We’ve finally ended the debate: Exploring the rivalry between Glasgow’s four universities

Written by a UWS student so you know I’m not fully biased

If you are unfortunate enough to be caught in the crossfire between Glasgow students debating what Glasgow-based uni is best, you would be forgiven for wandering if you had somehow stumbled into the middle of a vicious session of PMQS or a war-torn nation.

Despite this, in the middle of endless finger-wagging, eye-rolling and face scrunching, it’s worth saying that the outcome you reach is purely based upon the angle you take.

Glasgow Uni students will always be quick to remind you that they attend one of the most prestigious schools in the country, whilst Strath students would offer that pretentious is a far more applicable word. Regardless, both sides have an unyielding sour taste in their mouths during discussion.

As one of many who has been unlucky enough to endure the never-ending bloodshed of this tedious battle, I believe there is only one way we can bring this bloodshed to an end, and it’s by dividing the debate into three categories based upon the most contentious talking points:

1. Academic superiority

2. Battle of the unions

3. Aesthetic

1. Academic superiority

When the time to choose what university you’d like to attend comes around, one of the most important aspects you will most definitely consider is where your chosen institutions land on the league tables.

It’s no secret that Glasgow houses some of the UK’s finest institutions and have produced some of the greatest minds of our generation and generations past, but that doesn’t mean they all land completely in balanced ranks.

It will come as a shock to no one, except hard-core Strathclyde stans, that Glasgow University holds the top place out of the Glasgow institutions – landing 10th in the UK in the Times Higher Education Rankings for 2024. Strathclyde comes in second place, landing at 48th in the UK. The University of the West of Scotland just steals the third-place spot from Glasgow Caledonian coming in at 69th in the UK whilst Caledonian takes the 71st spot.

Whilst yes, it is true that this unavoidable fact will keep Strath students in a permanent state of bitter rage, it is worth saying that Strath and its fellow institutions do have their perks; Strath being nationally applauded for their world class engineering courses.

Whilst being a fairly young university, and lacking the brand recognition as say Glasgow Uni, you would not be wrong to describe UWS as a rising star in the academic world.

UWS was officially recognised by the Times Higher Education top 200 universities worldwide as assets by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition, UWS was the most impactful university in Scotland for “economic growth” and 23rd most impactful university in the world for “reducing inequalities”.

UWS is not alone in undertaking such success. If you were to simply google the achievements of Strathclyde you would be forgiven for thinking that, just like fidget spinners, they peaked in 2017. After all, the uni won three awards for their quality of teaching and work environment in 2017. And, after talking to students who attend Strathclyde it’s safe to say that it still upholds its status as a first-class university.

2. Battle of the unions

Glasgow University’s Queen Margaret Union perfectly illustrates that size does not matter. Despite having the largest pool of students, upon entering the Queen Margaret Union and noticing the brutal architecture, you would be forgiven for thinking you had instead entered the Soviet Union. If some of your interests involve the colour grey or just generally feeling depressed, QMU is the place to go. However, despite these aesthetic short comings, the union does put on an array of great events during freshers, from ABBA parties to foam parties, the union has it all, making the unions an especially great place for freshers, and beyond, to make friends.

Caledonian’s union, just like UofG’s, acts as a social hub for students, providing entertainment, food, and weekly events from the weekly quiz night to karaoke, the Glasgow Caledonian Union is a great location to socialise. However, it is worth saying that out of all the Glasgow-based universities it has the least events.

If you are not a Strath student, and you make any sort of claim about the superiority of your own institution, you can expect any strath student within ear range to bark back reminding you of how amazing their union is. And they’d be right to do so.

Strath Union with it’s beer garden aesthetic is a great place to hang out and decompress with your friends after an intense day of studying and hill climbing. From pole fitness classes to their K-pop night, this union definitely takes the prize for the most unique events. Additionally, Strathclyde came eight in the UK and first in Scotland at the student 2023 Student Awards for best students’ union.

Considering all this, I find it hard it to imagine how anyone, even the most robust Queen Margaret apologists, could deny that Strathclyde have an excellent, vibrant, and lively union, much more so than what other Glasgow universities have to offer. That’s why, Strathclyde is victorious in this section.

3. Aesthetic

This is definitely one of the less contested talking points of this whole debate. The main building of Glasgow Uni showcases a stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture. Designed by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, it was completed in the 1870s and is often considered by many, even strath students, as one of the finest examples of this architectural style. However, to the untrained eye, the main building and maybe JMS are all Glasgow Uni has to offer. However, that’s much more than what any of it’s fellow universities have to offer.

Possibly one of the biggest downfalls of Glasgow Caledonian is it’s rather dystopian design, the way it towers over the Glasgow skyline is almost reminiscing of a post-apocalyptic movie. However, it’s worth saying that whist the building doesn’t quite fall into the same league as say Glasgow Uni, this doesn’t diminish the quality of the resources inside. From a vast array of academic papers and study spaces, the Sir Alex Ferguson Library has truly earned it’s title as “The Campus Hub”.

Whist Glasgow Uni boasts an impressive gothic design, in true Strathclyde fashion, they take a completely different direction. The juxtaposition between the old sandstone buildings and the sleek modern builds perfectly captures the unique and maverick approach to teaching that Strathclyde students applaud their university for.

UWS takes a similar path to Strathclyde in this area. UWS boast four modern campuses spreading across the west of Scotland and one located in London. Whilst the biggest campus is located in Paisley, arguably, the most infamous campus is the £110 million campus located in Lanarkshire. Serving 4,100 students, the campus boasts 26,000 square meters of versatile space. Most impressively, the campus is powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, supplied by the nearby Blantyre Muir wind farm and solar panels.

The University of Glasgow’s campus is one of a kind, recognised not just in Glasgow but globally for the breathtaking piece of architecture it is. When people think of Glasgow University, they think of an impressive structure that almost mirrors Hogwarts or some sort of medieval castle. It’s for this reason that Glasgow Uni is – unsurprisingly – victorious in this section.

The verdict

Finally, the time is upon us, time to bring this bloody, viscous, and destructive war to an end. Out of the three sections I’ve chosen, Glasgow University has been the victor in two out of three sections.

But it’s worth saying that there is more to discuss. Factors such as accommodation, social life, and career prospects are all still too close to call and remain up for debate. Whilst it’s a given that some people may still feel an underlaying sense of bitterness at my verdicts, I think it’s right to say that regardless of what Glasgow University you attend, we are all still united by one factor. Within the midst of the bloodshed and carnage, we are able to unequivocally agree on one very important factor.

Regardless of what side of the barricades you fall on, we can at least agree, that Glasgow’s universities are better than anything Edinburgh has to offer.

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