Our History

Universities Scotland is proud to represent all 19 of Scotland's higher education institutions

Our History

Universities Scotland has represented the interests of Scotland’s higher education institutions for over 30 years.

We work autonomously as part of Universities UK, as the national council for Scotland on all Scottish matters. Originally established as the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals (CoSHEP) in 1992, we decided to partner with Universities UK five years later.

Universities step up in all manner of ways in response to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Student nurses, doctors and academics go to support the frontline of NHS staff to boost capacity. Universities start research into an unknown virus, and become an essential part of the testing and vaccination programme.

The student experience changes fundamentally as universities quickly pivot to online learning and assessment. All students progress their learning and universities remain “open” albeit almost entirely online, consistent with public health guidelines, for the remainder of the academic year. 

Universities Scotland moves to home working arrangements for staff from 18 March 2020.

We published our Vision for higher education in 2030, our ambition for universities’ contribution to learners, to society, to the economy and to Scotland’s place in the world over the next decade. 

The UK votes to leave the European Union in the June referendum.

Universities Scotland adopted a neutral position during this referendum; however, once the outcome is known we focus our efforts on influencing the negotiating priorities by highlighting the potential impact on universities.

Leaving the European Union has had a significant impact on the mobility of students and research within universities with the UK’s withdrawal of Erasmus+. A deal on the UK’s association to Horizon Europe, the EU’s major research programme, is not secured until 2023.

Glasgow is host to the XX Commonwealth Games. We held a one-off awards ceremony to celebrate the many and varied contributions made by universities and colleges to the success of the biggest-ever sporting event held in Scotland.

The Game Changer Awards was the idea of our University Games Group, chaired by Professor Gerry McCormac, and won funding support from the Scottish Funding Council. 

Scotland voted to remain as part of the United Kingdom following the Independence Referendum. Universities Scotland took a principled position of neutrality during campaigning.

In response to new, increased tuition fees in English universities, the Scottish Government announces the intention to raise the fee paid by students domiciled in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to study at undergraduate level in Scottish institutions, capped at the same maximum level as in institutions in England.

This is passed in the Education (Fees) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 later updated by the Education (Fees) (Scotland) Regulations 2022.

The Browne Review into university funding concluded with the key recommendation of raising tuition fees in England up to a maximum of £9,000. This triggers concerns that a funding gap will open up between universities in Scotland and England. 


We expand our organisation’s remit to include international policy and increase our staff numbers to 15 with support from the Scottish Funding Council for an additional policy officer.

The Fresh Talent: Working Scotland Scheme was launched by the Scottish Government. This Scheme was available until 2008. It was aimed at attracting international students to Scotland, to help address Scotland’s demographic challenges. Fresh Talent worked within devolved/reserved competencies to offer international graduates a competitive post-study work visa to stay in Scotland. It had a very strong appeal within India and helped to boost student numbers from India during this period.

CoSHEP and CVCP do away with their acronyms and change their names to Universities Scotland and Universities UK respectively. 

Higher education is fully devolved to Scotland with the creation of a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. 

CoSHEP enters into a formal relationship with the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals (CVCP), operating in England, which was later to become Universities UK. 

Universities Scotland, was established as the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals (CoSHEP). At the time of our establishment Scotland had 8 universities and a number of other higher education institutions. 

CoSHEP’s first formal meeting took place on 13 October 1992 and the first Secretary to the organisation was Robert Crawford. 

Interestingly, our archives suggest that the need for a sector-wide organisation to represent the interests of higher education in Scotland arose because of the Funding Council present at the time. When the funding of higher education was devolved to SHEFC, the Council was only prepared to deal with the sector in ‘aggregate’. This required new levels of cooperation and coordination from higher education institutions. 

Our records show that CoSHEP was quick to achieve consensus across the membership: “especially in regards to future funding prospects”. Members recognised CoSHEP was the best forum to articulate legitimate differences of view within the sector as well as reach agreed positions. 

Past Conveners

Our Convener works with the staff team in Universities Scotland to highlight policy positions and realise our strategic goals on behalf of the whole sector. The Convenership is an unpaid role, elected by all Principals and Directors of Scotand’s higher education institutions. The Convener typically serves for a two-year term, with the option of re-election for another two years.

Universities Scotland is thankful to every Principal who has served as our Convener since our formation in 1992.

Professor Iain Gillespie

University of Dundee

Professor Dame Sally Mapstone

University of St Andrews

Professor Sir Gerry McCormac

University of Stirling

Professor Andrea Nolan

Edinburgh Napier University

Professor Pete Downes

University of Dundee

Professor Bernard King

Abertay University

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli

Heriot-Watt University

Sir Muir Russell

University of Glasgow

Professor John Archer

Heriot-Watt University

Professor Bill Steveley

Robert Gordon University

Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland

University of Edinburgh

Dr Ian Graham-Bryce

University of Dundee

Professor Richard Shaw

University of Paisley

Professor John Arbuthnott

University of Strathclyde

Professor Michael Hamlin

University of Dundee