Oldest of the present four universities in Syria.
Damascus University is one of four universities currently operating in Syria; the other three are the University of Aleppo, the University of Tishrin (at Latakia), and the University of the Baʿth (at Homs). The earliest institutions of higher learning in Ottoman Syria were the Institute of Medicine (Maʿhad al-Tibb) established in Damascus in 1903 and the School of Law (Madrasa al-Huquq) established in Beirut in 1913. After the end of Ottoman rule in Syria in 1918 and the establishment of the Arab government of King Faisal in Damascus (1918–1920), the Institute of Medicine and the School of Law, which had experienced difficulties and closures during World War I, were newly opened in Damascus in 1919. The Institute of Medicine was then renamed the Arab Institute of Medicine (al-Maʿhad al-Tibbi al-Arabi) and was headed by Dr. Rida Saʿid, who became president of the newly established Syrian University from 1923 to 1936.
On 15 June 1923, the head of the Union of Syrian States, created by the mandatory authorities of France, issued a decree establishing the Syrian University (al-Jamiʿa al-Suriyya) which was to include medicine and law in addition to the Arab Scientific Academy (al-Majma al-Ilmi al-Arabi), and the Arab Directorate of Antiquities (Dar al-Athar al-Arabiyya). On 15 March 1926, the academy and the Directorate of Antiquities were removed from the Syrian University. A School of Higher Literary Studies (Madrasat al-Durus al-Adabiyya al-Ulya) was established in 1928 and attached to the university. The school taught Arabic language and literature and Arabic philosophy and sociology over a period of three years. In 1929, it was renamed the School of Higher Letters (Madrasat al-Adab al-Ulya); between 1935 and 1956, it was closed.
The number of students in medicine and law rose from 180 (1919–1920) to 1,094 (1944–1945). Women first enrolled in medicine and law from 1922 to 1923. Their numbers in 1945 were 72 in medicine and 12 in law.
After Syria became independent in 1945, faculties of sciences and arts and a Higher Institute for Teachers were established the following year in the Syrian University. A Faculty of Engineering was opened in Aleppo the same year as part of the Syrian University. This faculty later became the nucleus of the University of Aleppo, established in 1958. In 1954, a Faculty of Islamic Law (shariʿa ) was established in the Syrian University. In 1956, the Institute of Commerce was established and attached to the Faculty of Law, becoming the Faculty of Commerce (1959–1960).
On 19 October 1958, during the union between Syria and Egypt, a new law was issued regulating the affairs of the universities. The Syrian University changed its name to Damascus University. Two new faculties for engineering and dentistry were added to it from 1959 to 1960.
Under the Baʿth party, which has been ruling Syria since 1963, and especially after the Correctionist Movement of President Hafiz al-Asad in 1970, university education expanded tremendously and the number of both students and faculty increased. The University of Tishrin was established in 1971 and the University of the Baʿth in 1979. In 2002 Damascus University included fourteen faculties plus the Institute for Administrative Development, as well as several teaching hospitals, a nursing school, and language centers. The university offers M.A. and Ph.D. programs in various disciplines. Enrollment for the 1998–1999 academic year was more than 23,000.
See also Aleppo; Asad, Hafiz al-; Baʿth, al-; Faisal I ibn Hussein; Homs; Latakia.