After the Great Flood the citizens of Szeged took steps on several occasions with a view to establishing an institution of higher education in Szeged. These efforts did not bear fruit until 1921 when the University of Kolozsvar (founded in 1872) moved to Szeged. This move was occasioned by the conclusion of World War I when the Trianon Peace Treaty changed the rule in Transylvania and ceded that province to Rumania.
Teaching at the University started on October 10, 1921. The town made considerable efforts to ensure suitable conditions for the new university. The new buildings constructed on the Szeged bank of the Tisza river between 1924 and 1930 housed first of all the clinics and the institutes of the Medical School. Other attractive buildings sourrounding the new Cathedral were given to the Faculty of Sciences and to the College of Catholic Theology. The Faculties of Law and Arts were accommodated in older buildings, originally used for other purposes.
Many outstanding professors worked at the university in the inter-war period, including Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who was the first to isolate vitamin C, extracting it from the Szeged paprika. Publications under the collective title of "Acta Universitatis Szegediensis", edited at different faculties and institutes, were already winning fame for the University at that time. Much merit lies with the Society of the Friends of the University which helped towards their publication. The present-day Medical School has been given its name after Szent-Gyorgyi.
During the Second World War, in 1940, the Jozsef Ferenc University was moved back again to Kolozsvar while in Szeged, mainly with the former staff and in the old buildings, a new university was legally established. Fascist laws issued during the war had a very adverse effect on both the personnel and the financial management of the University; the institution was in a very serious situation when the Soviet troops entered Szeged on October 11, 1944.
After World War II the University of Szeged was the first in Hungary to start functioning anew. Teaching began as early as November 3, 1945. In those years Rector Frigyes Riess, the famous mathematician, and his staff distinguished themselves in creating reliable conditions for the work of higher education.
In 1951, the Medical School was separated from the university and was established as an independent institution. In 1962 the University of Szeged assumed the name of the great Hungarian poet, Attila Jozsef, who was a student here in the 1920s. During the post-war period the University has undergone a tremendous development. Since the Medical School was separated, the departments of the remaining faculties grew from 36 to 82 by 1990. The number of students is about five times greater than those 774 who matriculated in 1945-6. A similar proportion applies to the teaching professorial staff. The number of academic staff at the University now totals 530. JATE plays an important role in Hungarian scholarly life and our University is not only a well-reputed school but in general qualifies as a research university and in several fields prides itself as being an important international research center, too. Nine of our professors are members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
The number of the university buildings and the area they cover have also grown considerably. As has been indicated, the University of Szeged has never had a unified campus, its buildings were rather scattered in the downtown area. As the university has grown, its buildings started characterizing more and more districts of the city. Remarkable among the new, modern establishments is the "Peace Building", inaugurated in 1952, which was built as a harmonious addition to the red brick buildings of the Faculty of Science. The Bolyai Institute of Mathematics occupied the former Highschool of the Piarist Order in 1951, right in the neighborhood of the other science departments. The completion of one wing of a planned triangular building in New Szeged - the Biology Center - further enlarged the space for natural sciences in 1974. Two years later a teacher training primary school was opened and the University's Computer Center could move into the modernized former prepschool building right in the city center, halfway between the Rector's office and the Faculty of Sciences. The Faculty of Arts could grow as some natural science departments abandoned the Arts Building in Ady square; further considerable extension was provided by acquiring an office building next to the Arts Building where the departments of education, psychology, philosophy, economics and sociology found accommodation in 1978. The Faculty of Law also gained space as in 1963-4 a new level was added to their old building. The infrastructure of the University and student life was facilitated by the construction of two large dormitories and an adjacent cafeteria in New Szeged (1966-1977). In 1986 the University purchased a large workers' hostel and turned it into a comfortable dormitory with which currently the dormitory places available amount to 950.
The 1980s did not bring major developments, the worsening economic situation demanded restricted budgets and by the end of the decade the University badly needed further physical upgrading. The turning of the decade fortunately has brought major changes. In 1989, with the changing of the political system in Hungary, the extensive infrastructure of the former Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party was redistributed and the buildings became utilised mostly for educational and medical purposes. As a result of these changes, in 1990, JATE could occupy the county headquarters of that party, a lavish seven-storey building which now houses the Financing Office and parts of the Faculty of Law. Another important project, the renovation of the Irinyi Building next to the Faculty of Sciences was completed in 1992. The old-new Irinyi will accommodate the bulk of the most needed new classrooms and lecture halls serving all three faculties. Also this building is the center of catering: three comfortable cafeterias and a charming restaurant offer good food to students and faculty. One should also mention the restructuring of the majestic central building of the University in Dugonics square. With the removal of the Financing Office, the University Library can grow by almost one third of its original space, and also the rectors of both universities will have more comfortable offices. The central building houses the Faculty Club and the Students' Club, too. Further university facilities are the general sports ground and gymnasium in the square behind the Arts Building, a high quality tennis center in the park in New Szeged, a picturesque lodge and conference hall (once a country school now modernized) in the woods, 30 kms from Szeged, and a resort house at lake Balaton.
The university's future has been determined by a few cardinal decisions in the past year. The leaders of the institutions of higher education in Szeged (JATE, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi Medical University, Gyula Juhasz Teacher Training College, Ferenc Liszt College of Music, College of Catholic Theology, and the College of Food Technology and Engineering) have signed an agreement to merge these institutions into a unified, sizable center of higher education, to be called the University of Szeged. Parallel with this decision they have applied to the government that the former barracks of the Soviet Red Army which were evacuated in early 1991 should be donated to this new "Universitas" and the whole area near Szeged turned into a modern campus-complex to be ready to accommodate the university of the next century. These are plans only for the years after 2000. However the principals and councils of the universities of Szeged feel the responsibility to work for the future, and prepare the physical framework which can hold the desired, unified, large-scale University aspiring for significance in the whole South-East European region.