The university’s founding
The University of Leuven is founded on 4 December 1425
Taking the lead, the city offers buildings and pays professors. Classes begin in October 1426. Leuven is one of the few comprehensive universities, with five faculties: theology (established in 1432), civil law, canon law, medicine and the arts. Until 1816 it remains the only university on the territory that becomes present-day Belgium.
« Nowhere does one study more happily than in Leuven »
In Leuven, Erasmus discovers texts essential to his research, publishes his friend Thomas More’s Utopia, and pushes for the establishment of the Collegium Trilingue (‘College of the Three Languages’, Latin, Greek, Hebrew), which becomes a European centre of humanism.
Vésale & Mercator
Vésale teaches at the dissection table
Vésale revolutionises anatomical knowledge with his treatise De humani corpore fabrica, which draws directly from his inquiries into dissection. He studied at Leuven, as did Mercator, who in 1569 publishes his projection system that leads to the first maps of the continents.
Leuven is a centre of humanist studies
Juste Lipse is appointed to the prestigious Collegium Trilingue (‘College of the Three Languages’, Latin, Greek, Hebrew), the first of its kind in Europe. A leading expert on Tacitus, he brings history and political thought into the intellectual realm.
Discourse on Method debated in Leuven
René Descartes sends his Discourse on Method to Leuven to be debated. Modern physics takes its place in the course and research programmes of the two science faculties: arts and medicine. Leuven now has 40 colleges, as well as teaching facilities and student accommodation modelled on Oxford, Cambridge, Bologna and Paris.
Establishing an experimental physics chair and laboratory
Advanced mathematics and applied sciences enter the curriculum. The Faculty of Medicine is fitted with a modern anatomical theatre. By 1786 the university’s main library will expand to 50,000 volumes.
Closing and reopening
In 1794 Belgium is incorporated into France. The Republic issues a law closing the university in 1797. It is re-established in 1816, in the wake of Napoleon’s final defeat, as a university of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Mathematical and natural sciences become a single faculty. A botanical garden is created. The university builds a large auditorium (la Grande Rotonde) for assemblies and academic events.
Creation of a free Catholic university
The Catholic university moves to Leuven
The 1830 Belgian Constitution proclaims the freedom of education, which contrasts with the interventionism of all other European states. In 1834 Belgian bishops establish the Catholic University of Malines and in 1835 transfer it into University of Leuven buildings built in 1425. Its first mission is to train managers of the new state and of a society experiencing industrial and cultural revolution. The Faculty of Medicine guarantees its students employment at Saint-Pierre Public Hospital, in Brussels.
Faculties establish institutes
Specialised engineering and agronomy schools open (1878). In subsequent decades, all faculties establish institutes – archaeology, economics, political and social sciences, medical specialisations – expand their course programmes, install laboratories and create seminars that teach students critical thinking and scientific research methods. A dozen international research journals are born at the university.
Proof of the prime number theorem
Charles-Jean de la Vallée Poussin, professor in the Faculty of Sciences, proves the prime number theorem. Arthur Van Gehuchten (Faculty of Medicine) develops neuron theory with future Nobel Prize winner Ramon y Cajal and establishes a university neurology chair and clinic.
Reconstruction after 1914
Paulin Ladeuze becomes rector. A leading New Testament exegete who in 1900 helped put the university’s Faculty of Theology at the international forefront, he establishes institutes and rebuilds the university library, which was destroyed 25 August 1914, during the First World War. In 1924, the United States, many European countries including France and Greece, and Japan replenish the library with an exceptional donation of manuscripts, books and artworks reflecting local cultural history.
«The universe isn’t too large for man, it exceeds neither the possibilities of science nor the capacity of the human mind.»
In the 1920s, Georges Lemaître is one of the first and finest experts of Einstein’s general theory of relativity (1915). He connects the theory to experimental data proliferating in the field of astronomy and presents two hypotheses, in 1927 and 1931 respectively, that turn cosmology on its head: the universe is both expanding and the result of an initial explosion of incredibly concentrated energy. Current cosmology has preserved Lemaître’s founding insights and confirmed his theory. A ‘soup’ of elementary particles (which he calls ‘the primeval atom’) gave birth to the universe.
Greater access to education
After 1945, university education becomes more accessible
Paulin Ladeuze dies in January 1940. Honoré Van Waeyenbergh succeeds him and soon must confront war and Belgium’s occupation. He protects students from forced labour in Germany and welcomes students from ULB, which is forced to close. After the war, he takes on the challenge of making university education more accessible.
A centre for international scientific cooperation and excellence
The Centre for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE) is created in 1966 as an interdisciplinary, interuniversity and international research centre. Throughout its history, it will recruit gifted and celebrated researchers, among them winners of the Nobel Prize (Gérard Debreu, Robert J. Aumann).
French-speaking university (UCL) relocates to two sites
In 1968, the university splits into Dutch-speaking and French-speaking universities. The French-speaking university (UCL) builds all-new facilities: the university town of Louvain-la-Neuve in Brabant Wallon and the site of Woluwe Saint-Lambert in Brussels. The relocation begins in Louvain-la-Neuve in October 1972 and in Woluwe in September 1974. The Saint-Luc University Hospital opens in August 1976.
A medical first
UCL at the cutting-edge of organ transplantation
Paul-Jacques Kestens and Jean-Bernard Otte, professors in the Faculty of Medicine, perform the first successful liver transplant on the European continent. In the early 1980s transplants commence at Saint-Luc University Hospital, where doctors can effectively fight organ rejection. Since then, the hospital has been the scene of many world firsts.
"We not only make people discover the world but help build it"
Christian de Duve (1917-2013) received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1974 for identifying two organelles, the lysosome (1955) and the peroxisome (1965), which affect how a cell absorbs beneficial substances and rejects others. A few months later, he establishes the UCL Molecular Pathology Institute, a biochemistry and genetics research centre that today is called the de Duve Institute.
European Council establishes framework research programmes
UCL teams participate in all European framework research programmes from their creation in 1983.
Creation of economic and social ethics chair
The purpose of the Hoover Chair of Economic and Social Ethics is to stimulate thinking on teaching and research ethics and to contribute to an open and informed debate regarding questions of importance to society. Research programmes on sustainable development, climate change and understanding new global forces are launched in all disciplines.
Goodbye ‘candidature’ and ‘licence’, hello bachelor’s and master’s degrees
The entire curriculum is revamped during transition to the so-called Bologna Process and Higher Education Area. Dynamic teaching methods, promotion of lifelong learning, university partnerships (dual degrees) and the Project for Students with a Specific Profile (PEPS), begun in 2007, are among the reforms.
UCL expands its clean room programme
The Louvain School of Engineering expands its programme of clean rooms: high-tech laboratories for the production of micro- and nanoscopic devices intended especially for research in microelectronics, materials and biology.
Faculties & institutes
Toward differentiated and coordinated management of teaching and research
ACCROCHE : UCL is made up of 14 faculties and its research teams are organised into 21 institutes: nine in the Human Sciences Sector; five (linked to 35 specialised research centres, groups, units and laboratories) in the Health Sciences Sector; five (16) in the Science and Technology Sector; and one that is intersectoral (four).
Discovery of adipose tissue fat oxidation mechanism
The Louvain Drug Research Institute publishes new research on obesity and diabetes, in which UCL researchers identify the key role of the Akkermansia muciniphila bacterium in maintaining intestinal barrier function and preventing obesity (fat storage), type 2 diabetes and inflammation induced by a fat-rich diet.