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Guiding Principles and History of Freie Universität

Die Begriffe Wahrheit, Gerechtigkeit und Freiheit prägen das Selbstverständnis der Freien Universität

The principles of truth, justice, and freedom shape the identity of Freie Universität Berlin.
Image Credit: Thiago Menezes

Freedom as a Founding Impulse

Freie Universität Berlin was founded in 1948 by professors and students, in response to the persecution faced by students who took a critical eye of the system at Universität Unter den Linden, at that time located in the Soviet sector of the divided city. The idea of founding a free university found widespread support in the international community, including financial support. This outpouring of aid helped pave the way for Freie Universität to become a university with an outstanding international reputation. The principles of freedom and internationality have guided the university’s development ever since. Since the university’s founding, in December of 1948, the academic ethos of Freie Universität Berlin has always been defined by three values: truth, justice, and freedom.

The University in a Changing Era

The years 1968, 1990, and 2007 mark turning points in the history of Freie Universität. The university was one of the central sites in Germany for the student protests of the 1960s, a movement that sparked a trend toward greater openness, equality, and democracy.

Then, after German reunification in 1990, Freie Universität Berlin shifted its emphasis, increasing its research activities. The number of graduates, successful doctoral candidates, and publications also grew by a significant measure. The basis for the university’s successful new approach was a series of fundamental reforms, including the introduction of modern management structures in the university’s administration, reorganization of the departments, and use of funding to support specific aims.

In 2007, Freie Universität Berlin was selected in the Excellence Initiative jointly sponsored by the German federal government and the governments of the federal states. It was one of nine universities in Germany to receive distinction in all three lines of funding, a step that has enabled the university to solidify and further expand its position as an “international network university.” In 2012 during the second funding round of the Excellence Initiative, it was selected again and became one of eleven universities of excellence in Germany.

In 2018 the three major Berlin universities – Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Technische Universität Berlin – along with Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin formed the Berlin University Alliance to create an institutional framework for their collaboration.

Since 2019 Freie Universität Berlin has been funded as part of the excellence consortium Berlin University Alliance within the Excellence Strategy competition of the German federal and state governments.