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Heriot-Watt University is a university with a strong focus on meeting the needs of business and industry. It teaches on three main campuses located in Edinburgh, Galashiels and Dubai, plus a fourth on Orkney, and its strong international focus has resulted in a very cosmopolitan environment with over 25% of students studying at the Scottish campuses coming from outwith the UK. Research features especially strongly at Heriot-Watt and it is now regarded as one of the UK's leading research institutions. It has especially strong links with the oil, brewing and distilling industries.
The university's main campus is at Riccarton, where it occupies an attractive 380 acre site on the south-western edge of Edinburgh that until 1971 was open meadows and woodland. The Riccarton campus is home to all the main university facilities and a number of halls of residence. Although outside the city itself, transport links are extremely good, allowing students to take advantage of all that Edinburgh has to offer. Amongst the university faculties located at Riccarton is the Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt's Graduate School of Business. This offers a range of postgraduate programmes and is home to one of the largest Master of Business Administration programmes in the world.
The Scottish Borders campus is located at Galashiels and has particular strengths in the field of textiles. Its is home to one of the finest collections of textiles, textile records and textile artefacts anywhere in the world. The small campus on Orkney is home to Heriot-Watts International Centre for Island Technology. Heriot-Watt University Dubai offers a range of degrees.
The Heriot-Watt University's Student Association is affiliated to the National Union of Students. Its role is to represent the rights and needs of students and campaign on their behalf. The Heriot-Watt University Sports Union has has 32 clubs that compete in the British Universities Sports Association.
Heriot-Watt can claim to be the eighth oldest higher education institution in the UK. It began life in October 1821 with the opening of the School of Arts of Edinburgh "for the education of mechanics in such branches of physical science as are of practical application in their several trades". In 1852 the school's name was changed to the Watt Institution and School of Arts, in memory of the great engineer and inventor James Watt. From 1869 women were permitted to attend all classes, making Heriot-Watt a pioneer in equal opportunities in education.
In the 1870s the School moved to a new building on Chambers Street. This gave rise to severe financial difficulties, which were only resolved by a close collaboration with a community college formed as an arm of George Heriot's School. In 1885 the Watt Institution and School of Arts formally merged with the community arm of George Heriot's School, the result being named Heriot-Watt College: the "Heriot" component of the name dating back to George Heriot, a successful businessman in the 1600s who had founded the precursory to George Heriot's School.
Heriot-Watt College college continued to expand through the first half of the 1900s, gaining a strong reputation for its science and engineering. It became Heriot-Watt University in 1966. In 1969 the university was offered the 380 acre Gibson-Craig estate at Riccarton for the sum of one penny. Between 1971 and 1992 it relocated all its activities to a purpose built campus at Riccarton.
In 1998 the university merged with the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels, which resulted in the Scottish Borders campus, on which over £30m has recently been spent to upgrade and modernise facilities. In March 2006, Heriot-Watt opened a purpose built campus in Academic City, Dubai known as Heriot-Watt University Dubai.