General Council

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The General Council of Edinburgh University consists of graduates, academic staff, and members of the University Court. It was established to ensure that graduates have a continuing voice in the management of the University.


Edinburgh University was governed by the Town Council of Edinburgh until the Universities (Scotland) Act 1858, when it received self governing status. The 1858 act dramatically changed the constitution of the University. A University Court and General Council were introduced which decided on matters and management pertaining to the whole University. The Senatus Academicus was already in place before 1858 and this managed academic matters, but, from 1889 onwards, it too has answered to Court.

When the Act came into force on 15 October 1859, it was evident that instituting a General Council was the first step that Edinburgh University had to take to conform. Under the Act, ultimate authority was to lie with the University Court, but membership of the Court was to include Assessors appointed by the General Council and by the Chancellor, a new office which was to be elected by the General Council. The University Court could not, then, be constituted until the General Council had met.

A problem facing the Executive Commission charged with implementing the 1858 Act was that Arts graduation had fallen out of use throughout Scotland while graduation in Law and Divinity had not yet been introduced. So, if the new General Councils were to consist entirely of graduates, almost all would be Doctors of Medicine. To enable wider representations, the Commissioners therefore opened admission to all alumni who had regularly attended university classes as matriculated students for four full sessions. A total of 1964 former students applied to be made Members of the General Council of Edinburgh University, of whom the Commission admitted 1862.

The first Meeting of the General Council took place on 28 October 1859 with the chief purpose of electing a Chancellor. It was presided over by Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), the newly appointed Principal, and resulted in the election of Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778-1868), co-founder of the Edinburgh Review and former Lord Chancellor of Great Britain.

Rights and Responsibilities

According to the 1858 Act, 'it shall be competent' to the Council 'to take into their consideration all questions affecting the well-being and prosperity of the University and to make representations from time to time on such questions to the University Court, who shall consider the same, and return to the council their deliverance thereon'. Subsequently, the Universities (Scotland) Act 1966 gave the General Council the power to consider draft Ordinances and Resolutions, to be presented with an Annual Report of the work and activities of the University from the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, and to receive an audited financial statement.

It also has the responsibility of maintaining a register of all University of Edinburgh graduates.


The General Council is currently comprised of:

  • The graduates of the University
  • The members of the University Court
  • The Professors of the University
  • Readers and Lecturers of at least one year's standing
  • All former members of the Court, and the former Professors and retired Readers and Lecturers (who have held office for at least three years) who wish to remain members of the General Council

Two Statutory Half-Yearly Meetings of the General Council are held annually. The General Council's Business Committee deals with any matters arising in the interim.


External Sites


  • Sir Alexander Grant, The Story of the University of Edinburgh during its First Three Hundred Years, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1884)
  • 'History of the General Councils' [[1], accessed 24 February 2015]
  • University of Edinburgh: Charters, Statutes, and Acts of the Town Council and the Senatus 1583-1858 (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1937)