The Habsburg University

ID: 69
The University, founded in 1784 by Joseph II on the basis of the abolished Jesuit academy, was to become the main source of professional officials for the capital of the Galician province. Stress was laid not on research, but chiefly on the training of managers. After numerous changes, in particular, the demotion of the institution status to that of a lyceum, in 1817 the university was refounded by Emperor Francis II. The institution existed in this condition till the end of 1918.


On 21 October 1784 the Austrian emperor issued a diploma on the foundation of a university in Lviv, the capital of the Galician province. First of all, its formation was of great practical importance for the further implementation of Habsburg policy in the province, annexed in 1772. The emergence of a university in Lviv was dictated by an urgent need for educated managerial staff. Since the only classical university in these lands, the Jagiellonian University in Krakow (1364), was now abroad, and the Jesuit Academy, by its structure and potential, did not correspond to the level of the university in the slightest, it was decided to found a university in Lviv.

The opening ceremony took place on 4 November 1784, with the participation of the provincial governor Jozef von Brigido and a large crowd of people. Founded by Joseph II, the university received the official name of the Imperial and Royal University in Lviv (ger. kaiserlich-königliche Universität Lemberg). Completely canonically, the institution consisted of four faculties, namely those of philosophy, theology, law, and medicine. The university was located in the premises of the former Trinitarian monastery on Krakowska street, which were said to be once noticed for these purposes by Emperor Joseph II himself. The first rector of the university was Antoni Wacław Betański (1714—21.01.1786), the Roman Catholic bishop of Przemysl (Стеблій, 2007, 48).

Preconditions for the emergence

The annexation of the Galician lands by the Habsburg crown took place at the time of powerful modernization reforms throughout the monarchy. Joseph II ordered the liquidation of Catholic monastic orders which performed no socially useful function and established an educational fund on the basis of the property derived from them. Similarly, following the Pope of Rome, in 1773 the Emperor Enlightener and his mother Maria Theresia banned operation of the Jesuit Order in the imperial territory. Accordingly, the Lviv Jesuit Academy was abolished, which Polish, Soviet, and later Ukrainian historians considered a certain form of university, allegedly founded by king Jan Kazimierz as early as 1661. For the Polish community, it was not important that the conferment of the university's dignity to the academy was at one time confirmed neither by the Polish Sejm nor by the Pope of Rome. The Jesuit Academy in Lviv did not meet the existing requirements for universities in the slightest: it had no faculties of law and medicine, and so on. However, the Academy’s material base and teaching staff were partly used as the basis for the newly created gymnasium (1784) and for the University of Lviv. The controversy considering the date of the foundation of the university in Lviv could be solved, if we try to more fully realize what was the University of Joseph and what stages it took during the reign of the Habsburgs. 

The foundation of the University of Lviv was, above all, determined by the need to prepare managerial staff capable of incorporating the newly affiliated province into the monarchy, as well as by the need to train skilled personnel for the simultaneous reformation of this crown province and for the promotion of the population’s social emancipation. In the spirit of his era, Joseph II, along with his associate, Gottfried van Swieten, the head of the court censorship department for education and books, believed that universities were to be fully controlled by the state and to bring real practical benefits. In the opinion of the both adherents of enlightened absolutism, universities were to be not centers for research, but government agencies training diligent civil servants. And this was exactly what distinguished the University of Lviv from other, "historic" universities. Thus, what arrived at the Austrian universities was not "freedom," but statism as "the principle of the enlightening state." This is the context in which the University of Lviv was established (Lundgreen, 2005, 160).

From the Academy to the Collegium

After the elimination of the Jesuit Order by the Pope (1773), the Order’s remarkable influence on teaching at universities was to be replaced. In 1773 Maria Theresia eliminated the Jesuit academy in Lviv as well. Part of the former professors got the right to continue to teach at the Latin school (gymnasium). The Austrian government also tried to fill the gap in the educational system of Galicia by establishing medical courses for surgeons (1773), as well as theological studies in 1776. In addition, in 1776 the Collegium Nobilium or Theresianum was founded, as well as the so-called Akademia Stanowa. The Collegium was financed partly by Lviv bishop Samuel Roch Głowiński and partly by the state. Educating and teaching were done by the Piarist Fathers, but the institution was ruled by count von Gallenberg, a provincial counselor. In addition to philosophy, dances and fencing, modern languages ​​and engineering were also taught in the aristocratic convictus. In the first semester of 1776/77, it was entered by 8 students from the aristocracy. In 1781, three Piarist Fathers from Austria and three from Poland taught at the Collegium. At that time, there were totally 20 students there. From 1777, the government provided 5,000 florins annually to assist the Collegium. Soon it became apparent that this institution was not enough to cover the personnel shortage in the region (Röskau-Rydel, 1993, 170). 

The Austrian universities of the 18th century functioned according to a traditional, pan-European model. The education at the "lower", philosophical faculty was understood as a preparation for subsequent studying at one of the three "higher" ones, namely theological, legal and medical. This made sense, because traditional Latin schools of 5-6 grades, which were required for the “matura”, did not allow to immediately choose a profession for studying. Therefore, studying at the "Faculty of Philosophy" seemed to be equal to studying at the upper gymnasium level and served as a kind of transitional stage. Latin (classic authors), some Greek, philosophy, mathematics, physics and applied mathematics, general history, natural history, religion / ethics were studied there. The two-level university model remained in Austria till the time of count Thun’s reform, held in 1849. The peculiarity of this educational model consisted in the fact that, between Latin schools (gymnasiums) and universities, there was an intermediate institution or the lyceum (Lundgreen,  2005, 160). These were universities without levels and without the right to defend dissertations. However, the students had the right to continue their studies at the faculties of theology and law. In comparison, for example, with Prussia, Austria looked rather retrograde, as in Prussia, with the Humboldt University, there was a line of division between the gymnasium and the university. In the early 19th century, the Prussian gymnasiums had nine grades already. Therefore, "philosophical" training moved back to the gymnasium, but as a higher level. In new universities, new philosophical faculties no longer had a transitional, preparatory function. The difference between the "lower" and "higher" studies disappeared (Röskau-Rydel, 1993, 170). 

The language of instruction at the Austrian university of the late 18th century and the early 19th century could be Latin or German. In 1784 Joseph II replaced Latin by German at the University of Prague. In the newly founded University of Lviv, the more practical German language was preferred to Latin, with a stipulation that Latin remained the language of instruction till German was sufficiently spread in the province. To this end, it was decided to establish a department of German language and literature. 

The newly founded University of Lviv was to be equal and equivalent to all the rest of the Habsburg universities. It was to be subject to a political institution and to comply with the latter’s instructions. Members of the four faculties were given the right to elect a rector from their own environment annually. A nine-person Academic Senate was to be established: the rector, four deans and four seniors of the faculties. To assist the Senate, a syndic (notary), a clerk and a scribe were appointed. Deans, at the same time, were educational directors. They were elected by all faculty members, professors and associate professors. As deans they were to take care of students and as educational directors — of teachers. Also, their task was to monitor compliance with and implementation of the provincial administration instructions. 

The training was carried out in accordance with a curriculum, common for all universities of the Habsburg monarchy, and lasted for four years. Initially, the academic year began in November; later, however, at the request of Lviv professors, due to the “nasty Galician climate", it was allowed to shift the date. From that time on, the academic year lasted from September till the end of June. Students had only three days off, for Latin Christmas and Easter. The calendar the Greek Catholic Church lived by was not taken into account. Exams at the university were held twice a year. This campaign lasted four weeks every time. During the exams, no lectures took place. Students who got the "3" mark had to repeat the course. Still, this was allowed only once, and in case of the subsequent failure the student was expelled. As the master's degree was canceled, graduates of the university were given a doctor's degree (Röskau-Rydel, 1993, 176). 

The lists of students studying at the University of Lviv have hardly survived, as the documents were burnt down during the revolutionary events of 1848. However, it was possible to reconstruct some data. It is clear from fragments of the documents that those studying at the university were mostly children of aristocrats, public servants, city residents and landowners. The children of landowners preferred to study at the Faculty of Law, since it helped them to manage their estates in the future. Among the students, the children of peasants were rather an exception. As to the national composition, in 1833, for example, Lviv students were as follows: 142 Poles, 62 Germans, 11 Ruthenians (Ukrainians), 6 Armenians, 3 Jews. 

The peculiarity of the University of Lviv was that its foundation took place without the consent of the Pope. So, since the chancellor was traditionally considered a representative of the Pope, there was no chancellor in Lviv. 

The language of instruction at the University of Lviv serves as an excellent marker for identifying political trends in the crown province and imperial assimilation attempts. For example, on 9 February 1790, the emperor stressed that the department of German language and literature was to be founded, but it was necessary to wait for German to spread rather widely. According to the original plan, Latin was to remain only in theology. But still, Lviv was a part of Austria for too short time. There were practically no graduates of Austrian gymnasiums in the city. Therefore, the process stretched over time. From 1817 German was applied to some subjects, and from 1824 to the rest of them. Although the department of German language and literature, which collapsed in 1803, was fully restored only in 1852. The first lectures in the Polish language were introduced in practically oriented areas: pastoral theology, Polish law, assistance in childbirth (obstetrics). The Department of Polish Language and Literature, founded in 1825, did not arouse great interest and as a result was suspended for a long time. From 1787 to 1809, the so-called Ruthenian Institute (Studium Ruthenum) functioned at the University, which hosted a three-year-long Ukrainian-language course of philosophical and theological disciplines for Ukrainian priestly candidates who did not know Latin (Стеблій, 2005, 48). 

The lyceum level

In 1805, after the so-called Western Galicia with Krakow was united to the Austrian crown province of Galicia, there was no need for the existence of two universities for some time. The advantage was given to the Jagiellonian University. The main teaching forces were transferred to Krakow, and the University of Lviv was lowered to the lyceum level. The final decision was made on 9 August 1805. From 1806 and almost till 1811 the lyceum was on the decline caused by a number of negative events. In particular, the introduction of the obligation to monitor the behaviour of students, which triggered a real internal rebellion known as the "revolt of philosophers." The atmosphere among teachers was also not the best. Therefore, even having the right to elect a rector, they never once managed to elect someone from their environment because of internal disputes. All this time the position of the rector was occupied by provincial officials [8]. The teaching of philosophy at the lyceum was reduced to five subjects. Significant limitations were introduced in the legal and theological faculties. The medical section was abolished altogether. Instead, there were only surgical studies and a course of obstetrics taught in Polish. The time of studying was reduced. Now the lyceum professors earned significantly less. The lyceum was not divided into faculties and did not have the right to elect deans and to confer academic degrees. The lyceum’s senate consisted of 5 persons. On 3 July 1806 the emperor allowed to confer doctorates to theologians and philosophers. Doctors and lawyers could defend their dissertations only in Krakow and Vienna. The Empire’s poor financial position led to the reintroduction of tuition in gymnasiums and universities from 26 June 1806. Gymnasium students paid 6 florins a year, lyceum students paid 15 florins. Theologians, scholars and inmates of the convictus could study free of charge (Röskau-Rydel, 1993, 180).

The University of Francis II

After the Congress of Vienna (1815) proclaimed Krakow a free city, it was decided to open the university in Lviv again. On 17 May 1817 Emperor Francis II issued a decree on the reopening of the University of Lviv. However, the procedure was delayed for a whole year. The new university had three faculties, namely those of theology, law, and philosophy. Instead of the medical faculty, medical-surgical studies of the middle level remained, which did not have the right to confer doctoral titles [10]. The first rector of the University was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lviv, the Primate of Galicia, Andrzej Alojzy Ankwicz (1774-1838). Unlike the University of Joseph II, the University of Francis II was German in terms of language. In 1824/25 a new curriculum was introduced which remained actual till 1848. The German language dominated everywhere in the university, except for Greek philology, which was taught in Latin. After the reestablishment of the university, the department of Polish language and literature (1826) was opened. But, as already mentioned, it did not arouse any particular interest. In 1848, to meet the needs of Ukrainian students, the Department of Ukrainian Language and Literature was founded, whose first head was Yakiv Holovatsky. The upgrading of the lyceum to the rank of the University in 1817, though without a medical faculty, had a very positive effect on the city’s pattern. Given the above, the history of the University of Lviv can be divided into three periods as follows. 1784/1817-1848/49 was a time of the "related educational system", a time of the provincial "German" University in Lviv, whose teaching staff, besides theologians, was almost completely recruited from Bohemia, Moravia and even Germany. From 1849 to 1871 it was possible to speak about the "German" character of the university only partly. At that time the topic of opening a new philosophical faculty and recruiting new staff for it was actual.

The "Polish period"

In 1871, the third stage in the history of the university began. This was the "Polish" period, when it was really dominated by Polish science. In 1871, in fact, "overnight," the German language at the university turned into an exotic rarity. Its condition was then comparable to that of Latin in previous times. The domination of Polish was even more impressive at the turn of the 20th century. After 1871, the number of Ukrainian students began to drop sharply, although Polish as a Slavic language should have been closer to them than German. Earlier, teaching at the theological faculty for Ukrainians was provided by Ukrainian departments. Instead, the legal faculty was dominated by Poles (Lundgreen, 2005, 162).

The dynamics of these changes is well illustrated by the statistics of lectures (language) and the distribution of students by nationality in a time section.

1870: Latin — 16%, German — 58%, Polish — 16%, Ukrainian — 9%
1874: Latin — 14%, German — 12%, Polish — 65%, Ukrainian — 9%
1906: Latin — 6%, German — 2%, Polish — 83%, Ukrainian — 9%

Number of students by nationality:

1857: Germans — 15.4%, Poles — 32%, Ukrainians — 45.5%, Jews — 3.6%
1871: Germans — 5.8%, Poles — 52.2%, Ukrainians — 41.3%, Jews — 4.6%
1890: Germans — 0.4%, Poles — 64.6%, Ukrainians — 34.8%, Jews — 15.3%
1914: Germans — 0.4%, Poles — 60.8%, Ukrainians — 25.2%, Jews — 28.4%
(Lundgreen, 2005, 163).

After 1871, the demands of Ukrainians on the establishment of new departments with the Ukrainian language of instruction became more powerful and numerous. However, only one such case was successful, namely, the foundation of the Department of Ukrainian History (World History with special attention to Eastern Europe) in 1894, headed by Mykhaylo Hrushevsky, a historian from Dnieper Ukraine. In 1899, the Second Department of Ukrainian Language and Literature and the Department of Church Slavonic Language were founded. As of 1907, there were 59 Polish professor positions at the University and only 8 Ukrainian (Качмар, 2007, 345). 

At the turn of the century, the national struggle at the University of Lviv was greatly intensified. While the whole previous period shows that student protests were directed against the Austrian authorities, with 200 students of the University taking part in the 1830 uprising and forming their own "Academic Legion" in 1848, at the turn of the century a considerable aggravation of the Ukrainian-Polish conflict began. The point is that after the defeat of the 1863 uprising Galicia turned into a kind of Polish Piedmont. After 1867, a comprehensive polonization of the region, its administration and judicial system was initiated. The same can be said of the region’s schools as well. The University of Lviv could not avoid these processes. A separate ministerial office for Galicia was created in Vienna. From then till the start of World War I, the position of the provincial governor was occupied only by Poles. Under these circumstances, a new requirement arose in the Ukrainian student environment, that of the foundation of a separate Ukrainian university, an analogue of the University of Prague (1882). Attempts by Poles to legislatively consolidate the "Polish nature" of the University of Lviv led to grave excesses with Ukrainians. A conflict between Ukrainian students and the university administration in 1899-1900 ended with a "secession" (dismissal) of 583 students. In 1906-1907, it came to barricade battles in the University building. And in 1910 Adam Kocko, a student, was mortally wounded during student unrest there. More and more often this increase in interethnic tension indicated that the University of Lviv was finally acquiring the features of the fortress of Polish nationalism. Certain understanding, which was first of all due to attempts to hold the Sejm election reform and could grow into a Polish-Ukrainian compromise, was interrupted by the First World War. However, in the end, it must be noted that the University of Lviv played a significant role in the interethnic struggle. And, despite national and political engagement, the Poles managed to move from romantic enlightenment to objectively critical interpretations and to include Polish science in the world scientific context.

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Jozef von Brigido, provincial governor
Joseph II, emperor
Maria Theresia, empress
Antoni Wacław Betański (1714—21.01.1786), Roman Catholic Bishop of Przemysl, the first rector of the University of Lviv
Gottfried van Swieten, head of the court censorship department for education and books
Samuel Głowiński, bishop of Lviv
Count von Gallenberg, provincial counselor who managed the institution.
Leopold count Thun-Hohenstein, minister of religions and education from 1849, reformer



1. Володимир Качмар, "Вища школа", Історія Львова, т. 2, (Львів, "Інститут українознавства ім. І. П. Крип'якевича НАНУ" – "Центр Європи", 2007), 345-352
2. Феодосій Стеблій, "Освіта", Історія Львова, т. 2, (Львів, "Інститут українознавства ім. І. П. Крип'якевича НАНУ" – "Центр Європи", 2007), 47-53
3. Peter Lundgreen, "Die Universität Lemberg und ihre Historiker (1784-1914)", Jahrbuch für Universitätsgeschichte, Band 8 (Berlin, Humboldt Universität, 2005), 157-185
4. Isabel Röskau-Rydel, Kultur an der Peripherie des Habsburger Reiches. Die Geschichte des Bildungswesens und der kulturellen Einrichtungen in Lemberg von 1772 bis 1848, (Wiesbaden, Harrasowitz Verlag, 1993), 422

Written by Vasyl Rasevych
Translation from Ukrainian by Andriy Malsiukh