The Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) - or Free University of Brussels in English - was founded in 1834, as a reaction against the Catholic domination in Higher Education at that time. The Free Enquiry ("libre examen" in French or "vrij onderzoek" in Dutch) refers to the freedom of expressing opinions, which is the founding principle of the university. Like almost any institution in bilingual Belgium, the Brussels university was split into a French- and a Dutch-speaking part. This led to the creation of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) as a separate institution in 1969. Although the ULB and the VUB are now practically and legally independent, they maintain privileged relations and continue to share their original philosophy: a secular, liberal and progressive approach to education, based on the principles of "libre examen" and humanism.
This principle is based on a text by the French mathematician and natural philosopher Henri Poincaré (1854-1912), in which he states:
Since their creation, both universities have kept the flame of freedom burning and have always defended major issues such as democracy, individual freedom and the respect of human rights.
Currently, the VUB has about 9,000 students, and the ULB about 18,000. Although registration fees for university studies in Belgium are already exceptionally low compared to the rest of the world, the Free Universities VUB/ULB have always strived to keep the costs of studying to a minimum, and to provide extensive social services and financial support, so that students from even the poorest backgrounds are able to access Higher Education without discrimination.
In the social sense, the VUB/ULB can certainly not be described as elitist, many of their researchers and research departments are of international renown and strive for excellence. The ULB has many distinguished alumni. Even though the VUB is a smaller university with a much shorter history, it too hosts leading researchers.