University History

History of the University

It was a long journey and far from free of difficulties; it would have been more than enough to dissuade anybody who lacked a strong will and unshakeable determination. However, it is generally agreed, and not just by the Leonese, that if anything characterizes people from Leon it is tenacity. Centuries had to be spend making demands, fresh hope had to be found after each disappointment, attempts had to be made to convince locals and strangers, there even had to be struggles against enemies who are very often not far from home. However, in the end success was achieved. The long-standing and much repeated demand for a “University for Leon”, as it said on the stickers that had been enthusiastically distributed by the then Caja de Ahorros y Monte de Piedad de León [Leon Building Society], was fulfilled and legally consecrated that unforgettable 30 October 1979, the date on which the Spanish Official State Gazette published details of the setting up of the Universities of Alicante, Leon and Cadiz, and the Technical University of Las Palmas. All that was left to do was to build a future, get known, and carve out a niche among all the other institutions of higher and further education.

Thanks to the cathedral schools and Episcopal libraries in Astorga and Leon, the Leonese had been cultivating arts and sciences since the tenth century. These establishments were joined over the centuries by a long succession of monasteries, convents and foundations whose aim was to preserve, increase and spread knowledge. Some of these are present and functioning to this day, like the Royal Basilica of Saint Isidore, which was a royal seat and burial place, but also a scriptorium and centre of knowledge in the Middle Ages. Others have to some degree stood up to the ravages of time (San Miguel de Escalada). Yet others, alas, are now no more than a vague outline in collective memory… However, years went by and Leon still did not possess the University for which it longed.

The School at Sahagún, which over its lengthy history was even granted a Papal Bull (1534) to teach Arts, Theology and Canon Law, never quite managed to become fully established. Indeed, despite the fact that figures of the status of Fray Luís de León passed through its halls, in 1616 this embryonic Leonese University moved to the city of Irache in Navarre. Another failed attempt was the Jesuit College sponsored by Juan de San Millán, Bishop of Leon between 1564 and 1578 under the aegis of the church of Santa Marina la Real. The expulsion of the Jesuit order from Spain cut short this further hopeful beginning.

Years went by, and fresh names were added to the list of those behind tenacious and sustained demands. Although Leon did not seem to be among the plans of successive ministers when they were considering the creation of new universities, strivings to obtain one never ceased. Hence, in more recent times (the nineteenth century) Leon acquired the Teacher Training College that was the predecessor of the current Faculty of Education, and then the Associate School of Veterinary Studies, the germ of the present-day Veterinary Faculty. These were followed at the beginning of the twentieth century by a Business School.

It proved necessary to wait for the wounds inflicted by the Civil War (1936 to 1939) to heal before new departments, degree programmes and educational opportunities to emerge. These included Biological Sciences Law, Mining, Industrial Engineering, Agricultural Studies and others, which grew and flourished until the auspicious date of 30 October 1979. The future had triumphed over the past, or perhaps justice had simply been done after long insistent demands.

Today’s reality is of a young and dynamic University which, with one campus at Vegazana and another in the Bierzo district, has in no way turned its back either on its obligation to aid in developing and serving the society of its immediate surroundings or on its aspirations to universality. From the very beginning it has had a vocation for internationalization, for reaching out across frontiers and becoming a benchmark for quality that would be able to attract students and teachers not merely from other zones in Spain, but also from other places much farther from its geographical context. The figures speak for themselves in backing this statement, as recent years have seen a sustained presence of students from more than forty different countries. Likewise, thanks to a range of mobility programmes such as Erasmus, AMICUS, SICUE and others, students from the University of Leon currently have the possibility of spending one or even two academic years in any of the more than three hundred universities that are associates of Leon, such studies being fully recognized for credit towards their degrees.

So, mindful in the first place of the society in which it has its roots, the University of Leon offers a range of degrees and other qualifications in which the so-called Earth Sciences, such as Veterinary Studies, Biology and Agricultural Engineering, may have pride of place, but in which other areas such as the Humanities, Law or Economics are also well represented. At the current moment there are thirty-seven undergraduate and eighteen postgraduate degree programmes, taking the University’s two campus sites together. These run from long-standing qualifications in languages and literature to more recent newcomers such as the degree in International Trade (part of which is taught through the medium of English), joint degrees with universities in other countries or attractive postgraduate courses such as the Master’s degree in Renewable Energies or the European Master’s degree in Business Studies, taught jointly with three other European Universities.

This is the situation at the present day, but it does not exclude further hopes and desires for a better future or for a University that will always remain dynamic and open to change, in constant contact with the realities surrounding it, a University where the adventure of gaining knowledge shapes people’s whole lives. This is what we hear from each and every student and teacher that passes through our lecture theatres and classrooms.