at the back door of he factory!"

An Odyssey Production for Radio Scotland.

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Billy Kay visits the University of the West of Scotland and looks to the future.


In the final programme of the Scottish Intellect Billy Kay visits the Paisley campus of the University of the West of Scotland.

With several centres across West Central Scotland and over 20,000 students UWS, is the largest modern university.

Here, nearly half of the take their degrees on a part time basis - allowing them to work and earn money at the same time.

Many of the students come from the kind of non academic and lower income brackets which were in danger of being excluded from Scottish higher education in our ancient elite universities.

Billy speaks to students there who are the first in their families to attend university and are as proud as punch that they have overcome difficulties to work towards the goal of a degree - something that would have been unthinkable to them a few years ago.

UWS has Scotland's largest School of Health, Nursing & Midwifery, and Billy talks to students and teachers about what they see as the importance of a degree in a subject which in the past did not require such qualifications.

He also hears of new courses like Commercial Music and speaks to the Course leader Allan Dumbreck who refutes the elitist idea of Mickey Mouse Courses at new universities by pointing to the huge number of his students working full time in the creative industies - one of Britain's growth areas.

He also point with pride to bands with UWS connections like Cassidy and the support he has had from Scottish superstars like Shirley Manson of Garbage and Paisley's own, Paolo Nutini.

Billy concludes his series with contributions from people like Mike Russell, Cairns Craig of Aberdeen University and Robert Crawford of St Andrews University on the desire to continue the traditions of democratic access, the generalist approach to a broad base of subjects, and the academic renown enjoyed by our universities.

We also discuss the role of Scottish culture within our universities and the potential threats to its study posed by institutions increasingly looking to attract fee-paying students in the international market place.

Billy leaves the last word to Professor Roger Mason of the University of St Andrews where it all began - his summing up of the role of the universities in Scottish society is intensely relevant across six hundred years of Scottish history.

"...they continue to play an absolutely vital role in the life of the nation both economically and culturally - without them Scotland would be a very, very impoverished place indeed.


An Odyssey Production for Radio Scotland.