Since the Universities (Scotland) Act of 1858, the post has been elected by the students and not only represents them, but is also chairman of the university's ruling body, or the Court.
The rector, who is elected for three years, is expected to attend Court, to work with the Students' Representative Council and bring student concerns to the attention of the university's managers. However, participation in events is voluntary and depends on the rector's availability and choice.
The current rector is former leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy.
In recent years the post has been held by Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear technician from Israel who was jailed for 18 years after disclosing secrets. Past holders include actors Greg Hemphill, Ross Kemp and Richard Wilson.