KU Leuven

The Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenA (in English: Catholic University of Leuven),B abbreviated KU Leuven, is a research university in the Dutch-speaking town of Leuven in Flanders, Belgium, founded[1] in 1834 in Mechelen as the Catholic University of Belgium and moved its seat to the town of Leuven in 1835 where it changed its name to Catholic University of Leuven.

KU Leuven
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Latin: Universitas catholica Lovaniensis
Other name
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven
MottoSedes Sapientiae (Latin)
Motto in English
Seat of Wisdom
TypeIndependent/Free catholic university
Established1834,C 1970
Endowment950 million
ChairmanHerman, Baron Daems
ChancellorJozef De Kesel
RectorLuc Sels
Administrative staff
Students58,045 (2017–18)
50.878°N 4.700°E / 50.878; 4.700
CampusMain (urban/university town) campus in Leuven and satellite campuses in Aalst, Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Diepenbeek, Geel, Ghent, Kortrijk, Ostend and Sint-Katelijne-Waver
ColorsBlue and white          
Coimbra Group
MascotFons Sapientiae

It conducts teaching, research, and services in the natural sciences, engineering, humanities, medicine, law, and social sciences.[2]

KU Leuven consistently ranks among the top 100 universities in the world by five major ranking tables. As of 2019, it ranks 48th globally according to Times Higher Education,[3] 80th according to QS World University Rankings,[4] and 93rd according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities.[5] For four consecutive years starting in 2016, Thomson Reuters ranked KU Leuven as Europe's most innovative university,[6] with its researchers having filed more patents than any other university in Europe; its patents are also the most cited by external academics. A number of its programs rank within the top 100 in the world according to QS World University Rankings by Subject.

In addition to its main campus in Leuven, it has satellite campuses in Kortrijk, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Ostend, Geel, Diepenbeek, Aalst, Sint-Katelijne-Waver, and in Belgium's capital Brussels.[7] KU Leuven is the largest university in Belgium and the Low Countries. In 2017-18, more than 58,000 students were enrolled. Its primary language of instruction is Dutch, although several programs are taught in English, particularly graduate degrees.[8]

The old University of Leuven was founded at the center of the historic town of Leuven in 1425, making it Belgium's first university.

Once formally integrated into the French Republic, a law dating to 1793 mandating that all universities in France be closed came into effect.[9] The University of Leuven was abolished by decree of the Département of the Dyle on October 25, 1797.[10]

The new Catholic University of Leuven was "founded"[11] in 1834, but is frequently (but controversially) identified as a continuation of the older institution.C In 1968, the Catholic University of Leuven split into the Dutch-language Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven and the French-language Université catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain), which moved to Louvain-la-Neuve in Wallonia and Brussels. Historically, the Catholic University of Leuven has been a major contributor to the development of Catholic theology. It is considered the oldest extant Catholic university. Although Catholic in heritage, it operates independently from the Church. KU Leuven is open to students from different faiths.

Background and history

For the history of the pre-1970 university see Catholic University of Leuven (1834–1968).

In 1968, tensions between the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking communities led to the splitting of the bilingual Catholic University of Leuven into two "sister" universities, with the Dutch-language university becoming a fully functioning independent institution in Leuven in 1970, and the Université catholique de Louvain departing to a newly built greenfield campus site in the French-speaking part of Belgium. Pieter De Somer became the first rector of the KUL.

In 1972, the KUL set up a separate entity Leuven Research & Development (LRD) to support industrial and commercial applications of university research. It has led to numerous spin-offs, such as the technology company Metris, and manages tens of millions of euros in investments and venture capital.

The university's electronic learning environment, TOLEDO, which started in September 2001, was gradually developed into the central electronic learning environment at the KUL. The word is an acronym for TOetsen en LEren Doeltreffend Ondersteunen (English: "effectively supporting testing and learning"). It is the collective name for a number of commercial software programs and tools, such as Blackboard. The project offers the Question Mark Perception assignment software to all institution members and has implemented the Ariadne KPS to reuse digital learning objects inside the Blackboard environment.

On 11 July 2002, the KU Leuven became the dominant institution in the "KU Leuven Association" (see below).

KU Leuven is a member of the Coimbra Group (a network of leading European universities) as well as of the LERU Group (League of European Research Universities). Since November 2014, KU Leuven's Faculty of Economics and Business is accredited by European Quality Improvement System, which is a leading accreditation system specializing in higher education institutions of management and business administration.[12]

Since August 2017, the university has been led by Luc Sels who replaced former rector Rik Torfs. The Belgian archbishop, André-Joseph Léonard is the current Grand Chancellor and a member of the university board.

KU Leuven is dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, under her traditional attribute as "Seat of Wisdom", and organizes an annual celebration on 2 February in her honour. On that day, the university also awards its honorary doctorates. The seal used by the university shows the medieval statue Our Lady of Leuven in a vesica piscis shape.

In the academic year of 2012-2013, the university held Erasmus contracts with 434 European establishments. It also had 22 central bilateral agreements in 8 countries: the United States, China, South Africa, Japan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Vietnam, Poland, and the Netherlands. The vast majority of international EU students came from the Netherlands, while most non-EU ones come from China.

KU Leuven hosts the world's largest banana genebank, the Bioversity International Musa Germplasm Transit Centre, that celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017 and was visited by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo.[13]

Organization and academics

Academics at KU Leuven is organized into three groups, each with its own faculties, departments, and schools offering programs up to doctoral level. While most courses are taught in Dutch, many are offered in English, particularly the graduate programs.[14]

Biomedical Sciences Group

  • Department of Cardiovascular Sciences
  • Department of Oral Health Sciences
  • Department of Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Sciences
  • Department of Human Genetics
  • Department of Imaging and Pathology
  • Department of Kinesiology
  • Department of Microbiology and Immunology
  • Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
  • Department of Neurosciences
  • Department of Oncology
  • Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine
  • Department of Rehabilitation Sciences
  • Department of Development and Regeneration
  • Department of Public Health and Primary Care

Humanities and Social Sciences Group

  • Institute of Philosophy
  • Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies
  • Faculty of Canon Law
  • Faculty of Law
  • Faculty of Economics and Business
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
  • Faculty of Arts
  • Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences

Science, Engineering and Technology Group

  • Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Department of Architecture
  • Department of Biology
  • Department of Biosystems
  • Department of Civil Engineering
  • Department of Chemistry
  • Department of Chemical Engineering
  • Department of Computer Science
  • Department of Electrical Engineering (ESAT)
  • Department of Materials Engineering
  • Department of Microbial and Molecular Systems
  • Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Department of Mathematics


KU Leuven has 24 libraries and learning centers across its 12 campuses, containing millions of books and other media. Its theology library alone hold 1.3 million volumes, including works dating from the 15th century.[15] The following libraries are found at its Leuven campus:[16]

  • 2Bergen - Biomedical Library
  • 2Bergen - Campuslibrary Arenberg (exact sciences, engineering sciences, industrial engineering sciences, bio-engineering sciences, architecture and kinesiology and rehabilitation sciences)
  • Artes - Ladeuze & Erasmushuis (Humanities & Social Sciences Group and the Faculty of Arts)
  • Library of Psychology and Educational Sciences
  • Law Library
  • Library of Social Sciences
  • Library of the Institute of Philosophy
  • AGORA Learning Centre
  • EBIB Learning Centre
  • MATRIX (music and audio recordings library)
  • Maurits Sabbe Library (Library of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies)

University hospital

Universitair ziekenhuis Leuven (UZ Leuven) is the teaching hospital associated with the KU Leuven. Its most well known and largest campus is Gasthuisberg, which also houses the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences and most of the faculty of medicine.


Notable divisions of the university include the Higher Institute of Philosophy and the Rega Institute for Medical Research.

The university is a member of the Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology. The Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre is a spin-off company of the university.

The students of the university are gathered together in the student's council Studentenraad KU Leuven.[17] They have representatives in most meetings at the university, including the Board of Directors. It was separated from LOKO in 2012-2013 when the different locations outside of Leuven became part of the university. LOKO remained the overarching student organisation for all students in the city of Leuven.

KU Leuven joined the Venice International University on October 29, 2016.[18]

Since July 2002, thirteen higher education institutes have formed the KU Leuven Association. The members are:[19]


University rankings
ARWU World[20] 85 (2019)
Leiden World[21] 52 (2019)
THE World[22] 45 (2020)
USNWR World[23] 56 (2020)
QS World[24] 80 (2020)

In 2016, the Academic Ranking of World Universities ranked the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven as the world's 93rd best university,[5] while the Times Higher Education ranked KU Leuven 40th best university[3] and QS World University Rankings ranked KU Leuven 79th overall in the world.[4] KU Leuven ranked first in Thomson Reuters' list of Europe's most innovative universities four times in a row since it began in 2016.[25]

According to QS World University Rankings by Subject in 2019, KU Leuven ranked within the world's top 50 universities in the following fields: Sports-related Subjects (11), Theology (14), Dentistry (17), Classics and Ancient History (22), Library and Information Management (23), Psychology (24), Statistics and Operational Research (26), Mechanical Engineering (30), Philosophy (31), Geography (34), Pharmacy & Pharmacology (35), Education and Training (36), Law (37), Social Policy and Administration (39), Development Studies (43), Materials sciences (45), Chemical Engineering (46), Politics (49), Sociology (50), Life Sciences and Medicine (56), Social Sciences and Management (60), , Arts and Humanities (61), Engineering and Technology (61). Also according to QS, many other KU Leuven programs rank within the top 100 in the world, including Linguistics, English Language and Literature, History, Anatomy and Physiology, Architecture, Anthropology, Computer Science and Information System, Biological Sciences, Civil and Structural Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Business and Management Studies, Mathematics, Economics and Econometrics, Chemistry, Accounting and Finance .[26]

YearWorld university rankingEuropean university rankingWorld reputation ranking
2011119 (THE)37 (THE)
201267 (THE 52)17 (THE 20)81-90 (THE)
201358 (THE 9)13 (THE 4)81-90 (THE )
201461 (THE 3)17 (THE 4)71-80 (THE )
201555 (THE 6) | 96 (ARWU )13 (THE 4) | 32 (ARWU )71-80 (THE )
201635 (THE 20) | 90 (ARWU 6)12 (THE 1) | 32 (ARWU )51-60 (THE )
201740 (THE 5) | 93 (ARWU 3)12 (THE ) | 32 (ARWU )51-60 (THE )
201847 (THE 7) | 90 (ARWU 3)14 (THE 2) | 31 (ARWU 1)71-80 (THE )
2019 48 (THE 1) | 86 (ARWU 4) 15 (THE ) | 28 (ARWU 3) 51-60 (THE )


#NameBegan officeEnded officeStudiesVice-rector
1Pieter De Somer19681985Medicine
2Roger Dillemans19851995Law
3André Oosterlinck19952005Engineering
4Marc Vervenne20052009TheologyMark Waer
5Mark Waer20092013Medicine
6Rik Torfs20132017Canon Law
7 Luc Sels (nl) 2017 Economics

Notable alumni

For pre-1970 alumni see Catholic University of Leuven (1834–1968)#Notable alumni

Honorary doctorates

Notable recipients of honorary doctorates at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven include:


See also


A.^ Dutch pronunciation: [katoˈlikə ʔynivɛrsiˈtɛit ˈløːvə(n)], listen 
B.^ According to the university's style guidelines, KU Leuven is the only official name in all languages. (in Dutch) However, according to the university's statutes, KU Leuven is an abbreviation of Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven, which is the university's legal name by the law of 28 May 1970 issuing legal personality to the institution, in the university's own official publications, with a variant Katholieke Universiteit Leuven according to the Flemish Community of Belgium.
C.^ The Old University of Leuven (1425–1797) is the oldest university in the low countries, and the Catholic University of Leuven (1834) is sometimes, controversially, identified as a continuation of it. In the mid-1800s, Belgium's highest court, the Court of Cassation, ruled that the 1834 "Catholic University of Leuven" was a different institution created under a different charter and thus cannot be regarded as continuing the 1425 "University of Leuven".[28] See also: History of the Old University of Leuven.


  1. Encyclopédie théologique, tome 54, Dictionnaire de l'histoire universelle de l'Église, Paris : éd. J.P. Migne, 1863, sub verbo Grégoire XVI, col. 1131 : "Après sa séparation de la Hollande en 1830, la Belgique libérale a vu son Église jouir d'une véritable indépendance. Les évêques s'assemblent en conciles, communiquent avec le Saint-Siège en toute liberté. Sur l'article fondamental des études, ils ont fondé l'université catholique de Louvain, où les jeunes Belges vont en foule puiser aux sources les plus pures toutes les richesses de la science". And : Edward van Even, Louvain dans le passé et dans le présent, Louvain, 1895, p. 606 : "Par lettre collective du 14 novembre 1833, le corps épiscopal s'adressa à Grégoire XVI, à l'effet d'obtenir l'autorisation nécessaire pour ouvrir l'école. Cette autorisation fut octroyée par un bref du 13 décembre suivant. Une circulaire épiscopale, datée du 20 février 1834, annonça aux fidèles la fondation d'une Université catholique".
  2. "About KU Leuven". www.kuleuven.be. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
  3. "The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019". THE World University Rankings. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  4. "QS World Universities Ranking 2020". QS Top Universities.
  5. "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2015".
  6. "Reuters Top 100". Reuters. Retrieved 2019-07-11.
  7. "Studeren aan de KU Leuven, ook buiten Leuven – KU Leuven". Kuleuven.be. Retrieved 2015-10-18.
  8. "International programmes". Kuleuven.be. Retrieved 2014-03-28.
  9. The law of 15 September 1793 had decreed the suppression of all the colleges and universities in France, but the universities remain de facto until the new law of 7 ventôse year III (25 February 1795) creating the Écoles centrales. In accordance with this law the University of Louvain was abolished by Decree of the Departement of the Dijle. Louis Trénard, De Douai à Lille, une université et son histoire, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 1978, p.37 note 6.
  10. Jan Roegiers et al., Leuven University, Leuven, Leuven University Press, 1990, p. 31: "With the Law of 3 Brumaire of Year IV, which reorganized higher education in the French Republic, there was no place for the University of Louvain, and it was abolished by Decree of the Departement of the Dijle on 25 october (1797)".
  11. Souvenir du XXVe anniversaire de la fondation de l'Université catholique: Novembre 1859, Louvain, typographie Vanlinthout et Cie, 1860 : "Inaugurée à Malines, le 4 novembre 1834, l'Université catholique a célébré à Louvain, le jeudi 3 novembre 1859, sa vingt-cinquième année d'existence"Souvenir du XXVe anniversaire de la fondation de l'Université catholique: Novembre 1859.
  12. "EFMD EQUIS Accreditation for KU Leuven's Faculty of Economics and Business".
  13. "Belgian support for innovative agricultural research".
  14. "Aantal studenten".
  15. "... that our library has more than 1.3 million volumes?". Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  16. "KU Leuven libraries". bib.kuleuven.be. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  17. "Studentenraad KU Leuven". Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  18. "KU Leuven New Member of VIU – international". www.kuleuven.be (in Dutch). Retrieved 2017-01-20.
  19. Members KU Leuven Association. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  20. "ARWU World University Rankings 2019 - Academic Ranking of World Universities 2019 - Top 500 universities - Shanghai Ranking - 2019". www.shanghairanking.com.
  21. "CWTS Leiden Ranking 2019". 23 September 2019.
  22. "World University Rankings". 23 September 2019.
  23. "U.S. News Education: Best Global Universities 2020". 21 November 2019.
  24. "QS World University Rankings 2020". 23 September 2019.
  25. Ewalt, David. "Europe's 100 Most Innovative Universities".
  26. "QS World University Rankings by Subject 2019". Top Universities. Retrieved 2017-05-11.
  27. "KU Leuven and UGent to confer joint honorary doctorate on Angela Merkel".
  28. Ruling of the Cour de Cassation of Belgium of 26 November 1846: "The Catholic University of Leuven can not be regarded as continuing the old University of Leuven", in, Table générale alphabétique et chronologique de la Pasicrisie Belge contenant la jurisprudence du Royaume de 1814 à 1850, Brussels, 1855, p. 585, column 1, alinea 2. See also: Bulletin Usuel des Lois et Arrêtés, 1861, p. 166.
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