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200th Anniversary of the Establishment of the University of Warsaw

In 2016, the University of Warsaw celebrates its 200th anniversary. Established by the foundation act of Alexander I, Tsar of Russia and King of Poland, on 19th November 1816, it was launched in 1818 as the Royal University of Warsaw. It was led by the General Council headed by Stanisław Staszic. The emblem of the University was a white eagle with a crown, with its wings spread, holding laurel and palm branches in its talons, and surrounded by five stars representing the five faculties: Law, Medicine, Philosophy, Theology, and Sciences and Fine Arts. After the defeat of the November Uprising, the University was closed and valuable collections were taken to St. Petersburg.

Owing to the efforts of Aleksander Wielkopolski, in 1862 the University was reactivated under the name of the Main School which functioned only until 1869. It was replaced by the Russian-language Imperial University of Warsaw. From 1905, it was widely boycotted by the Poles. In 1915, the Polishlanguage University of Warsaw was reactivated and for the first time women were admitted to study at the University. In the interwar period, the University became the largest Polish academy with more than 250 academic teachers and 10,000 students. In 1939, soon after the Nazi troops had seized the capital, the University was closed. A secret university developed under the occupation, in which over 3000 students and 300 academic staff participated in 1944. During the Warsaw Uprising, the University site became an arena of battles by the “Krybar” group of insurgents. After the defeat of the uprising, in which many employees and students of the University of Warsaw were killed, the majority of buildings, equipment and collections were destroyed.

The University resumed its operations in 1945. Important events in its post-war history were strikes and demonstrations of students expressing their criticism towards the political system, widely known as March ‘68, which were put down by the militia. As a result of these events, the University lost a large number of valuable employees and students forced by the Polish communist authorities to leave the country. The University of Warsaw and its graduates significantly contributed to Poland’s freedom and independence regained after 1989.

Five Nobel Prize winners were alumni of the University. Currently, the University educates more than 48,000 students and doctoral students, and employs 3,500 academics who carry out the largest number of research grants in Poland. The University conducts research in all fields of science: human sciences, social sciences, exact sciences and natural sciences.

Prof. dr hab. Aleksander Bursche