Warsaw University

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Template:Infobox Polish University

Warsaw University (Polish Uniwersytet Warszawski) - the biggest and one of the most prestigious universities in Poland.




The Royal University of Warsaw was established in 1816, when the partitions of Poland separated Warsaw from the oldest and most influential academic center in Cracow. The School of Law and the Medical School were first established in the Duchy of Warsaw. In 1816 Alexander I permitted the Polish authorities to create a university, composed of five faculties: Law and Administration, Medicine, Philosophy, Theology and Art and Humanities. Soon the university grew and the number of students reached 800 while the number of professors reached 50.

However, after most of the students and professors took part in the November Uprising of 1830, the university was closed down by the Russians.


After the Crimean War Russia entered a brief period of liberalization called the Post-Sevastopolian Thaw. A creation of a Polish medical and surgical college in Warsaw was permitted (Akademia Medyko-Chirurgiczna). In 1862 faculties of Law and Administration, Philology and History and Mathematics and Physics were opened. The newly-established college gained much importance and was soon renamed to "Main School" (Szkoła Główna). However, after the January Uprising the liberal period ended and all schools with Polish language were closed again. During its short existence the Main School managed to educate more than 3 000 students, many of whom became the backbone of Polish intelligentsia.


The Main School was replaced with a Russian language "Imperial University of Warsaw". Its purpose was to provide education for the Russian military garrison of Warsaw, however the main group of the students (up to 70% out of an average of 1 500 to 2 000 students) were Poles. The tsarist authorities believed that the Russian university would become a perfect means of russification of the Polish society and spent significant effort on building a new university campus. However, various underground organizations soon started to spread out and the students became their leaders in Warsaw. Most notable of these groups (the supporters of Polish revival and the socialists) joined the ranks of the 1905 Revolution. Afterwards a boycott of Russian educational facilities was proclaimed and the number of Polish students dropped to below 10%. Most of the students who wanted to continue their education left for Galicia and Western Europe.


Missing image
Main gate of the Warsaw University

During the World War I Warsaw was seized by Germany in 1915. In order to win the Poles for their case and secure the Polish area behind the front lines the governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary allowed for a certain liberalization of life in Poland. In accordance with the concept of Mitteleuropa, German military authorities allowed for several Polish social and educational societies to be recreated. Among them was the University of Warsaw. Polish language was reintroduced and the proffessors were allowed to return to their work. In order not to let the Polish patriotic movement out of control the number of lecturers was kept low (usually not more than 50), but there were no limits on the number of students. Until 1918 their number rose from merely 1 000 to over 4 500.


After Poland regained her independence in 1918 the Warsaw University started to grow very quickly. It was reformed, all the important posts (the rector, senate, deans and councils) became democratically elected and the state spent considerable amount of money to modernize and equip it. Many proffessors came back from the exile and cooperated in the effort. Until late 1920s the level of education in Warsaw reached the European level.

By the beginning of 1930s the Warsaw University became the biggest Alma Mater in Poland, with over 250 lecturers and 10 000 students. However, the financial problems of the newly-reborn state did not allow for the education to be free of charge and the students had to pay a tuition fee for their studies (an average monthly salary per year). Also, the number of scholarships was very limited and only approximately 3% of students were able to get it. Despite the economical problems, the Warsaw University grew very rapidly. New faculties were opened and the main campus was expanded.

After the death of Józef Piłsudski the senate of the Warsaw University renamed the university to "Józef Piłsudski University of Warsaw" (Uniwersytet Warszawski im. Józefa Piłsudskiego). A time of troubles started for the accademical society in Poland as the Sanacja governments started to limit the autonomy of the universities and the rightist students started to organize anti-Semitic demonstrations and riots. The government was forced to back down in 1937 and the right-wing followers of the nationalist parties were peacefully pacified, but the professors and the students remained divided for the rest of the thirties.


For more details on this period see: Underground Education in Poland During World War II

After the Polish Defence War of 1939 the German authorities of the General Gouvernment closed all the institutions of higher education in Poland. The equipment and most of the laboratories were taken to Germany and divided among the German universities while the main campus of the Warsaw University was turned into military barracks.

German racist theories assumed that no education of Poles was needed and the whole nation was to be turned into uneducated serfs of the German race. Education in Polish was banned and punished with death. However, many professors organized the so-called "Secret University of Warsaw" (Tajny Uniwersytet Warszawski). The lectures were held in small groups in private apartments and the attendants were constantly risking deconspiration and death. However, the net of underground faculties spread rapidly and by 1944 there were more than 300 lecturers and 3 500 students at various courses.

Most of the students took part in the Warsaw Uprising as the soldiers of Armia Krajowa and Szare Szeregi. The German-held campus of the University was turned into a well-fortified area with bunkers and machine gun nests. Also, it was located close to the buildings occupied by the German garrison of Warsaw. Heavy fights for the campus started on the first day of the Uprising, but the partisans were not able to break through the fortified gates. Several assaults were bloodily repelled and the campus remained in German hands until the end of the fights.

During the uprising and the occupation 63 professors were killed, either during fights or as an effect of German policy of extermination of Polish inteligentsia. The University lost 60% of its buildings as an effect of the fights in 1944. Up to 80% of the collections (including priceless pieces of art and books donated to the University) were either destroyed or transported to Germany - never to return.


After the World War II it was not clear whether the university will be restored and whether Warsaw would be rebuilt at all. However, many professors who survived the war returned to Poland and started to organize the Warsaw University from the scratches. In December 1945 lectures were resumed for almost 4 000 students in the ruins of the campus and the buildings were gradually rebuilt. Until late 1940s the University remained relatively independent. However, soon the communist authorities of Poland started to limit the liberty and the period of Stalinism started. Many professors were arrested by the Urząd Bezpieczeństwa, the books were censored and ideological criteria in admission of new lecturers and students were introduced. However, at the same time education in Poland became free of charge and the number of young people to receive the state scholarships reached 60% of all the students.


Missing image
The Kazimierzowski Palace, seat of the rector, in 1964

After Władysław Gomułka rose to power in Poland in 1956 a brief period of liberalization ensued. Although the communist ideology still played a major role in most of faculties (especially on such faculties as history, law, economy or politology), the international cooperation was resumed and the level of education rose. However, the government soon started to suppress the freedom of thought which led to increasing unrest among the students. Anti-Semitic and anti-democratic campaign in 1968 lead to an outbreak of student demonstrations in Warsaw which were brutally pacified by the militia and "groups of average workers". As an effect a big number of students and professors were expelled from the university while some were drafted into the army. Most of the professors of Jewish descent were forced to emigrate while the leaders of the democratic movement Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski were sentenced to 3,5 years in prison.

Nevertheless, the University remained a centre of free thought and education. What the professors could not say during the lectures they expressed during the informal meetings with their students. Many of them became the leaders and members of the Solidarity movement and other societies of the democratic opposition. The scientist working at the Warsaw Uiversity were also one of the most prominents printers of the books forbidden by the censorship.


The main campus of the Warsaw University is located in downtown Warsaw, at Krakowskie Przedmieście street in the Old Town area. It consists of several historical palaces, mostly nationalized in 19th century. Among the most important buildings are:

  • Kazimierzowski palace (Pałac kazimierzowski) - the seat of the rector and the senate
  • Old Library (Stary BUW) - currently under refurbishment
  • The Main School (Szkoła Główna) - the seat of the Main School until the January Uprising, later the faculty of biology; currently under refurbishment
  • Auditorium Maximum - the main lecture hall with seats for several thousand students

There are also several smaller campuses in other parts of the city, most notably the physical and chemical centre at Banacha street.


  1. Faculty of Applied Linguistics and East-Slavonic Philology ([1] (http://www.wlsifw.uw.edu.pl/))
  2. Faculty of Applied Social Sciences and Resocialization
  3. Faculty of Biology
  4. Faculty of Chemistry ([2] (http://www.chem.uw.edu.pl/index_en.htm))
  5. Faculty of Economic Sciences ([3] (http://www.wne.uw.edu.pl/index2.html))
  6. Faculty of Education
  7. Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies ([4] (http://www.wgsr.uw.edu.pl/))
  8. Faculty of Geology ([5] (http://www.geo.uw.edu.pl/))
  9. Faculty of History
  10. Faculty of Journalism and Political Science
  11. Faculty of Law and Administration ([6] (http://www.wpia.uw.edu.pl/en/index.php))
  12. Faculty of Management ([7] (http://www.wz.uw.edu.pl/en/))
  13. Faculty of Mathematics, Informatics, and Mechanics ([8] (http://www.mimuw.edu.pl/english/?PHPSESSID=42d7239da31a684d1ebf3c8796630911))
  14. Faculty of Modern Languages and Oriental Studies
  15. Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology ([9] (http://weber.is.uw.edu.pl/ang/index.htm))
  16. Faculty of Physics ([10] (http://www.fuw.edu.pl/indexe.html))
  17. Faculty of Polish Studies
  18. Faculty of Psychology ([11] (http://www.psych.uw.edu.pl/english/))

Other units

  • British Studies Centre
  • Centre de Civilisation Francaise et d'Etudes Francophones aupres de l`Universite de Varsovie
  • Centre for Archaeological Research at Novae
  • Centre for Environmental Study
  • Centre for Europe
  • Centre for Inter-Faculty Individual Studies in the Humanities ([12] (http://www.mish.uw.edu.pl/))
  • Centre for Foreign Language Teaching
  • Centre for Open Multimedia Education
  • Centre for the Study of Classical Tradition in Poland and East-Central Europe
  • Centre of Studies in Territorial Self-Government and Local Development
  • Chaire UNESCO du Developpement Durable de l`Universite de Vaersovie
  • Comite Polonais de l`Alliance Francais
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam Chair
  • Warsaw University for Foreign Language Teacher Training and European Education
  • University College of English Language Teacher Education
  • University College of French Language Teacher Education
  • University College of German Language Teacher Education
  • Heavy Ion Laboratory
  • Institute of Americas and Europe
  • Centre for Latin-American Studies (CESLA)
  • Centre for European Regional and Local Studies
  • American Studies Centre
  • Interdisciplinary Centre for Behavioural Genetics
  • Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modelling
  • Inter-Faculty Institute for Social Studies
  • Physical Education and Sports Centre
  • Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology
  • University Centre for Technology Transfer
  • Individual Inter-faculty Studies in Mathematics and Natural Sciences ([13] (http://www.mismap.uw.edu.pl/index.php?sekcja=infokand_&css=zolty.css&lang=en&))
  • Inter-faculty Study Programme in Environmental Protection


  • Warsaw University Libraries ([14] (http://buwcd.buw.uw.edu.pl/english/index_eng.htm))
  • Institute of Scientific Information and Book Studies ([15] (http://www.lis.uw.edu.pl/uk/indexe.htm))
  • The Institute of Polish Language and Culture 'Polonicum' ([16] (http://www.polonicum.uw.edu.pl/indexa.html))

Notable alumni

Notable professors

See also:

pl:Uniwersytet Warszawski


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