Our Heritage

Our Heritage

In 1887 the educational community of Dundee started courses “in those branches of learning necessary or useful for working mechanics and other craftsmen" at a building on the University College campus in Smalls Wynd. The success of these courses led to the establishment of the Dundee Technical Institute just one year later in 1888.

The Institute is now Abertay University. Its journey of over 130 years continues to equip the future workforce of the world with life and career skills through teaching, collaborating with industry and conducting research.

 To find out more about our story, and see more from our archives, look in the sections below and use the arrows to scroll through the images.

Dundee Technical College Graduation 1967

Educating the Workforce of the Future

In 1888 the focus of the institute’s courses were on providing skills and knowledge for employment. Alongside core science subjects, courses were offered in Engineering, Mechanics, Electricity, Building and Construction, Textiles (focussing on jute and linen manufacture) and Telegraphy.

These developed through the years to meet demand of developing industry – Marine Engineering, Naval Architecture, Mechanical, Civil and Electrical Engineering, were added alongside Pharmacy, Accountancy, and Home & Foreign trade.

Early Syllabuses

Developing Education for Industry

In 1956 we offered degree courses for the first time. Changes in business and industry after the Second World War meant new courses were developed, such as production engineering, computing, business and management. 

Advances in science in the 1950s to 1980s led to new disciplines emerging, and new courses were developed to meet the needs of these growing industries such as nursing and computing studies. With great developments in technology, however, came a growing awareness of our need to manage our environment, climate, and the planet. Degrees in subjects like Environmental Science catered for this.

BSc Nursing - College Badge

Degrees for the Future

In 1992 we were granted the ability to award degrees ourselves, rather than through the central body of the Centre for National Academic Awards.

Two years later we became Abertay University, and we carried on developing courses that successfully provided skills for the future. For example, many graduates of the Mechatronics degree went on to work for organisations like NCR.

We also launched the world’s first computer games degree in 1998 to ensure Dundee’s computer games industry continued to thrive, and was sustained with graduates possessing the special skills it needed to develop in future.

Mechatronics Circuitboard

The New Millenium and New Ground

The new millennium brought new challenges and opportunities. As the internet grew, so did the threat to cybersecurity, and Abertay answered it with another world first – the degree in Ethical Hacking.

A growing awareness of the importance of Mental Health in all aspects of our lives led to our 4 year degree in Mental Health Nursing, the only one of its kind focussing on that discipline.

Female lecturer with five ethical hacking students at Abertay University

Collaborating with Industry

Our philosophy of providing training and skills for today’s workforce, has been made possible by collaborating with industry and businesses throughout our history. Our founding Trustees were made up of local business owners and industrialists who would employ many of our students.

In the 1890s Textiles firms also invested in our students by donating training machines to our textiles department to allow the students to develop the skills needed in their work.

Department of Textiles - Weaving 1951

Industrial Foundations

Local shipyards like the Carron works, sent their apprentice Marine Engineers and Naval Architects, like Victoria Drummond and Margaret Cameron (right) to “the Tech” for evening classes. Here, they were taught the latest techniques by lecturers who were often employees of the shipyards themselves.

The Second World War brought its own challenges for the Institute. Staff and students were enlisted to fight in the war and lower numbers of students reduced much needed funding. The Institute had to adapt to survive and so we used our expertise to support the country. We provided independent fibre testing facilities for businesses carrying out government contracts for defence contracts e.g. sandbags, and we carried out research on various questions, such as how to improve production output in factories for the war effort.

Margaret Cameron, female former student of Dundee Technical College (Abertay University). Black and White photograph from the courier

Helping Industry and Business

Our wartime collaborations brought industry closer to the institution and laid foundations for work that would be needed as Post-war Britain looked to advances in science and technology to help build its future. One early area of research helped the Dundee textile industry look for alternatives to jute fibres – both natural and synthetic – in order to remain competitive with East Pakistan’s jute industry.

Our support for business and industry never stopped. In 1956 we offered Continuing Professional Development courses for businesses on using computers to help their work. In the late 1960s we continued helping the textiles industry with its application of synthetic fibres in place of jute.

Forging New Partnerships

Later partnerships looked to benefit both the business and the institution. Courses began offering students the opportunity to have work experience placements during their degree. These placements introduced them to workplace practises and potential future employers who were looking for their future workforce.

Our collaboration with the continuous casting firm, Rautomead Ltd, helped it to develop efficient continuous casting machines in the 1970s and to gain contracts with new clients, such as The Royal Mint. Later, Rautomead looked to innovate its techniques and processes, and it did this partly by developing research studentships with us concentrating on areas of interest to the company. As the company progressed it helped bring students into the institution and also benefitted from the knowledge and skills developed as part of the projects run there.

Partnerships like this with business and industry remain a vital part of the university’s ethos in teaching and developing research.

Two men, Dr Bob Johnson, Abertay University, and Sir Michael Nairn, Rautomead Company Ltd., inspecting the 22 carat gold strip emerging from a continuous casting machine at Royal Mint demonstration

Community Partnerships

Other partnerships helped the communityScotland’s first science-based nursing degree was developed in the early 1970s with the local and regional nursing bodies that were responsible for training provision in Dundee.

We applied many years of research on the treatment of wood decay to the preservation of the hull of the historic ship RSS Unicorn in Dundee in the late 1980s.

The development  of a technique in 2015 for detecting fingerprints on feathers in wildlife crime investigations grew out of an Abertay student's placement with a Police Forensic Science unit.

We also supported surrounding local authorities in the 1990s in their treatment and drainage of wastewater through the experience and research of the Wastewater Technology Centre (later the Urban Water Technology Centre).

Abertay University Waste Water Technology Centre Brochure

International Institution

Before the First World War, jute firms in Calcutta were actively recruiting managers who were newly qualified from the Dundee Technical Institute. But our student rolls also have evidence that overseas students were coming to us to train as well, such as August Lommens, a Belgian who studied textiles with us in 1914.

After the Second World War we could boast that students had come to study with us from all over the world, including Czechoslovakia (left), Holland, Japan, America, and of course, India and Pakistan.

Student Register of Ernst Skutesky Czech Student 1938-39

Global Students

Famously, textiles students from South East Asia made up a significant part of the day course intake, but they also studied other courses. Sumant Mathure came from India in 1987 to undertake his Masters in Mechanical Engineering. You can discover more about his story in this video.


casting Gold alloy for Birmingham mint by Sumant Mathure

Diverse Connections

The 1969 pictures of our Student Representative Council shows growing signs of the student community's diversity.

By the 1980s our Student Association had established an annual International food festival that celebrated the cultures of the many international students represented at the institution, and in 1988 it elected its first female President, Elaine Dickson. 

By 1994 the Students Association had created new posts of a Women's Officer, LGB Officer, and also had an active Anti-Racism Society. 

President Dudley Kanangara and SRC Officials Pictures (1968-1969)

Wide Horizons

Local students also took opportunities to study overseas, like Louise Giblin, who studied Biotechnology for a year in Italy through the ERASMUS scheme.

In the 1990s and beyond we established relationships with educational institutions as far afield as Russia, Malaysia, and China. These provided our educational expertise and pathways for international students to complete their education with us.

In 2021 Abertay University remains an outward facing educational institution providing educational opportunities for students of all nationalities, backgrounds, and ages.

Graduation 2004


If you have any questions about the archives shown on this page, or arranging to see anything from the collections, please contact archives@abertay.ac.uk

Abertay University Library Architects Drawing

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