During its long history, Alba Iulia proved to be a city that encouraged the development of plural identities. The existence of communities made up of Romanians, Hungarians, Jews and Germans is a testament to this tradition. Further evidence is shown in the work of the libraries and printing presses, in operation since the Middle Ages, publishing books in the many languages of the city. The establishment of the University College of Alba Iulia in 1622, the second institution of this kind in Transylvania after the Jesuit college in Cluj founded in 1581, is further testimony to this pluralist identity. Seeking to elevate Alba Iulia to the role of the Heidelberg of the East, Prince Gabriel Bethlen invited foreign professors to Alba Iulia. Among them one may highlight the poet Martin Opitz, considered the father of German literature, and renowned theologians and philosophers such as Johannes Henricus Alstedius, Johannes Henricus Bisterfeldius, Isaacus Basirius and Johannes Piscator, as well as many Transylvanian professors.
Like western European universities of the age, humanities disciplines such as theology, philosophy, classical languages, rhetoric, poetics and oratory were taught at the University of Alba Iulia. Gabriel Bethlen’s college came to an end during the ransacking of the city by the Ottoman-Tartar invasion led by Mohamed Köprülü on 5-6 September 1658. The archive and library of the college were destroyed and 53 students were killed. After the Habsburg incorporation of Transylvania at the end of the seventeenth century, the city lost its status as capital of the principality and its cultural and ecclesiastic importance declined. For three hundred years there was no university at Alba Iulia.
This long hiatus came to an end less than two years after the fall of Communism in Romania. A decree issued on 9 July 1991, by the government of Petre Roman, authorized the establishment of the “1 Decembrie 1918” University of Alba Iulia. Given the historical resonances of the city and its long tradition in teaching humanities, the Faculty of Humanities was established, having two specializations: history-archaeology and orthodox theology – social assistance. To this was added the Technical and Economic College, with specialization accounting and economic communications, business and tourism management, and silicate technology. While other universities had held admission exams in July 1991; the University of Alba Iulia was the only one that organised its admission competition in the fall of that year. There was tough competition for all specializations with a total of 995 candidates competing for one of 140 student places. Iuliu Paul, an expert in prehistory, was appointed rector of the new university and led the institution from its establishment until the year 2000.
On 30 September 1991, in the ballroom of what was then the Army Hall (in fact the Prince’s Palace), the academic year of 1991-1992 began in splendour and high emotion. The rector and representatives of central and local authorities spoke at the opening ceremony and Alba Iulia became a student city once again: something of a novelty for most of the city’s inhabitants. The Prefect’s Office, National Museum of Unification, Horea, Cloșca și Crișan High-school and the Orthodox Bishopric supported the new university logistically and in the recruitment of teaching staff.
From 1991 to 1995 the development of the university was modest, both in terms of the number of specializations and number of students, as well as the development of local academic personnel. From 1995-2004, the university came to define its mission as a higher education and research institution opening new specializations in the fields of Philology, Economics, Orthodox Theology and Sociology. Starting in the academic year 1998-1999, the university established a teacher training college in Blaj. From 2004 to 2008 important investments were made in constructing new teaching, research and administrative and services spaces; and the organization and structuring of academic activities was aligned with the process of admission of Romania to the European Union. Since 2008, the policy priorities of the institution included adaptation of study programs to the demands of labour markets, the development of scientific research and the expansion of the teaching and research spaces of the university.
In its twenty-five years of existence the University of Alba Iulia has made tremendous progress. Since the academic history of the seventeenth century was too distant to be of use, the new institution had to start from scratch. No less than 16 buildings totalling 25,000 square meters now constitute its property. Ten of these buildings are dedicated exclusively to teaching and research purposes. Over 150 faculty members and 140 auxiliary teaching and administrative staff serve the university and over 4,000 students are enrolled in the three levels of academic programmes: Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and doctorates. In recognition of these achievements, 170 universities and institutions from Romania and abroad have signed cooperation and partnership agreements with the University of Alba Iulia. (S. A.)