52 Weeks of Historical How-To’s, Week 45: How to Matriculate

Thursday 11 September 2014

As we are in the midst of orientation week, I thought it would be appropriate for this week’s historical how-to to focus on one of the first official acts that each student will be undertaking in their academic career – matriculation.

Younger Hall_1
Photograph of Younger Hall taken by Peter Adamson in 1990 (PGA-6-6)

As a graduate of St Andrews (MA, 2008) I can remember several years ago standing in the queue winding around the different levels of Younger Hall for matriculation each year, waiting for my advisor to agree to my subject choices, paying my fees and signing my matriculation form ready to hand over to registry for stamping.

Gateway Building
Gateway Building

Recently I commenced a second degree through the part time and evening degree programme and was at first bewildered by the differences to the process. Fully expecting to repeat my zigzag trip around the Younger Hall I soon discovered that matriculation had moved to the Gateway building. Signing my matriculation form is also a thing of the past as most of the matriculation process can now be completed online.

In light of how things have moved on, even in such a short period of time, I thought it worthwhile to take a look at matriculation at St Andrews in centuries past.

The term matriculation is from the Latin matricula and in the common context simply means to register as a member of a University. Many institutions have formal matriculation ceremonies and at the University of Oxford students are required to wear academic dress known as sub fusc to the matriculation ceremony.

The earliest record of matriculation at St Andrews can be found in the Acta Rectorum intermingled with the record of other University administration, election of rectors and the lists of graduates. This process of matriculation or incorporation was not as structured as it is today, as attested to by the scarcity and consistency of names in some of these early volumes. Students were not always matriculated in their first year and sometimes not at all. [See Early Records] Until 1859 students registered for classes first, sometimes matriculating months after the session had begun.

From 1859 matriculation was an annual requirement to be completed before membership of any of the colleges. Without proof of matriculation students could not vote in the election of Rector [see Matriculation Roll of the University of St Andrews 1747-1897]. The Senatus minutes of 1859 reveal that the matriculation process was completed in the space of four hours with each student being given an allotted time. Students today are still allocated a matriculation time slot but it would be an impossible task to get through everyone in the space of one day!

Senatus Minutes 1859
Senatus Minutes for 12 November 1859 (UYUY452/17)

“That the Matriculation Roll shall in conformity with the practice of other Universities, be made up annually. Accordingly all students of the present year are required to matriculate with Mr McBean the Clerk of the University on Tuesday the 22nd Inst. between the hours of 12 and 4 o’clock, presenting themselves as nearly as possible in the following order. First year students at 12, Second and Third year students at 1, Fourth years students at 2, & Divinity Students at 3 o’clock-” A ticket of Matriculation will be handed to each student after enrolment, and this, along with a ticket of class attendance, must be presented by each student when he tenders his vote for the election of the Rector.”

James Wilson
Matriculation Roll for 1758 including signature of James Wilson in the left hand column (UYUY309)

The matriculation roll from the 18th and 19th centuries (UYUY309) was used as a register for students to sign at matriculation and includes some notable figures such as James Wilson in 1758, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and a signer of the US Declaration of Independence and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who matriculated as a medical student in 1862, only to have her name scored out after the Senatus Academicus rescinded her admission. Garrett Anderson received her licence to practice medicine in 1865 from the Society of Apothecaries, making her one of the first female medical practitioners in Britain.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Matriculation Roll for 1862/63 including signature of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson scored out at the top of the left hand column (UYUY309)

The matriculation records from the 20th century form a more centralised source of information about students. We can see the notable medical missionary Francis Ibiam (Akanu Ibiam), a St Andrews medical graduate 1934, signing the matriculation roll in his first year 1927/1928 and his accompanying class slip detailing his fees and subjects he studied each year.

Francis Ibiam matric extract
Signature of Francis Ibiam in the matriculation roll (UYUY310/2)
UY315 Ibiam class slip
Francis Ibiam first year class slip for 1927/28 (UYUY315)

The crucial part of matriculation is taking the Sponsio Academica which is the oath taken by all students in the ancient Scottish Universities. It appears at the top of the page in the matriculation roll UYUY309 and in the front of later rolls such as UYUY310/2. By signing the matriculation album the student agrees to abide by the oath and conduct themselves in a manner expected by the institution. In later matriculation records students signed a copy of the Sponsio attached to their matriculation slip, as I did on my matriculation form in 2004. At matriculation this week students, including myself, have taken the oath online as one of the final stages of matriculation.

Example of sponsio on a class slip
Copy of the Sponsio Academica oath signed by students from the 1930s (UYUY315)
Agreeing to the Sponsio Oath
Agreeing to the Sponsio Oath

In the spirit of our historical how-to blog theme I ventured to the Gateway building, at my allotted time, and as many students before me took the Sponsio Academica oath, albeit digitally, and completed matriculation for the academic year ahead.


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One reply to "52 Weeks of Historical How-To’s, Week 45: How to Matriculate"

  • The Red Gown and St Andrews | Echoes from the Vault
    Thursday 13 September 2018, 10.10am

    […] of St Andrews traditions in recent years – the May dip, Raisin Monday, orientation, matriculation, examinations, Rector’s Installation and graduation. One of the most well-known St Andrews […]


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