University of Copenhagen

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University of Copenhagen
Københavns Universitet
Latin: Universitas Hafniensis
MottoLatin: Coelestem adspicit lucem
Motto in English
It (the eagle) beholds the celestial light
Type Public research university [1]
Established1479;543 years ago (1479)
Budget DKK 8.908 bn
($1.338 bn) (2018) [2]
Rector Henrik C. Wegener [3]
Academic staff
5,286 (2019) [4]
Administrative staff
4,119 (2017) [4]
Students37,493 (2019) [5]
Undergraduates 21,394 (2019) [5]
Postgraduates 16,079 (2019) [5]
3,106 (2016) [6]
Campus Urban
94.2 ha (total)
Student newspaper Uniavisen
Maroon and gray [7]
Affiliations IARU
Universities Denmark [8]
University of Copenhagen Wordmark.svg
University Main Building.jpg
KU frue plads.jpg
University Main Building at Frue Plads

The University of Copenhagen (Danish : Københavns Universitet, abbr.KU) is a public research university in Copenhagen, Denmark. Founded in 1479, the University of Copenhagen is the second-oldest university in Scandinavia after Uppsala University, and ranks as one of the top universities in the Nordic countries and Europe. [9]


Its establishment sanctioned by Pope Sixtus IV, the University of Copenhagen was founded by Christian I of Denmark as a Catholic teaching institution with a predominantly theological focus. In 1537, it was re-established by King Christian III as part of the Lutheran Reformation. Up until the 18th century, the university was primarily concerned with educating clergymen. Through various reforms in the 18th and 19th century, the University of Copenhagen was transformed into a modern, secular university, with science and the humanities replacing theology as the main subjects studied and taught. [9]

The University of Copenhagen consists of six different faculties, with teaching taking place in its four distinct campuses, all situated in Copenhagen. [10] [11] The university operates 36 different departments and 122 separate research centres in Copenhagen, as well as a number of museums and botanical gardens in and outside the Danish capital. [12] The University of Copenhagen also owns and operates multiple research stations around Denmark, with two additional ones located in Greenland. [13] [14] Additionally, The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and the public hospitals of the Capital and Zealand Region of Denmark constitute the conglomerate Copenhagen University Hospital. [15]

A number of prominent scientific theories and schools of thought are namesakes of the University of Copenhagen. The famous Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics was conceived at the Niels Bohr Institute, which is part of the university. [16] The Department of Political Science birthed the Copenhagen School of Security Studies, which is also named after the university. [17] Others include the Copenhagen School of Theology and the Copenhagen School of Linguistics. [18]

As of January 2022, 9 Nobel laureates [19] and 1 Turing Award laureate have been affiliated with the University of Copenhagen as students, alumni or faculty. [20] Alumni include one president of the United Nations General Assembly and at least 24 prime ministers of Denmark. The University of Copenhagen fosters entrepreneurship, and between 5 and 6 start-ups are founded by students, alumni or faculty members each week. [21]


The Round Tower (Rundetarn), used as an observatory by astronomer Ole Romer. Copenhagen - Rundetarn - 2013.jpg
The Round Tower (Rundetårn), used as an observatory by astronomer Ole Rømer.

The University of Copenhagen was founded on 1 June 1479 and is the oldest university in Denmark. In 1475, Christian I of Denmark received a papal bull from Pope Sixtus IV with permission to establish a university in Denmark. [22] The bull was issued on 19 June 1475 as a result of the visit to Rome by Christian I's wife, Dorothea of Brandenburg, Queen of Denmark. [23]

On 4 October 1478 Christian I of Denmark issued a royal decree by which he officially established the University of Copenhagen. In this decree, Christian I set down the rules and laws governing the university. The royal decree elected magistar Peder Albertsen as vice chancellor of the university, and the task was his to employ various learned scholars at the new university and thereby establish its first four faculties: theology, law, medicine and philosophy. The royal decree made the University of Copenhagen enjoy royal patronage from its very beginning. Furthermore, the university was explicitly established as an autonomous institution, giving it a great degree of juridical freedom. As such, the University of Copenhagen was to be administered without royal interference, and it was not subject to the usual laws governing the Danish people. [23]

The University of Copenhagen was dissolved in about 1531 as a result of the spread of Protestantism. It was re-established in 1537 by King Christian III after the Lutheran Reformation. The king charged Johannes Bugenhagen, who came from Wittenberg to Copenhagen to take up a chair of theology, with the drawing up of a new University Charter. The resulting Charter was issued in 1539. [24] Between 1675 and 1788, the university introduced the concept of degree examinations. An examination for theology was added in 1675, followed by law in 1736. By 1788, all faculties required an examination before they would issue a degree.

In 1807, the British Bombardment of Copenhagen destroyed most of the university's buildings. [25] By 1836, however, the new main building of the university was inaugurated amid extensive building that continued until the end of the century. The University Library (now a part of the Royal Library), the Zoological Museum, the Geological Museum, the Botanic Garden with greenhouses, and the Technical College were also established during this period.

Interior of the old university library at Fiolstraede around 1920. Kobenhavnsuniversitetsbibliotekfiolstraede.jpg
Interior of the old university library at Fiolstræde around 1920.

Between 1842 and 1850, the faculties at the university were restructured. Starting in 1842, the University Faculty of Medicine and the Academy of Surgeons merged to form the Faculty of Medical Science, while in 1848 the Faculty of Law was reorganised and became the Faculty of Jurisprudence and Political Science. In 1850, the Faculty of Mathematics and Science was separated from the Faculty of Philosophy. In 1845 and 1862 Copenhagen co-hosted Nordic student meetings with Lund University.

The first female student was enrolled at the university in 1877. The university underwent explosive growth between 1960 and 1980. The number of students rose from around 6,000 in 1960 to about 26,000 in 1980, with a correspondingly large growth in the number of employees. Buildings built during this time period include the new Zoological Museum, the Hans Christian Ørsted and August Krogh Institutes, the campus centre on Amager Island, and the Panum Institute.

The Geological Museum. Geologisk Museum 2.jpg
The Geological Museum.

The new university statute instituted in 1970 involved democratisation of the management of the university. It was modified in 1973 and subsequently applied to all higher education institutions in Denmark. The democratisation was later reversed with the 2003 university reforms. Further change in the structure of the university from 1990 to 1993 made a Bachelor's degree programme mandatory in virtually all subjects.

Also in 1993, the law departments broke off from the Faculty of Social Sciences to form a separate Faculty of Law. In 1994, the University of Copenhagen designated environmental studies, north–south relations, and biotechnology as areas of special priority according to its new long-term plan. Starting in 1996 and continuing to the present, the university planned new buildings, including for the University of Copenhagen Faculty of Humanities at Amager (Ørestaden), along with a Biotechnology Centre. By 1999, the student population had grown to exceed 35,000, resulting in the university appointing additional professors and other personnel.

South Campus. Nyekua.jpg
South Campus.

In 2003, the revised Danish university law removed faculty, staff and students from the university decision process, creating a top-down control structure that has been described as absolute monarchy, since leaders are granted extensive powers while being appointed exclusively by higher levels in the organization. [26]

In 2005, the Center for Health and Society (Center for Sundhed og Samfund – CSS) opened in central Copenhagen, housing the Faculty of Social Sciences and Institute of Public Health, which until then had been located in various places throughout the city. In May 2006, the university announced further plans to leave many of its old buildings in the inner city of Copenhagen, an area that has been home to the university for more than 500 years. The purpose of this has been to gather the university's many departments and faculties on three larger campuses in order to create a bigger, more concentrated and modern student environment with better teaching facilities, as well as to save money on rent and maintenance of the old buildings. The concentration of facilities on larger campuses also allows for more inter-disciplinary cooperation; for example, the Departments of Political Science and Sociology are now located in the same facilities at CSS and can pool resources more easily.

In January 2007, the University of Copenhagen merged with the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University and the Danish University of Pharmaceutical Science. The two universities were converted into faculties under the University of Copenhagen, and were renamed as the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. In January 2012, the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the veterinary third of the Faculty of Life Sciences merged with the Faculty of Health Sciences forming the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences – and the other two thirds of the Faculty of Life Sciences were merged into the Faculty of Science.


The university has four main campus areas that are located in the Capital Region (three in Copenhagen and one in Frederiksberg): [27]

The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and the Faculty of Science also use the Taastrup Campus, which is located in Taastrup on the western outskirts of Copenhagen. [27] The Faculty of Science also has facilities in Helsingør, Hørsholm and Nødebo. [27]

Organisation and administration

The university is governed by a board consisting of 11 members: 6 members recruited outside the university form the majority of the board, 2 members are appointed by the scientific staff, 1 member is appointed by the administrative staff, and 2 members are appointed by the university students. The rector, the prorector and the director of the university are appointed by the university board. The rector in turn appoints directors of the different parts of the central administration and deans of the different faculties. The deans appoint heads of 50 departments. There is no faculty senate and faculty is not involved in the appointment of rector, deans, or department heads. Hence the university has no faculty governance, although there are elected Academic Boards at faculty level who advise the deans. [28] As of 2018, the governing body manages an annual budget of about DKK 8.9 billion. [2]

The university is organized into six faculties and about 100 departments and research centres. The university employs about 5,600 academic staff and 4,400 technical and administrative staff. The six faculties are:

The total number of enrolled students is about 40,000, including about 23,000 undergraduate students and 17,000 graduate students. The university has an international graduate talent program which provides grants for international Ph.D., students and a tenure track carrier system. It operates about fifty master's programmes taught in English, and has arranged about 150 exchange agreements with other institutions and 800 Erasmus agreements. Each year there are about 1,700 incoming exchange students, 2,000 outbound exchange students and 4,000 international degree-seeking students. About 3,000 PhD students study there each year.

University housing

Tietgenkollegiet. Tietgenkollegiet.jpg

Most university students stay in privately owned dormitories (kollegier in Danish) or apartments in Copenhagen. There are five dormitories that are partially administered by the university; however, only students who have passed at least two years of studies are considered for admission. These are normally referred to as the old dormitories, and they consist of Regensen, Elers' Kollegium, Borchs Kollegium, Hassagers Kollegium, and Valkendorfs Kollegium. The University of Copenhagen also offers Carlsberg Foundation researcher apartments for a duration of 6 months to 3 years for visiting research and academic research staff who affiliated with research projects funded by the Carlsberg Foundation.

The Housing Foundation Copenhagen is a separate commercial entity to the University of Copenhagen [29] run by Chairman Erik Bisgaard Madsen [30] and a board of directors. [31] The Housing Foundation Copenhagen provides short-term housing exclusively for university international students ( sometimes Danish students), university staff and guest researchers. [32] Their central office is based at South Campus. The Housing Foundation Copenhagen has revieved considerable criticism for the exploitation of international students for business profits and poor living conditions, [33] [34] and most recently the refusal of shortening contracts for many international students affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. [35]


The university's oldest known seal dates from a 1531 letter, it depicts Saint Peter with a key and a book. In a circle around him is the text

Sigillum universitatis studii haffnensis.

When the university was re-established by Christian III in 1537 after the Protestant Reformation, it received a new seal, showing king Christian III with crown, sceptre, and globus cruciger above a crowned coat of arms vertically divided between halved versions of the coat of arms of Denmark (to the viewer's left, dexter ) and the coat of arms of Norway (to the viever's right, sinister ). The text is

Sigillum Universitatis Hafniensis A Christiano III Rege Restauravit
(i.e. Seal of the University of Copenhagen, reestablished by King Christian III).

The 1537 seal is very similar to the current seal, which was made in 2000 and is shown at the top of this page. The text is different and the crowned shield shows the coat of arms of Denmark (as has been the case since 1820, when the heraldic reference to Norway was removed). The text is

Sigillum Universitatis Hafniensis
Fundatæ 1479
Reformatæ 1537
Seal of the University of Copenhagen
Founded 1479
Reformed 1537

In addition to the university seal, each of the university's six faculties carry seals of their own.

The seal of 1531 (left) and the seal of 1537 (right) Old seals of Uni Cph.jpg
The seal of 1531 (left) and the seal of 1537 (right)

International reputation

University rankings
Global – Overall
ARWU World [36] 30
CWUR World [37] 39
QS World [38] 76
THE World [39] 84
USNWR Global [40] 34

The 2021 CWTS Leiden Ranking ranks the University of Copenhagen as the best university in Denmark and best in Continental Europe, 4th in Europe (after Oxford, UCL and Cambridge) and 27th in the world. [41]

The 2021 Academic Ranking of World Universities published by Shanghai Jiao Tong University ranked the University of Copenhagen as the best university in Denmark and Scandinavia, 7th in Europe and 30th in the world. [36] In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2021, the University of Copenhagen is ranked first in Denmark and 84th in the world. [39] In the 2021 QS World University Rankings list, the University of Copenhagen is ranked 76th in the world. [42] In the 2021 U.S. News & World Report's Best Global Universities Rankings list, the University of Copenhagen is ranked first in Denmark and 34th in the world. [40]

The international standing of University of Copenhagen has recently been questioned due to the lack of faculty governance since the change of the Danish academic system in the early 2000s. Tenure does not exist in Denmark, [43] [ circular reference ] and the university managers have put the reputation at risk by e.g. the illegal dismissal [44] of the internationally prominent geoscientist, Hans Thybo. [45]

Cooperative agreements with other universities

The university cooperates with universities around the world. In January 2006, the University of Copenhagen entered into a partnership of ten top universities, along with the Australian National University, ETH Zürich, National University of Singapore, Peking University, University of California Berkeley, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University of Tokyo and Yale University. The partnership is referred to as the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU).

The Department of Scandinavian Studies and Linguistics at University of Copenhagen signed a cooperation agreement with the Danish Royal School of Library and Information Science in 2009. [46] [47]

The university hosts the annual Aging Research and Drug Discovery conference in cooperation with Columbia University.

List of rectors

Henrik Caspar Wegener (2017–present). He is the 259th rector. [48]

List of directors of the Royal Academy Schools

The oldest surviving lecture plan from the university is from 1537. Kobenhavns universitet lektionskatalog 1537.jpg
The oldest surviving lecture plan from the university is from 1537.
18231824 Matthias Hastrup Bornemann
18241825 Oluf Lundt Bang
18251826 Hans Christian Ørsted
18261827 Knud Lyne Rahbek
18271828 Peter Erasmus Müller
18281829 Johan Frederik Vilhelm Schlegel
18291830 Johan Sylvester Saxtorph
18301831 Jens Wilken Hornemann
18311832 Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger
18321833 Jens Møller
18331834 Janus Lauritz Andreas Kolderup Rosenvinge
18341835 Johan Daniel Herholdt
18351836 Christian Thorning Engelstoft
18361837 Erich Christian Werlauff
18371838 Henrik Nicolai Clausen
18381839 Johannes Ephraim Larsen
18391840 Oluf Lundt Bang
18401841 Hans Christian Ørsted
18411842 Peter Oluf Brøndsted
18421843 Carl Emil Scharling

Notable alumni

Over the course of its history, a sizeable number of University of Copenhagen alumni have become notable in their fields, both academic, and in the wider world. [49]

Tycho Brahe Tycho Brahe.JPG
Tycho Brahe
Ole Romer Ole Romer (Coning painting).jpg
Ole Rømer
Soren Kierkegaard Kierkegaard.jpg
Søren Kierkegaard
Niels Bohr Niels Bohr.jpg
Niels Bohr
Piet Hein Piet Hein and H.C. Andersen (cropped).jpg
Piet Hein

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Coordinates: 55°40′47″N12°34′21″E / 55.67972°N 12.57250°E / 55.67972; 12.57250