The demand for a University in Dundee arose as part of a movement – common to many of the larger industrial centres of Britain at that time – for the extension of liberal education and the advancement of technical instruction.
In 1881, largely because of the foresight and generosity of Dr John Boyd Baxter and Miss Mary Ann Baxter of Balgavies – distantly related members of a wealthy and influential local family – University College, Dundee, was founded as an independent academic institution for
‘promoting the education of persons of both sexes and the study of Science, Literature and the Fine Arts’.
Notwithstanding its independence, the College had no power to award degrees and for some years students were prepared for the external examinations of the University of London. Amongst the earlier teachers were men of great eminence -including (to give them their later titles):
Sir William Peterson, the College’s first Principal, who was afterwards Principal of McGill University, Montreal;
Sir Alfred Ewing, later Principal of Edinburgh University;
Sir D’Arcy Thompson, the biologist;
Sir Patrick Geddes, the botanist and town planner;
and Sir William McCormick who was to become the first secretary of the Carnegie Trust, and later the first chairman of the University Grants Committee.
In 1897 University College became part of the University of St Andrews. This union served to give expression to local feeling that there should be a vital connection between the old and the new in academic affairs, and that a venerable institution in a small town and a modern establishment in a large city might well complement each other in a manner advantageous to both.
In 1954, consequent upon constitutional changes within the University of St Andrews, University College, with the gracious consent of Her Majesty the Queen, was renamed Queen’s College. These changes, which included the incorporation of the Dundee School of Economics in the College, though they improved its status substantially, left it as an integral part of the University of St Andrews. The rapidly increasing pressure upon university places in the years that followed and the evident need to expand the teaching and research facilities in Dundee, reinforced a local sentiment of long standing in favour of the elevation of the College to independent university status.