University of Tartu

​Oldest and most prestigious university in Estonia

The University of Tartu (UT) or Academia Gustaviana was founded by the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf in 1632. The Latin-language university with four faculties was supposed to satisfy the need for educated officials in Estonia, Livonia and Ingria, which then all belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden. The university was also meant to strengthen the central power in its new territories. Due to the Swedish-Russian war the University was closed in 1656, and only reopened in 1690. In 1699 it was moved to Pärnu, where it closed in 1710.

In 1802 UT was opened as a German-language university in the Russian empire for Estonia, Livonia and Courland. Initially the university had four, later five faculties. UT was essential in importing the organisation and achievements of European science to Russia. The university was also a basis for Baltic German unity, as it was the intellectual centre of students and teaching staff from Livonia, Estonia and Courland and a place where people of different social standing met. UT played a significant role in the national awakening of Estonians and Latvians and educating the Polish intelligentsia. After 1890 the university became Russian, and many students from Russia arrived in Tartu. The number of Baltic German students fell, but at the same time the number of Latvian, Estonian and Jewish students increased rapidly. In May 1918 the Russian university in Tartu was closed.

From September to November 1918 the university operated in German, under the control of the German occupation powers (Landesuniversität). On 1 December 1919 UT was opened as the Estonian-language university. UT was the seedbed for the Estonian national intelligentsia, and contributed greatly to the cultivation of Estonian national sciences. In 1940–41 the university was renamed the Tartu State University. One of the first steps in Sovetisation was to close down the department of theology. During the German occupation from 1942 to 1944 the university operated as the Tartu University of Estonian Self-government. Between 1944 and 1989, UT was one of the six Estonian higher educational establishments, and was among the 80 leading universities in the Soviet Union. Teaching in Estonian still continued in the Soviet university, which played a significant role in preserving the Estonian intelligentsia and national spirit. In 1989 the historical name was restored. In 2009, the university has 18 000 students and 1700 academic staff, 10 faculties and 5 colleges.

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