Aberystwyth University

Aberystwyth University (Welsh: Prifysgol Aberystwyth) is a public research university in Aberystwyth, Wales. Aberystwyth was a founding member institution of the former federal University of Wales. The university has over 8,000 students studying across 3 academic faculties and 17 departments.

Aberystwyth University
Prifysgol Aberystwyth
Former names
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
MottoWelsh: Nid Byd, Byd Heb Wybodaeth
Motto in English
A world without knowledge is no world at all
Established1872 (as The University College of Wales)
Endowment£43.3 million (as of 31 July 2018)[1]
ChancellorJohn Thomas, Baron Thomas of Cwmgiedd
Vice-ChancellorElizabeth Treasure
Students8,455 (2016/17)[2]
Undergraduates7,325 (2016/17)[2]
Postgraduates1,130 (2016/17)[2]
Location, ,
United Kingdom

Founded in 1872 as University College Wales, Aberystwyth, it became a founder member of the University of Wales in 1894 and changed its name to the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. In the mid-1990s, the university again changed its name to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. On 1 September 2007, the University of Wales ceased to be a federal university and Aberystwyth became independent again.[3]

Aberystwyth University is placed in the UK’s top 50 universities in the main national rankings and it has become the first university to be awarded with the prestigious prize "University of the year for teaching quality" by The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide for two consecutive years (2018 and 2019).[4] According to the Research Excellence Framework REF 2014, Aberystwyth ranks in the top 50 out of 154 in the UK for impact, quality of publications and research environment.[5]

It is the first university in the world to be awarded Plastic Free University status (for single-use plastic items).[6]


In the middle of the 19th century, eminent Welsh people were advocating the establishment of a university in the Principality. One such was Thomas Nicholas, whose 1863 book Middle and High Class Schools, and University Education for Wales is said to have "exerted great influence on educated Welshmen".[7]

Funded through public and private subscriptions, and with five regional committees (London, Manchester, Liverpool, North and South Wales) guaranteeing funds for the first three years' running costs, the university opened in October 1872 with 26 students. Thomas Charles Edwards was the Principal. In October 1875, chapels in Wales raised the next tranche of funds from over 70,000 contributors.[8] Until 1893, when the college joined the University of Wales as a founder member, students applying to Aberystwyth sat the University of London's entrance exams.[9] Women were admitted in 1884.

In 1885, a fire damaged what is now known as the Old College in Aberystwyth town centre, and in 1897 the first 14 acres of what would become the main Penglais campus were purchased.[10] Incorporated by Royal Charter in 1893, the university installed the Prince of Wales as Chancellor in 1896, the same year it awarded an honorary degree to British Prime Minister William Gladstone.

The university's coat of arms dates from the 1880s. The shield features two red dragons to symbolise Wales, and an open book to symbolise learning. The crest, an eagle or phoenix above a flaming tower, may signify the College's rebirth after the 1885 fire.[11] The motto is Nid Byd, Byd Heb Wybodaeth (a world without knowledge is no world at all).

In the early 1900s the university added courses that included Law, Applied Mathematics, Pure Mathematics, and Botany. The Department for International Politics, which Aberystwyth says is the oldest such department in the world, was founded in 1919.[12] By 1977, there were eight Fellows of the Royal Society on the university's staff, including Gwendolen Rees, the first Welsh woman elected an FRS.

The Department of Sports and Exercise Science was established in 2000. Joint honours Psychology degrees were introduced in September 2007, and single honours Psychology in 2009.

The chancellor of the university is The Right Honourable Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who took up the position in January 2018. The visitor of the university is an appointment made by the Privy Council, under the Royal Charter of the university. Since July 2014, the holder of this office is The Honourable Mr Justice Roderick Evans QC.

In 2011 the university appointed a new vice chancellor[13] under whom the academic departments were restructured as larger subject-themed institutes.

Organisation and administration

Departments and Institutes

  • Art
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences
  • Business
  • Computer Science
  • Education
  • English and Creative Writing
  • Geography and Earth Sciences
  • History and Welsh History
  • Information Management, Libraries and Archives
  • International Politics
  • Law and Criminology
  • Mathematics
  • Modern Languages
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Theatre, Film and Television Studies
  • Welsh

Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences

The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) is a research and teaching centre at Aberystwyth University for the study of biological, environmental and rural sciences. IBERS brings together staff from the Institutes of Rural Sciences and Biological Sciences at Aberystwyth University and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER). Around 360 research, teaching and support staff conduct basic, strategic and applied research in biology.[14]

The Institute is located in two areas; one at the main teaching Penglais campus and another rural research hub at the Gogerddan campus.[15]

Aberystwyth Business School

In 1998 the Department of Economics (founded 1912), the Department of Accounting and Finance (founded 1979) and the Centre for Business Studies merged to create the School of Management and Business. In 2013, the School joined the Department of Information Studies and the Department of Law and Criminology at a new campus at Llanbadarn Fawr. The School was shortlisted for ‘Business School of the Year Times Higher Education Awards (2014).[16] In 2016 the Institute, minus the Department of Information Studies, was renamed the Institute of Business and Law, the remaining departments being renamed Aberystwyth Business School and Aberystwyth Law School.

Department of Computer Science

The Department of Computer Science, founded in 1970, conducts research in automated reasoning, computational biology, vision graphics and visualisation, and intelligent robotics.

AberMUD, the first popular internet-based MUD, was written in the department by then-student Alan Cox. Jan Pinkava, another graduate, won an Oscar for his short animated film Geri's Game. Students in the department were also involved in the creation of the award-winning service robot librarian named Hugh (robot)[17] and Kar-go, the autonomous delivery vehicle.[18]

Department of Geography and Earth Sciences

The Department of Geography and Earth Sciences (IGES), formed in 1989 from the former Departments of Geography (established in 1918) and Geology. houses the E. G. Bowen map library, containing 80,000 maps and 500 atlases.[19]

Department of Information Management, Libraries and Archives

The College of Librarianship Wales (CLW) was established at Llanbadarn Fawr in 1964 in response to a recommendation for the training of bilingual librarians that was made in the Bourdillon Report on Standards of public library service in England (H.M.S.O., 1962). The College grew rapidly and claims to be Europe's largest institution for training librarians.[20] The independent College merged with the University in August 1989.

Department of International Politics

The Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth was founded in 1919. It was founded shortly after World War I with the stated purpose of furthering political understanding of the world in the hope of avoiding such conflicts in the future. This goal led to the creation of the Woodrow Wilson chair of International Politics.[21] The department has over 700 students from 40 countries studying at undergraduate, masters and PhD levels. It achieved a 95% score for student satisfaction in the 2016 National Student Survey, placing it as the highest-ranking politics department in Wales and within the UK's top ten.[22]

The department has hosted various notable academic staff in the field including E. H. Carr, Leopold Kohr, Andrew Linklater, Ken Booth, Steve Smith, Michael Cox, Michael MccGwire, Jenny Edkins and Colin J. McInnes.

Department of Law and Criminology

The Department of Law and Criminology is housed in the Hugh Owen Building on the Penglais campus. Founded in 1901, it includes the Centre for Welsh Legal Affairs, a specialist research centre. All academic staff are engaged in research, and the International Journal of Biosciences and the Law and the Cambrian Law Review are edited in the department. In 2013 the department joined the Department of Information Studies and the School of Management and Business at a new campus at Llanbadarn Fawr, as part of a newly created Institute of Management, Law and Information Studies. As of September 2018, the department has since relocated back to the Hugh Owen Building, based in the Penglais campus, for the forthcoming 2018/19 Academic Year, and in the same year, the name of the department changed from Aberystwyth Law School to the Department of Law and Criminology.[23]

The Guardian University Guide 2018 currently ranks Aberystwyth's School of Law at 69th in the UK,[24] and "The Times" Higher Education Guide ranks Aberystwyth's Schools of Law as 300th.[25]

Department of Modern Languages

Aberystwyth has taught modern languages since 1874. French, German, Italian and Spanish courses are taught at both beginners' and advanced levels, in a research-active academic environment. One of its research projects is the Anglo-Norman Dictionary,[26] based in Aberystwyth since 2001 and available online since 2005.

Department of Physics

Physics was first taught at Aberystwyth as part of Natural Philosophy, Astronomy, and Mathematics under N. R. Grimley, soon after the foundation of the University College.[27] It became a department in 1877, under the headship of F. W. Rudler.[27] The department was located in the south wing of what is now the old college,[27] but later relocated to the Physics Building on the Penglais Campus. The first chair in Physics was offered to D. E. Jones in 1885.[27] Prior to WW1 much of the early research in the department was undertaken in Germany. Early research in the 1900s was concerned with electrical conductivity and quantum theory, later moving into thermal conductivity and acoustics.[27] In 1931 the department hosted the Faraday Centenary Exhibition.[27] E. J. Williams was appointed chair of Physics in 1938 where he continued his research into sub-atomic particles using a cloud chamber.[28] Following World War II research was concerned with mechanical and nuclear physics, later moving into air density, experimental rocket launching equipment, and radar.[27]

Department of Psychology

In 2007 Aberystwyth established a Centre for Applied Psychology within the Department of International Politics. By 2011, Psychology moved into their current premises in Penbryn 5 on the Penglais Campus. The department is home to over 300 undergraduate students.


The main campus of the University is situated on Penglais Hill, overlooking the town of Aberystwyth and Cardigan Bay, and comprises most of the University buildings, Arts Centre, Students’ Union, and many of the student residences. Just below Penglais Campus is the National Library of Wales, one of Britain's five legal deposit libraries. The landscaping of the Penglais Campus is historically significant and is listed.[10] The CADW listing states,

The landscaping of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth campuses, particularly the earlier Penglais campus, is of exceptional historic interest as one of the most important modern landscaping schemes in Wales...One section of the Penglais campus was designed by the well known landscape architect Brenda Colvin and is one of the very few of her schemes to have survived. A number of women have played a key role in the development and planting of the whole site.

The Llanbadarn Centre is located approximately one mile to the east of the Penglais Campus, overlooking the town and Cardigan Bay to the west, with the backdrop of the Cambrian Mountains to the east. Llanbadarn Centre hosted Aberystwyth Law School and Aberystwyth Business School, which together formed the Institute of Business and Law. The Department of Information Studies is also based there. Additionally, the Llanbadarn Campus is the site of the Aberystwyth branch of Coleg Ceredigion, a further education college, and not part of the University.

At Gogerddan, on the outskirts of town is located the University's major centre for research in land based sciences and the main centre for the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science.

The School of Art is located between the Penglais Campus and the centre of Aberystwyth, in what was originally the Edward Davies Chemical Laboratory. A listed building, the Edward Davies Building is one of the finest examples of architecture in Aberystwyth.

The site of the original university is the 'Old College', currently the subject of the 'New Life for Old College' project which aims to transform it into an integrated centre of heritage, culture, learning and knowledge exchange.

The university also holds an international branch campus in Mauritius. Aberystwyth Ltd. operating as Aberystwyth University (Mauritian Branch Campus) runs the campus. The institution is registered as a private one by the Tertiary Education Commission of Mauritius.

Student residences

Most of the student residences are on campus, with the rest in walking distance of the campus and Aberystwyth town centre. Accommodation ranges from 'traditional' catered residences to en-suite self-catered accommodation, and from budget rooms to more luxurious studio apartments. All have wired access to the University's computer network and a support network of residential tutors.

Penglais Campus
  • Cwrt Mawr (self-catered flats, single and twin rooms, capacity c.600)[29]
  • Penbryn (Welsh-speaking traditional catered hall, capacity 350)[30]
  • Rosser (self-catered en-suite flats, capacity 332), expanded in 2011 to include postgraduate flats in Rosser G (capacity 60)[31]
  • Trefloyne (self-catered flats, capacity 146)[32]
Pentre Jane Morgan (the Student Village)
  • Almost 200 individual houses arranged in closes and cul-de-sacs. Each house typically accommodate 5 or 6 students.[33]
Fferm Penglais Student Residence
  • Purpose-built student accommodation with studio apartments and en-suite bedrooms. An area of accommodation within the Fferm Penglais Student Residence is set aside for students who are Welsh learners or fluent Welsh speakers, and wish to live in a Welsh speaking environment.
Town accommodation
  • Brynderw (self-catered flats, capacity 146)
  • Seafront Residences (self-catered flats located on the seafront and Queen's Road, overall capacity 720–800 including the redeveloped Alexandra Hall and Clarendon House Postgraduate residence). The original Seafront residences (Plyn' and Caerleon) were destroyed by fire[34] in 1998. Seafront residences include Alexandra, Aberglasney, Balmoral, Blaenwern, Caerleon, Carpenter, Ceredigion, Clarendon, Glyndwr, Pumlumon and Ty Gwerin Halls.[35]

The University also owns several houses, such as Penglais Farmhouse (Adjacent to Pentre Jane Morgan) and flats in Waun Fawr, which are let on an Assured Shorthold Tenure to students with families. Disabled access rooms are available within the existing student village.

Reputation and academic profile

National rankings
Complete (2020)[36]71
Guardian (2020)[37]54
Times / Sunday Times (2020)[38]45
Global rankings
QS (2020)[39]
THE (2020)[40]351–400
British Government assessment
Teaching Excellence Framework[41]Gold

Aberystwyth University is placed in the UK’s top 50 universities in the main national rankings. It is ranked 48th for 132 UK university rankings in The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide for 2019 [42] and the first university to be given the prestigious award "University of the year for teaching quality" for two consecutive years (2018 and 2019).[4]

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings placed it in the 301—350 group for 800 university rankings, compared with 351—400 the previous year,[43] and the QS World University Rankings placed it at the 432th position for 2019, compared with 481—490 of the previous year.[44] In 2015, UK employers from “predominantly business, IT and engineering sectors” listed Aberystwyth equal 49th in their 62-place employability rankings for UK graduates, according to a Times Higher Education report.[45]

Aberystwyth University was rated in the top ten of UK higher education institutions for overall student satisfaction in the 2016 National Student Survey (NSS).[46]

Aberystwyth University was shortlisted in four categories in the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards (THELMAs) (2015).[47]

Aberystwyth University has been awarded the Silver Award under the Corporate Health Standard (CHS), the quality mark for workplace health promotion run by Welsh Government.[48]

The University has been awarded an Athena SWAN Charter Award, recognising commitment to advancing women's careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) in higher education and research.[49]

In 2007 the University came under criticism for its record on sustainability, ranking 97th out of 106 UK higher education institutions in that year's Green League table.[50] In 2012 the university was listed in the table's "Failed, no award" section, ranking equal 132nd out of 145.[51] In 2013 it ranked equal 135th out of 143, and was listed again as "Failed, no award".[52]

Following the University's initiatives to address sustainability,[53] it received an EcoCampus[54] Silver Phase award in October 2014.

In October 2015, the University’s Penglais Campus became the first University campus in Wales to achieve the Green Flag Award.[55] The Green Flag Award is a UK-wide partnership, delivered in Wales by Keep Wales Tidy with support from Natural Resources Wales, and is the mark of a high quality park or green space.

In 2013, the University and College Union alleged bullying behaviour by Aberystwyth University managers, and said staff were fearful for their jobs. University president Sir Emyr Jones Parry said in a BBC radio interview, "I don't believe the views set out are representative and I don't recognise the picture." He also said, "Due process is rigorously applied in Aberystwyth." Economist John Cable resigned his emeritus professorship, describing the university's management as "disproportionate, aggressive and confrontational". The singer Peter Karrie resigned his honorary fellowship in protest, he said, at the apparent determination to "ruin one of the finest arts centres in the country", and because he was "unable to support any regime that can treat their staff in such a cruel and appalling manner."[56]

Notable people

List of Presidents

List of Principals and Vice-Chancellors

Notable staff

Notable alumni




Civil servants


Business people

Sports people

  • Cath Bishop, former professional British rower, turned civil servant
  • John Dawes, Rugby player, who captained Wales and the British Lions
  • Carwyn James, Welsh and British and Irish Lions rugby coach (1949?–1951)
  • Leigh Richmond Roose, International footballer
  • Berwyn Price, International 110m hurdles athlete, Commonwealth Games & World Student Games gold medallist
  • Angela Tooby, Silver medal World Cross-country Championships, Auckland

Artists, entertainers and authors

See also

Further reading

  • Iwan Morgan (ed.), The College by the Sea (Aberystwyth, 1928)
  • E.L. Ellis, The University College of Wales, Aberystwyth: 1872–1972, University of Wales Press ISBN 978-0-7083-1930-7 (2004)
  • Ben Bowen Thomas, "Aber" 1872–1972 (University of Wales Press, 1972)
  • J Roger Webster, Old College Aberystwyth: The Evolution of a High Victorian Building (University of Wales Press, 1995)
  • Emrys Wynn Jones, Fair may your future be: the story of the Aberystwyth Old Students’ Association 1892–1992 (Aberystwyth Old Students’ Association, 1992)


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