It was founded in 1889 by local businessman Georges Python, although the origins of the university can be traced to 1580 with the foundation of the Jesuit Seminary of St. Michel. Courses in this University are given in the French language and German language. Except for certain departments (such as history and law) where curricula are available in both languages, students are normally expected to understand both languages. Students number about 10,000. Traditionally, the university also attracts a strong contingent of students from Italian-speaking Ticino. The Misericorde Campus, constructed between 1939–42 was designed by the architects Honegger and Dumas, students of the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier and as such is deemed to be of major architectural importance.
The University owes its origin to the foundation of the Jesuit College St. Michel on Belze Hill by St. Pierre Canisius in 1580 at the invitation of the government of Fribourg. The question of Catholic higher education came to the fore with the development of the Protestant academies at Geneva, Lausanne and Basle. In 1763, an Academy of Law was founded, housed in the Albertinium(now a Dominican residence). In 1834, the cantonal library was formed from works brought to Fribourg (from Catholic monasteries) for safekeeping. The College St. Michel was closed following the expulsion of the Jesuits by the Bernese from Fribourg after the canton's defeat in the Sonderbund war.
In 1886, Georges Python, founder of the cantonal bank and State Counsellor for Fribourg (M.P. in the upper house of the Swiss parliament) became Director of Public Education. He raised funds through a lottery and was granted some 2,500,000 CHF by the canton. One of the conditions was that he should delay the construction of the university buildings and lectures took place in the buildings of St. Michel. The cantonal library became integrated with that of the university and the Academy became the Faculty of Law. Benito Mussolini worked as a stone mason on the Bibliothèque Cantonale et universitaire (BCU) centrale, the central library of the university The Dominicans managed the theological faculty, due to an agreement with the canton of Fribourg. The buildings of St. Michel eventually became too crowded and in 1939 the university moved to a new campus constructed on the former cemetery of Misericorde, ceding St. Michel to one of Fribourg's gymnasia, which took the name College St. Michel. During the Second World War, the University set up "university camps" along with the University of Zürich to educate Polish prisoners of war.
The Perolles campus was constructed on the site of a former wagon factory.
Although lectures were originally in Latin, Fribourg is now the only French/German bilingual university in the world (40% French and 60% German).The town itself is 70% French and 30% German. This fact, coupled with the traditional dominance of French as the language of the city aristocracy explains why French has remained so dominant in university administration and in the AGEF (Association Generale des Etudiants Fribourgois), the Student's Union. To commemorate the centerary of the University La Poste issued a stamp depicting the figures Science and Sagesse.
The University just completed construction of its Perolles 2 campus, to which the Faculty of Economics and Social Science relocated. Plans are underway to commence construction of a Museum for Biblical Antiquities which will be housed in the Tower of Henry IV once it is renovated. *The University has the third largest collection of Biblical antiquities in the world after the British Museum and the Cairo Museum. Fribourg has also developed FriMat, a centre of excellence in nanotechnology. As part of the BeNeFri association comprising the Universities of Berne, Neuchatel and Fribourg, students at any one of these universities may take courses at another in the association and still receive credit at their home institution. The academic degrees were the Demi-Licence, Licence, DEA / DESS, Doctorate. The University now follows the requirements of the Bologna process.
Fribourg has no central campus and its buildings are located throughout the city. The main sites are:
The main sports at the University are skiing, fencing, ice hockey, football, and basketball. In common with many Swiss universities, Fribourg does not have its own halls of residence. A minority of students live in foyers often run by religious organisations (though the University aids with some of the construction costs), but most rent places of their own, a common practice in Switzerland. Two of the main foyers at Fribourg are Cité St. Justin and the Salesianum. There is also a student housing cooperative known as APARTIS.
Primary degrees used to last for five or five and a half years, culminating in a Lizenziat (equivalent to a Master's degree), although with the introduction of the Bologna reforms, the University awards a BA after three years and an MA after a further two years. Students are issued with a tabella, a book in which they record all the lectures which they have attended, and which the professors sign.
Fribourg also has an active nightlife, with bars like the Café Populaire (with its renowned Crazy Mondays) or the Irish Pub and clubs like the To See and the Spirit Club. The Fri-Son club often presents famous musical acts, with venues as diversified as Death Cab for Cutie, X-cutioners, Booba, Pleymo, Air, Soulfly, The Decemberists, Zuriwest,Stress...
The University Seal depicts a Cross and Bishop's ring representing the University's Catholic ethos on a shield of black and white, representing the canton of Fribourg. This is being replaced increasingly by the use of a blue logo with triangles depicting the Alps and the name of the University in Latin.