Our Philanthropic History
RGU owes its name, ethos, concept and estate to generous acts throughout our history.
Find out more about how philanthropic donations have enabled transformational change throughout our history.
The Robert Gordon Legacy
Robert Gordon was the son of a well-respected advocate in the Edinburgh courts. At the age of 16 he became a Burgess of the City of Aberdeen, which entitled him to follow a merchant's trade in the town. He went on to graduate from college in 1689, and like many young scots at time, left his hometown to travel far and wide around Northern Europe where he established himself as a merchant trader.
Over the next few decades he built a highly successful business and soon became wealthy. By 1692, he gave his first philanthropic gesture, donating a large sum of money to his old college and by 1699 it appears that he was providing low interest loans to landowners in Aberdeenshire who needed working capital.
He returned to Aberdeen a very wealthy man. Having never married and with no heirs he dedicated his fortune to helping others and decided to build a hospital that would provide the poor with an education.
He died shortly after starting work on the project in 1730 but funding was still there and work continued on his dream. The Robert Gordon’s Hospital opened in 1750 and operated for 131 years, making a significant contribution to social and economic development in Aberdeen.
The institution grew in 1816 through the generosity of a local landowner and reconstituted through an Act of Parliament in 1881, which transformed it into a technical college incorporating science and technology to its curriculum.
It became known as Robert Gordon’s College, quickly gaining a national reputation as a leading secondary education school and by the end of the 19th century it was firmly established as one of the major centres for technical education in Scotland.
In 1992, the then Robert Gordon’s Institute of Technology was elevated to university status, paving the way for another transformational expansion which has led to the university we celebrate today.
Generous acts created our campus
Founded by the legacy of Aberdeen merchant Robert Gordon, the institution continued to evolve in the 19th and 20th centuries with the generosity of local businessmen John Gray, Thomas Scott Sutherland and Sir Ian Wood.
Having moved to Aberdeen in his late teens, John Gray enjoyed a successful business career, eventually becoming head of one of the city’s largest mechanical engineering firms and a director of the Aberdeen Mechanics’ Institute, which eventually merged with Robert Gordon’s College.
At this time John Gray wanted to support the valuable contribution that the institution was making in technical training, and announced the gift of funding for a new building specifically designed for the teaching of science and art.
The Gray’s School of Art and Science opened in 1885 and grew steadily in size and reputation, becoming an integral part of the institution, which continued to evolve in the early 20th century to reflect its growth and standards in teaching.
Philanthropic gestures continued with what is one of the most important events in the history of RGU. Thomas Scott Sutherland had benefited from a bursary to study architecture at Robert Gordon’s College which led to a highly successful professional career in Aberdeen.
Thomas Scott Sutherland
As a gesture of gratitude, Thomas Scott Sutherland gifted his Garthdee estate and expertise to the institution in 1955, which soon became the site for a leading architecture school, aptly named the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment, and a new building for Gray’s School of Art 10 years later.
The Garthdee estate paved the way for the beginning of a consolidation of the institutions activities into superb new buildings built on land adjacent to that generously donated by Mr Scott Sutherland.
After it was granted university status in 1992, RGU set out to achieve an ambitious and innovative development of a world class campus situated on the picturesque banks of the River Dee.
The last 25 years have seen RGU build on its aspiration and the campus now boasts state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities, providing an outstanding educational environment for students with first class formal and informal learning spaces.
Sir Ian Wood
In more recent times, RGU has benefitted from the generosity of The Wood Foundation, a world-renowned philanthropic charity set up by Sir Ian Wood and his immediate family, allowing the university to propel itself to the forefront of teaching innovation and excellence.
The Wood Foundation’s support of several million pounds over the years has funded numerous projects and initiatives, such as the creation of the Oil & Gas Institute at RGU in 2014. The following year, The Wood Foundation announced a generous funding package that has enabled the university to attract people from industry and academia to bring international knowledge and expertise to the university.
This has seen the RGU prosper and grow into an institution that has become recognised globally for teaching, research and innovation in its key sectors.
Sir Ian Wood and The Wood Foundation continue to support the university in other ways, including annual support for the Aberdeen Youth Games; a sporting initiative held in partnership between RGU, Sport Aberdeen and North East Scotland College.
Check out our campus fly through and time lapse of the construction of the new campus
A video introduction to Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.