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Already a comprehensive university at its founding in 1457, the University of Freiburg still offers undergraduate and graduate studies as well as professorial qualification in all important disciplines today: the humanities, natural and engineering sciences, medicine, law, and theology. This diversity also provides an ideal environment for innovative interdisciplinary studies.
Many famous philosophers, top researchers, and Nobel laureates have taught and researched at the University of Freiburg. The university’s recent success in the “Excellence” competitions, 2007 for research and 2009 for instruction, testifies to its position as one of the leading universities of the 21st century.
More than 24,000 students from over 100 nations are matriculated in 180 degree programs at 11 faculties. More than 7,000 professors and lecturers and many other employees put in their effort every day – and experience that family friendliness, equal opportunity, and environmental protection are more than just empty phrases here.
Beginnings (15th Century)
In 1457 the Freiburg Cathedral was the site of the foundation of a university. The financier and figure after whom the institution was named was Archduke Albert VI, of whose dominion, Western Austria, Freiburg was then a part. The “Albertina” was founded as a comprehensive university, including all important faculties of the time: Theology, Law, Medicine, and Philosophy. Its purpose was to educate young theologians and administrators. Some of the first students lived in “Bursen” (hostels) on the site of what is now known as the “Old University,” where the first lectures also took place. Classes were held in Latin.
Success (16th Century)
A number of well-known humanists studied and taught at Freiburg’s university. They were dedicated to the ideals of education and tolerance and understood the invention of the printing press as a signal. One of them was Martin Waldseemüller, the first person ever to use the name “America” for the recently discovered continent in his world atlas. The Reformation was a topic of heated debate at the University of Freiburg, the authorities finally opting for Catholicism and loyalty to Austria. Aristocrats and bourgeois who sent their sons to the university to prepare for a diplomatic or military career ushered in new trends: French became popular, the university hired fencing and dancing teachers.
Jesuit Influence (17th Century)
The 17th century was marked by the rivalry between the confessions. In 1620 the Catholic rulers introduced the Jesuit Order at the faculties of theology and humanities. Although the order was regarded as modern and strong in education, its influence also led to severe restrictions in the curriculum. The Jesuits introduced theater to the University of Freiburg and strengthened the tradition of debating (How many angels fit on the tip of a needle?). The building known today as the “Old University” (after its destruction in World War II and its subsequent reconstruction) was originally built by the Jesuits over the course of several decades and served as their theological college.
Reforms (18th Century)
The enlightened government administration had an ever increasing need for civil servants with practical skills, and the upper classes demanded a professional education. In 1768 Maria Theresa thus introduced an extensive reform which curtailed the financial independence of educational institutions in the empire, including the University of Freiburg. The reform increased competition among students by adding more examinations, limited the length of semester breaks, introduced modern textbooks and practical instructional materials, and replaced the instructional form of reading verbatim from books with explanatory lectures – in German. In 1773 the Pope dissolved the Jesuit Order (temporarily) in response to threats from several countries, and their theological college on Bertholdstraße was given to the university.
Expansion (19th Century)
As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, the Breisgau region fell to the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1805. At the same time, the University of Freiburg lost all of its possessions west of the Rhine, and with them a large portion of its income. Louis I, Grand Duke of Baden, arranged an endowment for the university in 1820, thus ensuring its continued existence. In thanks, the University changed its name to “Alberto-Ludoviciana” in honor of both of its founding fathers. Also in these years, the first student corporations were formed in a wave of enthusiasm for the nationalistic cause and democratic ideals inspired by the French Revolution. However, their hopes for a republic were soon dashed in the bloody revolution of 1848. Starting in 1850 enrollment began to grow, soon reaching 1500. The natural sciences campus was built to accommodate the increased enrollment.
Contrasts (20th Century)
In 1900 the University of Freiburg began admitting women to studies – as the first university in Germany. In 1902 the new University Library was opened (in what is today university building IV), and in 1911 the new main university building (today university building I) was dedicated, providing space for the 3000 students now enrolled. The tower of the building still contains the “Karzer,” a detention room in which students who had misbehaved were locked up as punishment. This privilege was banned in 1920. In the same year, the new University Medical Center opened its doors on Hugstetter Straße.
On the top floor of university building I there is still a monument for students and employees of the university who were among the victims of the two world wars. In the heart of the same building, in the main foyer, the university erected a memorial in 2005 to commemorate the almost 400 known employees and students of the University of Freiburg who suffered death, banishment, or severe discrimination under the National Socialist regime. However, many other victims remain unnamed: Over 1500 persons were assigned to forced labor at the medical center, where there is also evidence of criminal medical interventions. The university followed the orders of the National Socialists, at times even with conviction. Martin Heidegger’s appointment as rector of the university in 1933, for instance, was celebrated as a “takeover.” Heidegger did not comment on his role as rector of the university until his death in 1976.
Several of Freiburg’s professors, including Walter Eucken, as well as their wives, were members of the opposition.
Along with the entire inner city of Freiburg, all university buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed in 1945. The university was able to save 75% of the materials from the flames, mostly books. By the fall of the same year, the French occupation authorities had already granted their approval for the reconstruction and reopening of the University of Freiburg. Before matriculating, each student had to put in 100 hours of manual labor to help with the reconstruction efforts.
Until 1949 denazification procedures were carried out for all university employees, but no more than ten years later almost all who had been fired were again working at the university. With the advent of the Cold War, an anti-communist stance was evidently regarded as more important than one’s behavior during the National Socialist era. The university experienced a boom in these years: In 1957, on the University of Freiburg’s 500th anniversary, a new constitution was approved. The reconstruction was almost completed by this time, ground had been broken for new buildings like university building II, and the university now had a total of 10,000 students.
Not until 1968, when the student protests in Berlin and Frankfurt reached Freiburg, was the generation which had remained in power without interruption since the war called into question. The students’ battle cry was: “Unter den Talaren, Muff von tausend Jahren” (“Under the gowns, the stench of a thousand years”). The students demanded a democratization of the universities, holding strikes and teach-ins and handing out flyers to support their cause. The student protests initiated a cultural transformation.
The following decades saw the expansion of the Faculty of Medicine and the natural sciences. In 1995, the Faculty of Engineering was established, further expanding the spectrum of disciplines offered at the university. By the end of the century, there were already 20,000 matriculated students at the University of Freiburg. Instruction and research were profiting from international exchange and enjoyed an excellent reputation abroad. This could be seen in the increasing number of international students and junior researchers who came to Freiburg to acquire further qualifications.
Accolades (21st Century)
In 2007 the University of Freiburg became one of nine top universities in Germany to be honored in the Excellence Initiative for their research.
The University of Freiburg was among the winners of the nationwide “Excellent Teaching” competition in 2009. Organized by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs and the Stifterverband for German Science and Research, the competition recognizes innovative instructional concepts.
The State Teaching Award, conferred yearly for already implemented instructional concepts at higher education institutions in Baden-Württemberg, has also gone regularly to lecturers at the University of Freiburg since it was first organized in 1993.
All of these accolades and the funding they produce contribute to the University of Freiburg’s goal of maintaining a competitive edge in the German higher education landscape.
In 2007 the University of Freiburg celebrated its 550-year anniversary with over 300 public events. Several projects which will shape the further development of the university were launched during the festivities.
In 2007 the university opened the Uniseum, a museum documenting the university’s history and a forum for events, as well as the UniShop.
The board of trustees of the 2007 anniversary celebration established the “New University Endowment.” It is designed to provide funding for endowed professorships, international visiting lecturers, and scholarships for outstanding students.
Finally, in 2007 the University of Freiburg also held its first Innovation and Dialog Workshop. The workshops now bring experts from the university and external institutions together about once a year, for instance to develop a modern concept for the university or a vision for 2030.
There are several possibilities for studying at the University of Freiburg as an international student:
- Full-time studies, meaning that you complete an entire course of study at the University of Freiburg and earn a degree (Bachelor, Master, Dr./PhD).
- Short-term studies, meaning that you study for one or two semesters as an exchange student at the University of Freiburg. The information on preparing an application and receiving admission on these pages is intended for free movers, i.e., students and doctoral candidates who organize their study abroad on their own, rather than coming to Freiburg within the context of an exchange program.
The University of Freiburg’s excellence in research and teaching is regularly reflected in various national and international higher education rankings. One of the five best comprehensive research universities and one of the ten best universities in Germany, the University of Freiburg is a member of LERU (League of European Research Universities) and of the German U15. Following up on our successes to date in the Excellence Initiative, the University is also applying for the new German government excellence strategy.
The QS World University Ranking currently places the University of Freiburg as the eight-best German university (fifth-best comprehensive research university, no. 163 internationally). The British consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds conducted the THE Ranking from 2004 to 2010; QS has published its own ranking since 2010. This now analyses and ranks more than 900 institutions of higher education around the world.
In the current World Universities Ranking des THE (Times Higher Education) the University of Freiburg ranks at number 95 globally. The THE Ranking was initiated by the British daily newspaperThe Times and has been conducted annually since 2004. The ranking is calculated from some 13 criteria. In the current ranking, nine German universities are among the world’s top 100 and 22 German universities are among the best 200 worldwide.
The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) by Jiaotong University in Shanghai, China places the University of Freiburg in the 101 to 150 group worldwide, putting Freiburg between no. 4 and no. 8 in Germany. This ranking is not designed to yield a more precise order. Jiaotong University has compiled a list of 500 universities since 2003; the institutions are ranked on six indicators. The main focus is on research.
The CHE Ranking concentrates on aspects of teaching and studiability. The University of Freiburg’s subjects and faculties are free to choose whether they compete in these rankings. The Ranking sees the University of Freiburg among the best in the following fields:
- Electrotechnology and Information Technology
- English, American Studies
- German Studies
The current DFG-Atlas places the University of Freiburg seventh in Germany when it comes to obtaining third-party funding from the German Research Foundation. The DFG, with a budget of approximately 2.7 billion euros (2013), is Germany’s biggest sponsor of university research and is independently run. Receiving DFG funding is considered an expression of excellence, given the thorough academic and competitive application procedures involved. As DFG approval is linked to regular positive academic review processes, it is seen as evidence of particular competitiveness. In the 2014 financial year, the DFG’s proportion at the University of Freiburg (including hospitals) was more than 44 percent of total third-party funding.
Numerous student clubs and organizations are active, among them a campus radio station, echo-fm, and a student television station, alma*, which is also available as a podcast. Because of the nearby French and Swiss borders and the adjacent Black Forest, where the university owns a retreat on Schauinsland Mountain, fine opportunities exist for leisure and outdoor activities. Students come from Central and Eastern Europe for language studies, the majority demographic category is females in age range 18-25 (58%).
The university provides student housing in its various dormitories, run by the Studentenwerk. Additionally, further dormitories in Freiburg are operated by other institutions, such as the Catholic Archdiocese or the Evangelical Church. Due to the affordable rent and limited spots, rooms in the various dormitories are very popular. Many students find private living arrangements, such as Wohngemeinschaften (shared apartments). However, the popularity of Freiburg for prospective students can make finding an apartment or room quite time-consuming, especially before the start of the academic terms.
The university has its own career center, singled out as one of the best in Germany by the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft.
If you’re interested in studying in a typical German university town, look no further. The University of Freiburg was founded over 500 years ago and is among the premier higher education institutions in the country today. Freiburg is situated in one of the most popular vacationing regions and one of the most beautiful landscapes in Germany – between the fabled Rhine River and the romantic Black Forest. Freiburg and the region are known for their high quality of life and excellent weather: The sun shines here more often than in any other region in Germany.
But Freiburg’s international reputation isn’t limited to its status as the “capital” of the famous Black Forest: It’s also known as the “green city,” where environmental consciousness plays an important role in politics, industry, and daily life. This is also evident in the top two means of transportation in the city: bicycles and trams. The city also boasts an exciting array of cultural and academic offerings and is an excellent location for sports fans: The soccer club SC Freiburg is one of the most well-liked clubs in Germany’s top-flight soccer league, and the nearby Black Forest provides ideal terrain for hiking, mountain biking, and skiing.
In Freiburg we have a saying: If you come once, you’ll stay for good!