These universities often find themselves governed in a quite different fashion to more recent additions and also hold a number of privileges. The ancient universities of Scotland also share several distinctive features and are governed by arrangements laid down by the Universities (Scotland) Acts.
In addition to these universities, a number of now-defunct universities were found during this period including the University of Northampton (1261-1265) and the predecessor institutions to the University of Aberdeen founded in 1495 and 1593 (discussed below).
Following the creation of the ancient universities, no more universities were created until the late 18th century:
It should be noted that Aberdeen was highly unusual at the time for having two universities in one city. As 20th century University of Aberdeen prospectuses wryly observed, this was the same number as existed in all of England at the time.
Dundee shares all organisational features in common with the other ancient universities of Scotland by virtue of its descent through St Andrews, such as awarding the undergraduate MA degree and electing a Rector. Upon attaining its independence, Dundee also gained a number of significant schools from its parent university, including law, dentistry and the main medical school.
As a result, the University of Dundee is usually considered alongside the ancient universities, particularly those in a Scottish context.
The ancient universities are distinctive in offering the Magister Artium/Master of Arts (M.A.) as an undergraduate academic degree. This is commonly known as the Oxbridge MA, the Scottish MA, the Dublin MA or the Trinity MA.
The ancient M.A. has some differences between the ancient universities in Scotland and the ancient universities in England and Ireland. The former award the degree at graduation with honours and a final mark, however the latter is awarded without honours and on the basis of a period of good standing as a graduated Bachelor of Arts, usually around three years.
Because MA is in use for the undergraduate Arts degree, the ancient universities award differing titles for their postgraduate Masters degrees in the Arts and Humanities such as the taught Master of Letters ("MLitt (T)"). Some confusion can arise between whether such degrees are taught degrees or the most established (and advanced) two year research degrees, although this is often specified.
As mentioned above, the Universities (Scotland) Acts created a distinctive system of governance for the ancient universities in Scotland, the process beginning with the 1858 Act and ending with the 1966 Act. Despite not being founded until the after the first in these series of Acts, the University of Dundee shares all the features contained therein.
The chief executive and chief academic is the University Principal who also holds the title of Vice-Chancellor as an honorific. The Chancellor is a titular non-resident head to each university and is elected for life by the respective General Council, although in actuality a good number of Chancellors resign before the end of their 'term of office'.