History of Ghent University

Inauguration in 1817

In comparison with other European universities, the Ghent Alma Mater is relatively young. The institution was inaugurated on October 9th, 1817, after King William I had proclaimed the establishment of three universities in the Southern Netherlands in the preceding year.

Lectures started on November 3rd. The first professorial staff had sixteen members, including nine foreigners, mainly Northern Dutch and Germans. In 1817, a total of 190 students registered in the four faculties: Arts, Law, Medicine and Sciences.

Revival after 1830

The political separation from the Netherlands in 1830 had disastrous consequences for education in Ghent as two faculties were abolished: Sciences and Arts. Although the Higher Education Act of 1835 returned the two faculties to Ghent University and also added the Technical Schools, the recovery proceeded very slowly.

Thirty-five years would pass before the student population level of 1830 was once again attained. Nevertheless, during this period Ghent University won a great number of prizes in the university competitions.

Modernization from 1876

The introduction of Dutch as the official language in 1930 coincided with a change in the University's language status. The language of instruction from its establishment by William I of Orange till the separation from the Netherlands was Latin, from 1830 till 1930 it was first French and then a bilingual system, and after 1930 it was Dutch.

A systematic and thorough modernization of higher education in Ghent took place after the Acts of 1876 and 1890 were passed, which granted universities the power to award academic degrees and enabled scientific development. Laboratory exercises and laboratory research work got their start in this period and research assistants were also appointed.

Over the years, the professorial staff has included a number of eminent figures: jurists Jean-Jacques Haus and François Laurent, physicist Joseph Plateau, mathematician Paul Mansion, physiologist and psychiatrist Joseph Guislain, historians Henri Pirenne and Paul Fredericq, Germanic scholars Joseph Vercoullie and Henri Logeman, and zoologist and botanist Julius Mac Leod, who was also the spiritual father of the Flemish-speaking Ghent University.

First female student in 1882

Due to relaxed entry requirements for university studies, female students also gained access to higher education. The first woman came to study in Ghent in 1882. She chose to study Sciences.

Dutch in 1930

Dutch became the official language of Ghent University in 1930, the year Belgium celebrated its first centennial. This made it the first institution in the country to offer its educational programmes in Dutch.

Nobel prize for Corneel Heymans in 1938

In 1938 Prof. Corneel Heymans of Ghent was the only Flemish person to receive the Nobel Prize for his discoveries in the field of respiratory regulation. The pulling down of the language barrier in 1930 constituted an important step towards the democratization and scientific development of recent decades.

Decree of 1991

A university stands or falls on the basis of the scientific research it produces. In the past, the university's fame was in the hands of individual scholars who taught and carried on research. In the last decades, because of the explosion in the growth and range of scientific research, this was no longer feasible. Research increasingly became a matter of teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration.

As a consequence of the reform of the State, the regional communities enjoyed wide powers of decision. For instance, on education. The decree of 1991, which assigned great autonomy to the University, provided new challenges on education and research in an international perspective.

Foundation of AUGent

In 2003 Ghent University joined forces with Hogeschool Gent, Arteveldehogeschool and Hogeschool West-Vlaanderen to form the Ghent University Association.

Foundation of Global Campus in South Korea in 2014

Ghent University opens up its first campus in Songdo, South Korea. Its curriculum offers 3 bachelor’s study programmes: Molecular Biotechnology, Environmental Technology, and Food Technology. They are taught by a permanent staff, supplemented by a ‘flying faculty’ made up of Ghent University lecturers that periodically fly over to teach four-week-long modules.


After decades of uninterrupted growth, Ghent University is one of the leading institutions of higher education and research in the Low Countries with 47,000 students and more than 13,000 staff members.

Ghent University is an open, committed and pluralistic university with a broad international perspective.