Scotland's first computer science degree celebrates 50th anniversary



Coverage of arrival of Sirius in the Evening News

Scotland's first computer Science degree was launched at Heriot-Watt fifty years ago, with the first cohort of Computer Science students enrolling in October 1966. 

Heriot-Watt introduced Computer Science as a taught degree subject at a time when only a few could envisage the impact that it would have.
Professor Nick Taylor

The age of Computers arrived at the then Heriot-Watt College on 4th May 1962 when a Ferranti Sirius computer was installed and commissioned under the joint control of the Departments of Mathematics and of Electrical Engineering. Following the granting of university status to Heriot-Watt in 1966, two Mathematics lecturers, Alex Balfour and Allen McTernan, decided to start a BSc degree in Computer Science in October of that year.  A two year part-time MSc degree in Computer Science was started in October 1970 and a BA degree in Accountancy and Computer Science was launched in October 1973.
Professor Nick Taylor, of the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, said, “Fifty years ago computer science was in its infancy but the impact that computing in all its forms has had on modern society is immeasurable.  

“Heriot-Watt introduced Computer Science as a taught degree subject at a time when only a few could envisage the impact that it would have and how much it would change all our lives. The University's Computer Science department has a track record of producing graduates who have gone on to achieve great things in the world.  Of particular note is software entrepreneur and alumnus, Ian Ritchie who graduated in 1973 with a BSc in Computer Science. He is the guest speaker at an anniversary dinner being held on Friday evening at the Apex Hotel in the Grassmarket, home to the Computer Science department before it moved out to the campus at Riccarton in 1992.”

International impact

Graduates from Heriot-Watt's Computer Science department can be found across the world from Silicon Glen to Silicon Valley and working for IT giants such as Microsoft, Apple, HP, Oracle and IBM and in the telecom, finance, aviation and indeed any industry or organization reliant on large scale computing networks.  Our graduates have helped shape the development of computing over the last five decades and will continue to shape our futures.

The University is running a week of events to celebrate the anniversary, including an open day, a
meeting of alumni and the anniversary dinner.