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Updated on: 29/01/2023
From the Renaissance to the 21st century, the University of Bordeaux has a unique history maked by societal events and reforms. It is now one of the most influential universities in France and in Europe.
The University of Bordeaux was founded by Pope Eugene IV on 7th June 1441 at the instigation of Pey Berland, the archbishop of Bordeaux (1430 - 1456).
While the city was under English rule, the University of Bordeaux, with its four faculties (art, medicine, law and theology) made it possible for students from the Duchy of Aquitaine to study.
When Bordeaux returned to the fold of the Kingdom of France in 1453 at the end of the Hundred Years' War, the university came under royal power but struggled to carve out a niche for itself.
Many Bordeaux students, like the well-known Michel de Montaigne, attended classes at the then more prestigious universities of Toulouse or Montpellier…
In response, other educational institutions were created in Bordeaux, such as the College of Guienne or the Bordeaux Academy of Science and French Liberal Arts.
In 1793, the University of Bordeaux disappeared as did all the French universities following a decision of the Convention (Parliament that governed France from September 1792 to October 1795 during the French Revolution) which considered those institutions as a relic of the Ancien Régime.
Napoleon Bonaparte reinstated the concept of the university in 1806. In Bordeaux, the Faculty of Theology was recreated in 1808, followed by the Faculties of Liberal Arts and Science in 1838.
Under the Second Empire, the town councilors consistently showed the importance they attached to knowledge.
Once the period of the Paris Commune (1871 - 1872) had passed, the Faculty of Law was built at Place Pey Berland; in 1878 an observatory was erected in Floirac.
Between 1881 and 1886, the faculties de science, liberal arts, medicine and pharmacy were also constructed.
Knowledge was hence embodied by striking stone facades in the town. The "palace of the faculties", which united the Faculty of Liberal Arts with that of Science (now the Musée d’Aquitaine) was inaugurated on 16th January 1886.
The law of 18th July 1896, instigated by a former professor of the Bordeaux Faculty of Liberal Arts, Louis Liard, established the University of Bordeaux with its four faculties: liberal arts, law, science, medicine and pharmacy.
The faculties grew and were directed by a dean appointed by the French Minister as well as by a faculty council made up of tenured professors only.
The other teachers and students could give their opinion but their influence remained limited. In 1898, the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy opened its facilities at Place d'Aquitaine, the future Place de la Victoire.
In the mid 20th century, the University had 8,000 students, making it the second largest university in France after Paris. The students belonged to the Faculty of Law (29%), Medicine (28%), Liberal Arts (23%) and Science (15%).
In the early 1960s there were 13,000 students and on the eve of 1968, there were 25,000. The number of teachers also increased dramatically.
Faced with those transformations, the facilities became too small and most of the faculties moved to a new campus - the largest in France: the Talence-Pessac-Gradignan university campus.
While the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy remained in Bordeaux and expanded to the Carreire location, the Faculty of Science moved in 1960, Law in 1966-67, and Liberal Arts in 1971.
The May 1968 events occurred in this context. The protests brought about substantial reform which was supposed to make universities truly independent, multidisciplinary establishments.
This led to the much talked-about law of 12th November 1968 on the orientation of higher education known as the "Edgar Faure law", named after the then-Minister of French Education, which created a new type of institution: "public scientific and cultural establishments" (EPCS).
The former faculties were abolished and replaced by Teaching and Research Units (UER).
The main principles implemented by the Edgar Faure law were independence, participation and multidisciplinarity. The University of Bordeaux then gradually divided up and initially became three new institutions: Bordeaux 1 (law, economics and science), Bordeaux 2 (life science, human science, health science), and Bordeaux 3 Michel de Montaigne (liberal arts and humanities).
It wasn't until 1995 that University Bordeaux 1 split in two: one part becoming science and technology (Bordeaux 1) and the other bringing together law, social and political sciences along with economic and management sciences under the name University Bordeaux IV Montesquieu.
In 1997, relationships between the Bordeaux universities grew closer when the Pôle universitaire de Bordeaux was created. In 2004, the signature of the "founding charter of the University of Bordeaux" resulted 3 years later in the creation of the University of Bordeaux PRES (Pôle de recherche et d'enseignement supérieur) which also included the campus schools and institutes. The goal of this EPCS was to increase the clarity and attractiveness of the Bordeaux higher education and research offer on the national, European and international levels, while promoting student success and professional integration.
The founding members (Université Bordeaux 1, Université Bordeaux Segalen, Université Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3, Université Montesquieu Bordeaux IV, Institut Polytechnique de Bordeaux, Bordeaux Sciences Agro, Sciences Po Bordeaux) quickly agreed on their willingness to create a "new university model" in Bordeaux.
The Bordeaux project's successful bid in the Opération Campus call for proposals (475 million euros in funding allocated by the French government in 2009) reinforced the need to take their merger further.
In 2009, the Institute of Vine and Wine Science (ISVV), an affiliate of the University of Bordeaux opened its doors.
The ISVV, the heir to a rich history - that of the Bordeaux School of Oenology, unites higher education and research teams working in the field of vines and wine in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.
This multidisciplinary centre is a world reference for the wine industry in terms of both education and scientific research.
In late 2010, three of the four Bordeaux universities (Bordeaux 1, Bordeaux Segalen, Montesquieu Bordeaux IV) as well as Sciences Po Bordeaux and the Bordeaux Polytechnic Institute embarked on the process of creating a single institution, the "new University of Bordeaux" by co-signing a "joint strategic project".
The merger process began in 2011, with the University of Bordeaux winning several Investissements for the Future awards right from the start.
After a year of work, in late 2012, Sciences Po and Polytechnic chose not to go through with the merger process, but reasserted their will to play a role within a joint University of Bordeaux strategy.
Created by decree on 3rd September 2013, the University of Bordeaux was officially born on 1st January 2014.
Manuel Tunon de Lara, Professor of respiratory medicine, became the first President of the joint university and was re-elected in 2018.
The University Bordeaux 3 has remained independent and was renamed Bordeaux Montaigne University.
2016 was an important year for the University of Bordeaux which was officially confirmed as an Initiative of Excellence by the international jury and received an endowment of 700 million euros to support its development process.
In 2019, the University of Bordeaux became the owner of its property assets. That event marked the beginning of a new stage in university independence, not only for economic reasons but above all because it reinforced the construction of the University of Bordeaux identity and its place in society.
Over the past few years, the position of the University of Bordeaux has been consolidated in a context of strong international synergy. The foundations have been laid and the University of Bordeaux is continuing its trajectory as a forward-looking institution.
Dean Lewis, Professor of electronics, was elected President of the University of Bordeaux in February 2022.