A University born of an idea
The history of the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) is closely linked with that of Belgium itself. When the nine provinces that broke away from the Kingdom of the Netherlands formed the Belgian State in 1830, there were three state universities in the country: Ghent, Liege and Leuven. Even though Brussels had been promoted to the rank of capital, it still had no university.
For this reason, in 1831 a group of leading Brussels figures in the fields of the arts, science and education set themselves the objective of creating a university for the city. They had the choice between a state university and, failing that, a private institution, since the Belgian Constitution, the most liberal in Europe, allowed for its possibility.
Finding the financial burden of the three existing universities too onerous, the Belgian government showed little enthusiasm for yet another state university. However, when in 1834 the episcopate decided to found the Catholic University at Mechelen, things began to happen very quickly. The liberal professions and Freemasons, who were promoting the Brussels university project, stepped up their efforts, with the result that the Université libre de Belgique, as it was originally known, inaugurated its first academic year on 20 November 1834.
From 1842 it was to be called the Université libre de Bruxelles, but although the geographical term may have changed, the adjective "libre" remained. This was a key point.
ULB has remained free ever since, demonstrating its spirit of independence each time democracy and basic rights have been threatened. It shut its doors to avoid collaborating with the Nazi occupier in 1941. It has remained true to the principle it was founded on in the 19th century, Freedom of Inquiry, which postulates the rejection of dogma and of authority. These philosophical principles were strengthened by statute reform in 1970, thanks to a particularly democratic form of governance based on the participation of members of all university groups (students, assistants, professors and other employees) in the Board of Directors. This body consists of a diversity and plurality of representatives from the university community and society at large and constitutes the organisational power of the institution and sets its policies.
The University is private but is recognised and subsidised by the public authorities. The University receives an allocation from the State which currently amounts to 60% of its budget (contract research = 30%).
With more than 8,000 employees (university and teaching hospital), it is one of the Brussels region's top companies.
Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, a Brussels lawyer, who provided the impetus necessary for the creation of the Université libre de Bruxelles by mobilizing the influential Belgian Freemason community and ensuring that adequate funds were raised.
From 1842 to 1928, the University was run from the historic Granvelle Palace, situated in central Brussels