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Ljubljana University: 100 Years of History and More to Come

Ljubljana University: 100 Years of History and More to Come

On December 3rd, 2019, Ljubljana celebrated the centenary of Slovenia’s oldest university. Many events were organized to reexamine the achievements and legacy of this top university, to teach about its origin, and to expose its next targets.

The University of Ljubljana was founded in 1919, right after WWI when Slovenia was part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Ever since, the university never ceased to expand in terms of the number of students and departments and improved its performances drastically to become one of the top 3% best universities in the world.

Let’s peer back into history through the foundation and development of Ljubljana’s excellent university, to explain how it successfully grew in spite of an eventful past, and present its promising modern state.

The foundation and first steps of Ljubljana’s University

The quest for a Slovenian national university can be dated to the era of political demands that marked Slovenia and Europe during the middle of the 19th century and the Spring of Nations. Slovenians shortly experienced higher education under Napoleon’s rule around the year 1810 and were craving to reestablish academies within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Before the establishment of universities in Slovenia, the country already counted many renowned academicians and students, but they had to enroll in other provinces of the Empire. They followed their higher education in foreign languages, in universities located in the Czech and Austrian territories. 

The claims for a Slovene university turned into an organized movement at the end of the 19th century. Ivan Hribar and other renowned Slovenian figures created a unified board that followed this aim and started planning an opening of Ljubljana’s university, notably by creating a list of potential teachers.

However, Slovenia had to wait until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the establishment of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, and soon after the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918 to meet its wishes. 

The process started during the month of November, with the nomination and first reunion of the university’s founding board, presided by Mihajlo Rostohar, a Slovenian professor of psychology which was teaching at the Charles University located in Prague.

The Act on University was finally signed on July 23rd, 1919, by the Prince Regent Aleksander Karađorđević, marking the first steps of Ljubljana’s University. Eighteen teachers were appointed by a royal decreet dating back to August 31st, 1919, assigned to five founding members faculties: the Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Medicine, Technical Faculty, and Faculty of Theology.

Ljubljana’s university date of birth is considered to be December 3rd, 1919 because it marks the first lecture ever given at the university. It was about the historical grammar of the Slovenian language, held by Dr. France Ramovš, an expert in Slavic languages. It took place at the Provincial Assembly of the Carniolan Provincial Manor, in the center of Ljubljana. 

It was considered as a significant step for the Republic of Slovenia amongst the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Indeed, having a dedicated university meant that Slovenia was on the path of scientific and cultural freedom of learning. 

Nine hundred forty-two students, including 28 women, enrolled at the University of Ljubljana for the first academic year. The first Ph.D. title was a chemistry doctorate bestowed on July 15th, 1920, to Ana Mayer for her dissertation entitled On the effects of formalin on starch. Awarding a woman with such a title was very rare at the time evening compared with all of the Europan countries. 

Development through WWII and the Quest of Independency

The end of WWII marked the beginning of a new era for the University of Ljubljana. Before the war, the university succeeded in increasing its number of students without being granted enough funds by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It was the smallest and youngest university in the country, but it is also linked to the centralist policies led by the Kingdom at the time.

Between 1919 and 1940, in the wake of WWII, the number of regular professors grew from 18 to 90. The National and University Library was also erected in 1941 by the most renowned Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik.

In the academic year 1940-1941, 2,474 students were enrolled at the University of Ljubljana. Its functioning was impacted by the invasion of Yugoslavia in the same year but continued even under the Nazi and Fascist occupation.

However, several teachers were killed, arrested, or deported to the concentration camps, while many students joined the Slovenia Home Guard or the Liberation Front of the Slovenian people. The autonomous character was also obviously troubled.

The University Under the Communist Rule 

With the end of the war, the University of Ljubljana experienced significant changes. The establishment of communist Yugoslavia in 1945 affected the autonomous functioning of the university again. Indeed, other professors were dismissed or arrested by the government, and some emigrated.

The composition of the faculties was also modified. The theological faculty was removed from the university while the faculty of economics and of agronomy joined respectively in 1946 and 1947. The other faculties also expanded their programs of study. 

The evolutions continued throughout the years, and, by the 1960s, the University of Ljubljana comprised nine faculties, with the addition of a Faculty of Arts, a Faculty of Natural Sciences and Engineering, a Faculty of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, a Faculty of Electrical Engineering, a Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, and a Biotechnical Faculty.

The educational role of the institution was maintained, and it enjoyed a regain of autonomy starting from the middle of the 1950s until the end of the 1960s. It continued to expand in the 1970s, with the admission of the Faculty of Sociology, Political Science and Journalism in 1970, and many others in 1975.

Indeed, an agreement signed on November 24th, 1975 marked the join of the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film, and Television, the Academy of Music, the Academy of Fine Arts, the Education Academy, a Higher School for Physical Culture, a School of Social Work, a College for Health Workers, the School of Public Administration and the Higher Technical Safety School, but also the Junior Maritime College in Piran.

The political pressure on the university grew during this period, with the dismissal of various professors and the institution change of name in 1979, from the University of Ljubljana to Edvard Kardelj University in Ljubljana. This name, meant to honor the eponym communist leader, was finally taken off in 1990. 

The achievement of the Independence

The Slovenian process of independence marked another era of change for the University of Ljubljana. The field of higher education was one of the significant areas of restructuring with these times of political developments. 

The University of Ljubljana, but also the one created in Maribor, were given greater autonomy, and the emphasis was more placed on research and scientific work. It was supported by the higher education act taken in 1993, which contributed to transforming the university into a classical European one.

Overview of the Current University

Nowadays, the University of Ljubljana offers a large number of courses to its 38,000 students, which includes many international students: between 4 and 5,000 every year. They can choose between 26 different faculties that propose 158 bachelors, 196 masters, and 21 doctoral programs. 

They include many different fields of studies, from arts to medicine or engineering but also social sciences. The international students can also benefit from an impressive range of English-taught quality programs such as business and economics, geology, or again material engineering.

This university benefits from amazing performances in all of the world’s university rankings. It ranks amongst the top 3% of best universities and among the 500 best according to ARWU, the prestigious Academic Ranking of World Universities, and the latest Shanghai rankings. 

Moreover, the University of Ljubljana is overall in excellent shape both in terms of performances and development. Even if it could use more fundings, the financial situation of the institution is satisfying: the president also plans to open new buildings and invest in more research equipment.

The university has many targets and aims for the next few years, such as contributing to the creation of the university of the future, notably through the EUTOPIA project. Regarding the history of the university, the place of women in the institution is also a vital battle horse.

For example, it is urgent to improve the proportion of women in the scientific fields: even if they represent 60% of the students in this university, they still face gender-based division. Indeed, there is only 14% of women in technical studies and computer sciences, among other fields. 

This way, the university has started to consider this problem even during the celebrations of the centenary, by holding its first event during International Women’ rights day with “Women in Art: Female Artists at the University of Ljubljana’. 

A City for Students

The University of Ljubljana now has a fantastic quality and quantity of courses to offer but also way more. Studying at this university is the insurance of learning everything about its eventful history that reflected the country’s evolution through the diverse international formations such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the different forms of Yugoslavia.

Immerse yourself into this wonderful cultural and scientific research center by taking a visit to its magnificent premises such as the University Library that will make you crave Ljubljana’s student way of life!

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