Discover highlights in this animated history:


9 October 1817: Opening

The State University of Ghent ceremoniously opens under the rule of King Willem I of the Netherlands. With physician Jean-Charles Van Rotterdam as the first rector. Latin is the official language. Classes begin on 3 November 1817 with four faculties (Arts and Philosophy, Law, Medicine and Health Sciences and Sciences), 16 professors and 190 students.

1826: Inauguration of Aula

On the grounds of the former Jesuit church in the Voldersstraat, the Ghent city council has a building erected for the official ceremonies of the university. The building is inaugurated with great fanfare on 3 October 1826, seven years after the first stone was laid on 4 August 1819. This imposing neoclassical edifice was designed by the city architect Louis Roelandt.

1830: French becomes the official language

After the revolution and Belgian independence, the young university in Ghent undergoes major changes. It gets a new boss and the official language becomes French.

1876-1890: Focus on education and research

Universities can award academic degrees and organise examinations themselves. This is stipulated by the new law on higher education. And they have to concentrate on scientific research. The education legislation is an important stimulus for education and research at Ghent University.

1882: First female student

The first female student (Sidonie Verhelst) chooses to study Natural Sciences. We see the advent of practical lessons at the university and assistants reinforce the faculties. There are many famous names among the professors: physicist Jozef Plateau, historians Henri Pirenne and Paul Fredericq, physiologist and psychiatrist Jozef Guislain, zoologist and botanist Jules MacLeod, chemist Leo Baekeland, etc.

1904: National Institute of Law receives the Nobel Peace Prize

Ghent professor François Laurent and two alumni, politician Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns and economist Emile De Laveleye, are among the founding members. It is a fellowship of lawyers and politicians from different countries, and their purpose is to lay down the principles of international law. In 1904, the National Institute of Law wins the Nobel Peace Prize for its contribution to pacifism.

1911: Maurice Maeterlinck is awarded the Nobel prize for his multifaceted literary work

Maurice Maeterlinck studied Law at Ghent University and is the only Belgian author ever to have received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Maeterlinck was the absolute grandmaster of Symbolism in literature, and he was awarded the highest literary honour in 1911.

1930: Dutch becomes official language

A first for Belgium: the official language at Ghent University becomes Dutch. August Vermeylen is the first rector of the newly-Dutch university.

1938: Corneel Heymans receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

In 1938, the pharmacologist Corneel Heymans receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the chemoreceptors in the carotid artery.

1954: The National Study Fund is established

The National Study Fund grants scholarships to gifted and less skilled young people. The National Study Fund leads to a very visible increase in the Ghent student population.

1968: First lung transplant with long-term survival

The Ghent transplant team makes the world news in November 1968. It succeeded in performing the first lung transplant with long-term survival. In only ten years, the Surgery department of the Ghent Faculty of Medicine succeeded in becoming the best in the world in the field of transplants.

1969: Student protests

Students take the lead in the emancipation movement that has been started against the traditional authoritarian and conservative powers. There is also great unrest in Ghent, and the students strive to achieve more internal and external democratisation.

1991: RUG becomes Ghent University

The State University of Ghent (RUG) becomes Ghent University and gains significant autonomy. As of then, we have 130 subject groups divided among 11 faculties. Ghent University offers high level courses supported by research in virtually every scientific discipline.

2003: Ghent University Association

Ghent University, University College Ghent, Artevelde University College Ghent and Howest University College West Flanders unite in the Ghent University Association.

2013: Integration of academic courses

Through the integration of the academic courses of the partner university colleges into the universities, Ghent University adds over 6,500 students and 500 extra staff members. This also strengthens Ghent University with several campuses, including Campus Kortrijk.

2014: Ghent University in South Korea

On 1 September 2014, the first academic year starts at the brand new Ghent University Global Campus in South Korea. The courses offered include bachelor programmes in food technology, environmental technology and molecular biotechnology. It’s no coincidence that these are subjects in which Ghent University is among the very best in the world.


Discover more of Ghent University’s rich history using UGentMemorie, the virtual Ghent University memory