History | University of Gdańsk

The History of UG

Professor Marek Andrzejewski, Faculty of History, University of Gdańsk; Translators: Tadeusz Z. Wolański and David Malcolm

The History of UG – from the Higher Pedagogical School and the Higher Economic School to the University of Gdańsk

For centuries, Gdańsk was most often thought of as a large port and the largest port in the Republic of Poland. Its wealth was reflected in its numerous monuments and works of art but the city authorities never decided to found a university. This was connected with the Hanseatic nature of the city and with the fact that the patricians were content with the Gdańsk Academic Gymnasium, founded in 1558 and reformed in 1580. It was a school on a very high level; its teachers had significant scientific-scholarly achievements and its structures were similar to those of a university. Several times, including during the reign of Sigismund III, attempts were made to transform the Gdańsk Academic Gymnasium into a university but there was a lack of the appropriate atmosphere on each occasion. Nevertheless, the quality of education in Gdańsk testified to the high  intellectual culture of the local bourgeoisie. Despite the mercantile and craft nature of the city, there was no shortage of scientific personalities associated with Gdańsk. The city was, after all, the birthplace of Jan Heweliusz, Arthur Schopenhauer and Daniel Fahrenheit, to name only the  three of the figures who are best known in Europe. It is also no coincidence that it was in Gdańsk that the Natural History Society was founded in 1743. The Society enjoyed great prestige in European scientific circles for many years and was the first scientific institution of its kind in the Republic of Poland.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the question of founding an institute of higher education in Gdańsk took on greater significance. The supporters of founding a university, however, were not influential enough to force their intention through. In this situation, the Higher Technical School (Technische Hochschule) was founded in 1904. This institution enjoyed a deserved reputation in this part of Europe in the inter-war period. Apart from the normal polytechnic fields of study, it also had the equivalent of a Humanities Faculty, where research was conducted into literature, linguistics and history. One of the indications of the Gdańsk institution’s prestige was the fact that young Polish people undertook studies there. It is thanks to this that we can talk about a certain continuity and also about the existence, in contrast to Wrocław and Szczecin, of a “Polish Gdańsk”.


Higher Pedagogical School and the Higher Economic School

After the Second World War, the atmosphere in Gdańsk was not conducive to the founding of a university. The city and voivodeship authorities at the time did not appreciate the possibilities of a university being established in Gdańsk even though its founding would have constituted for the three cities of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia and for the whole Gdańsk region an opportunity for scientific-scholarly and cultural  advance. There were also other priorities in Gdańsk at that time, including the concentration of efforts on the reconstruction of the ports and the revitalisation of the maritime economy, which pushed the vision of the university into the background.

The lack of a university could not be compensated by the founding in 1946 of the Higher Pedagogical School (renamed in 1952 as the State Higher Pedagogical School in Gdańsk). This institution could not take advantage of the good traditions of other institutions and was to a great extent dependent on persons previously connected with secondary education. The lack of an experienced staff must for a long time  have adversely affected the  outcomes of the teaching process and the activity of scientific-scholarly researchers. The post-war shortages in scientific-scholarly staff in the case of the Gdańsk HPS were still evident in the middle of the 1960s. The school’s beginnings were very difficult indeed. Not only the disappointing scientific-scholarly level of the staff but also the lack of material resources, the lack of teaching aids and difficulties with accommodation were all reasons for the institution’s slow rate of development, which only began to increase in tempo after 1956.

By 1960, the HPS already had 24 active departments. In the 1967/8 academic year, students were studying nine different subjects: Pedagogy, History, Polish Philology, Russian Philology, Geography, Biology, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. The intellectual atmosphere improved and, increasingly, greater attention was  paid to the  research activity conducted by members of staff. In 1959, the Humanities Faculty, as the first at the HPS, obtained the right to confer the academic title of doctor. Gradually, the status of the institution  grew in the eyes of the Gdańsk academic community. By the end of the 1960s, the HPS was making an ever greater mark in the  academic life of Gdańsk and the whole of Poland. In 1969, the school  employed 13 professors, 48 associate professors and 79 assistant professors. The HPS was also supported by academic staff from Toruń. The  rise in the status of the HPS is also illustrated by the  steadily increasing number of students: in 1946/7, there were 187 students; in 1969, there were already 2,444 students. The school was initially geared towards educating young people but gradually its  range of interests was broadened and its  academic position was strengthened – a new identity was being gained.

The second institution which paved the way for the beginnings of the University of Gdańsk was the Higher Economic School in Sopot. As early as 1945, a non-state Higher Economic School had been founded in Gdynia – on 17 August 1946, this was transformed into the State Higher School of Maritime Trade. A year later, the school moved its seat from Gdynia to Sopot and in 1952 changed its name to the Higher Economic School. Two years later, it obtained its academic entitlements and, as a result, the length of studies was initially extended to eight semesters then, in the 1960s, to nine semesters.

In 1945, the number of students at the HES was 300; by 1969 it had increased to 3,679. In 1959, the first doctoral award ceremonies took place. Three years later, the school was granted the  right to award habilitation titles. The combined total of doctorates awarded was 111 (including 76 members of the HES staff) and there were also 25 habilitations (including 18 members of the HES staff). In the 1960s, the publishing activity of the Sopot staff members increased markedly. The factor increasing the prestige of the school in the eyes of the scientific-scholarly world was the systematic improvement in the level of the  academic staff, which is clearly testified to by the fact that there were 7 professors and 25 associate professors among the   tenured academic staff in 1970.

Towards the end of the 1960s, every tenth student of Economics in Poland was studying at the school in Sopot. The school’s attractiveness also came from the fact that the HES was the only Economics school in Poland educating specialists in the maritime economy.  This certainly had a great influence on tightening the economic bonds between Poland and the sea, creating the foundations for the maritime economy and its further opening out to the sea. Most graduates found employment in the maritime economy and it was from among their number that management personnel were in large measure recruited. x


March 20, 1970 – the Foundation of the University of Gdańsk

The changes taking place at the HPS and the HES, including the increase in the scientific-scholarly potential of these institutions, created conditions conducive to the founding of a university in Gdańsk. In the second half of the 1950s, among the academics at the HPS, more supporters were gradually being found for the idea of transforming the Higher Pedagogical School into a university. The academic community, which  had gained in prestige, drew attention to the deepening disproportion between the growth in the economic importance of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia and the slow development of the Humanities and Natural Sciences there. The period from 1956 to 1970 was a time of an ever-louder articulation in Gdańsk of the thought of the desirability of the founding of a university. The local media also began to devote more space to this matter. On 24 January 1957,  in the wake of  the “Polish October”, the Organising Committee for the University of Gdańsk was founded. The main initiator of this project was the Rector of the HPS at that time,  Professor Andrzej Bukowski. The committee’s plan to inaugurate classes at the new institution in the 1959/1960 academic year proved too optimistic and was based, as it appeared to Warsaw, on quite fragile foundations.

Despite the setback, the discussion about founding a university in Gdańsk did not abate during the following years. On the contrary, it began to acquire a greater intensity and the number of committed persons  steadily increased. The supporters of the idea of founding a university, Professors Janusz Sokołowski, Andrzej Bukowski, Gotfryd Kupryszewski, Roman Wapiński, Tadeusz Szczepaniak, Stanisław Ładyka and Jan Wojewnik,  had to find support  for the idea among local decision-makers and influential politicians, including Stanisław Kociołek. It is hard to overestimate here the role of the Rector of the HPS, Janusz Sokołowski, whose mediatory talents and ability to achieve compromises negated the efforts of influential opponents of the founding of a university in Gdańsk and allowed for the many-year-long impasse to be broken.

Initially, there was no agreement as to whether the starting-point for the foundation of the new university should be the creation of a branch of the Nicholas Copernicus University in Gdańsk and its gradual evolution into a separate institution, or a merger of the two existing institutions: the Higher Pedagogical School and the Higher Economic School. On 20 March 1970, the Sejm (Parliament) of the People’s Republic of Poland took the decision to found the University of Gdańsk, but it had been a few months earlier, on 3 October 1969, that Stanisław Kociołek informed the  academic community of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia that the  Communist Party authorities had expressed their agreement to the establishment of a university in Gdańsk. Initially, there was a project to call the institution the Baltic University, but because the Polish abbreviation (UB) had very bad connotations [Translator’s note: UB = Urząd Bezpieczeństwa, the Security Police], it was decided to call it the University of Gdańsk.

The foundation of a university in Gdańsk constitutes one of the most important  watersheds in the centuries-long scientific-scholarly tradition of the city, since the university – on account of its openness  – became the place for creative debate and the centre of science, scholarship and culture, which influenced the whole region. The University of Gdańsk  opened on 1 July 1970. It was the result of the fusion of two schools or rather three: besides the Higher Pedagogical School and the Higher Economic School, there was also the Higher Teacher Training School.

The first Rector of the University of Gdańsk was Professor Janusz Sokołowski, who up to then had been Rector of the HPS, and his Deputy was the former Rector of the HES, Professor Stanisław Ładyga. Five faculties inherited from the HPS and the HES - Humanities, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, Biology and Earth Sciences, Economics of Production, Economics of Transport – formed the first part of the university and were joined by a sixth, Law and Administration. Currently, after intensive transformations in the 1990s, and then again in 2008, the University of Gdańsk has eleven faculties: the Faculty of Biology, the Faculty of Chemistry, the Faculty of Economics, the Faculty of Languages, the Faculty of History, the Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Informatics, the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Faculty of Oceanography and Geography, the Faculty of Law and Administration, the Faculty of Management, and the Inter-collegiate Faculty of Biochemistry of the University of Gdańsk and the Medical University of Gdańsk.

Just over two months after the University’s first inauguration  of the academic year , Gdańsk and neighbouring Gdynia witnessed demonstrations and riots. Both the events of December 1970 and, to a greater degree, those of the “Gdańsk August” of 1980 influenced the myth of Gdańsk, which was growing in the country, and indirectly the growth of the significance of the university. Graduates and staff of the university: Aleksander Hall, Lech Kaczyński, Maciej Płażyński, Donald Tusk, and Wiesław Walendziak, to name but a few, played a great role in the anti-Communist opposition. It is in no small measure thanks to them and to a whole host of anonymous employees and students of the University of Gdańsk that there blew “the wind from the sea” and  later systemic changes could take place. The opposition activity of the staff and students of the university is undoubtedly one of the most  important and inspiring pages in its relatively short history.

In August 1980, when the development of the situation in Gdańsk was being followed with bated breath by almost the entire world, the university had to pass a difficult examination. This was only made possible by the determination of, above all, people like Professor Robert Głębocki. His appearance among the strikers at the Gdańsk Lenin Shipyard was an expression of the active support of the  academic world for the struggle for a free Poland.

In the first free university elections in May 1981, Professor Robert Głębocki was elected Rector of the University of Gdańsk. A few months later, after the imposition of martial law, thanks to his pragmatism and diplomatic talents, and also thanks to the support of his Deputy Rector, Professor Józef Bachórz, it was possible to avoid wide-scale repressions, although among the internees and the arrested there was no lack of staff and students of the University of Gdańsk. Soon, however, Professor Robert Głębocki was forced to resign from his post as Rector. It must be emphasised that his successors, Professor Bronisław Rudowicz and Professor Karol Taylor, continued his policy of quiet but effective defence of the supporters of “Solidarity”. Thanks to their attitudes, and also to those of Rector Czesław Jackowiak, attitudes characterised by wisdom combined with pragmatism, the university came out of the era of the People’s Republic of Poland relatively unscathed.

During more than 40 years of existence, the University of Gdańsk has had eleven Rectors. The university has been led in turn by the following professors: Janusz Sokołowski (1970-1981), Robert Głębocki (1981-1982), Bronisław Rudowicz (1982-1984), Karol Taylor (1984-1985), Mirosław Krzysztofiak (1985-1987), Czesław Jackowiak (1987-1990), Zbigniew Grzonka (1990-1996), Marcin Pliński (1996-2002), Andrzej Ceynowa (2002-2008), Bernard Lammek (2008-2016). For the term of office 2016-2020 Jerzy Gwizdała was elected. Each of them has played his part in the development of the university. The Rector who led the university for eleven years  and exerted the greatest influence on its profile was Professor Janusz Sokołowski. He gave the university in the first period of its existence great developmental dynamism  and caused it to become a significant institution of higher education in Poland by the end of the 1970s. By maintaining the appropriate contacts with the representatives of the authorities at that time, he managed to maintain, to the extent that it was possible, the autonomy of the university. He was not only an exceptional person with great charisma and an outstanding academic, but also a Rector who could with great sensitivity unite the whole university community.

Professor Sokołowski from the very beginning placed great emphasis on strengthening the scientific-scholarly potential of the young university. Apart from the  academic development of the former staff of the HPS and the HES, an important role, particularly at the beginning of the 1970s, was played by the  commitment of staff from other academic centres  to the University of Gdańsk. For example, the recruitment base for English Philology from its creation in 1973 was the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Gaining new academics was undoubtedly facilitated for the Rector by the attractiveness of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia and by their dynamism. In most cases, the new employees quickly became integrated with their new surroundings and made a great contribution to the development of the university. A great role was played by the founders of Gdańsk Pedagogy, Professor Ludwik Bandura and Professor Marian Grochociński. It is not possible to omit here the name of Professor Gotfryd Kupryszewski, the founder of the UG’s peptide school. The leading position of Linguistics would not have been possible without the scientific-scholarly and teaching achievements of Professor Leszek Moszyński. Let us add only two more examples: thanks to Professor Krystyna Wiktorowa, a new field of study at Polish universities was opened, Oceanography, while thanks to Professor Zenon Ciesielski a new field of studies in Poland (and for many years the only one) was formed at the University of Gdańsk, Scandinavian Studies.

Currently the research and teaching staff of the University are its major strength, and in fields of study such as Biology, Chemistry, Oceanography, Quantum Physics, Pedagogy, Psychology, Law and Economics, the University of Gdańsk is one of the leading institutions in the country.

The dynamic development of the University is reflected in numbers. The University began with only five faculties; today there are eleven. At the end of 1970, classes were taught at the University by 23 professors and 49 doctors with habilitation degrees. Today the University employs altogether 1700 research and teaching staff, and around 3000 people work here, making the University one of the biggest employers in the Pomeranian Voivodeship. In December 1970, the number of students at the University did not exceed 10,000 (it was, in fact, 9,382). Now, including doctoral students and students following non-doctoral post-degree courses, there are more than 30,000. Thus, the University of Gdańsk is the largest university-level institution in the Pomeranian region, and one of the largest universities in Poland. In 1970 at the University students took courses in a dozen or so  fields of study; today almost all academic disciplines and subjects are represented, and students take courses in 73 fields of study and more than 217 specialized programs.

The strategy adopted by the Senate of the University in 2010 recalls the institution’s traditions, stressing its most important values and its mission. It also sets out its development strategy through to 2020.


The guiding values of the University of Gdańsk are: rational pursuit of the truth through innovative research; pursuit of the best models of scholarship, science, and research available in the world; innovative education serving the development of civilization and society; mutual respect and trust; tolerance of diversity of views; and the solidarity of the entire academic community. The mission of the University is to educate highly-valued graduates who possess broad knowledge, abilities, and competences that are essential in an economic-social life based on knowledge, and to make a permanent contribution to the scientific-scholarly knowledge of the world and toward the solution of its central contemporary problems. The next decade of the University’s development will be marked by the achievement of new levels of quality in education, research, and co-operation with the environment.


Professor Marek Andrzejewski,  Faculty of History, University of Gdańsk

Tadeusz Z. Wolański and David Malcolm