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Historical Background

Timeline

  • 1538. Establishment of the College of the Reformed Church in Debrecen.
  • 1567. Higher education starts in the College.
  • 1912. Establishment of the State University of Debrecen with Faculties of Arts, Law, Medicine and Theology.
  • 1914. Some parts of the university are functioning in the building of the College.
  • 1918. The inaugural of the Main Building of the Medical Faculty by King Charles IV of Hungary.
  • 1921. Education starts in the Medical Faculty.
  • 1932. The Main Building is finished.
  • 1949. The only year when the university has five faculties.
  • 1950. Faculty of Law is discontinued, Faculty of Science is established.
  • 1951. The university is divided in three parts (Academy of Theology, Medical School, Lajos Kossuth University of Arts and Sciences).
  • 1991. Debrecen Universitas Association is established.
  • 1998. Federation of Debrecen Universities is founded. 
  • 2000. The federation is transformed into the unified University of Debrecen with all the customary faculties and 20,000 students.    
 
The roots of higher education in Debrecen go back to the 16th century. The Calvinist College of Debrecen was founded in 1538. It has had a nationwide leading role in the preservation and development of Hungarian education and culture for centuries.
According to historical records, by the end of the 18th century the College had five departments, three of which were devoted to teaching philosophy. A great turn took place in 1908, when the Calvinist Academy of Humanities was created, and teacher training started, although within rather narrow bounds. 
The College gave home to a wide array of higher education developments, which, thanks to the generosity of the people of Debrecen, greatly contributed to the foundation of a Hungarian Royal University in 1912, the same year when the one in Bratislava was founded. The new university was created out of the three academic sections (today we would call them faculties) of the College (theology, law, and humanities), and, according to the deed of foundation and following the classical model, the university was further supplemented by a medical school, whose teaching function was based on the town’s general hospital.
Teaching began at the four faculties in September 1914. Some of the faculties, including the Faculty of Arts, were located in the buildings of the Calvinist College for another twenty years. The Faculty of Medicine was the first to receive an independent site, when, during World War I, the construction of the university hospital began on a secluded, wooded ground of 116 hectares. There were almost a thousand people working at the site, most of them prisoners of war. Charles IV, the last king of Hungary, opened the main building of the medical school in 1918, and the medical campus was completed in 1927. The new high-rise building, which houses departments of theoretical medicine, was erected in 1973.
Meanwhile, from 1921 the University was named after István Tisza, former prime minister of Hungary. In May 1932 another important improvement took place when the magnificent Main Building of the University – ”the most beautiful university building in Central Europe” – was finished. The building, which is the largest in the city, was erected in eclectic and neobaroque style; especially impressive is the main hall and its glass roof at 29 meters from the floor. Since then, university departments and faculties are physically also independent from their spiritual intellectual ancestor, the Calvinist College. The Main Building also houses the University Library, which, with almost 6 million items, is the second largest library in the country. 
The end of World War II and the subsequent communist turn meant other profound changes in the life of the University. In 1949 the Faculty of Natural Sciences was formed, and twenty years later most of its departments moved to a new building (the Chemistry Buliding, situated just northwest from the Main Building) erected in 1970. 
In 1949/50 the University was restructured. The Faculty of Theology was returned to the Calvinist College, the Faculty of Medicine became an independent university (until 2000), the Faculty of Law was discontinued (it was revived a few years ago), and several excellent teachers and professors were expelled form the University. The departments of English, French, Italian, German, and Classical Philology were closed; in contrast with this, the Department of Russian expanded dramatically. The teaching of western languages was restarted only after 1956 (with the exception of Italian which was reimplemented in the first half of the 1990’s).
In 1952 the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Natural Sciences changed their name to Lajos Kossuth University, which they remained until 2000. The turn of the millennium meant not only a change of name, but also, once again, a profound change in structure; with the so-called “integration” several universities and colleges became one heterogeneous institute of higher education. 
On January 1, 2000, the colleges and universities of Hajdú-Bihar County were united, and, as a result, the University of Debrecen came into being with five university and three college level faculties, and with a diverse student population of 20,000. The three large universities of Debrecen that entered this union included the University of Agriculture, Lajos Kossuth University (with the university-level faculties of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Institute of Economic Studies and Business Administration, Institute of Law as well as college-level Faculty of Engineering) and the Medical University. Further faculties entered on an independent basis: the college-level Conservatory of Debrecen, schools of the University in Hajdúböszörmény and Nyíregyháza. Three of the so-called academic “institutes” (Dentistry, Law and Pharmacy) have already reached the rank and status of faculty.
Finally, we have to mention the Debrecen Summer School, which is also located on campus, although technically independent from the university. The School was founded in 1927, and since then it has grown to be one of the largest Hungarian institutions for teaching Hungarian culture and Hungarian as a foreign language to foreigners. Courses are offered on several levels and in every season, attracting hundreds of students each year.