The origins of the University of Costa Rica are rooted in the decrees signed in 1843, when the Casa de Enseñanza de Santo Tomás was transformed into a university.
By the end of the XIX century, Costa Rica was an oligarchic and liberal country, whose policies focused solely on primary education. Therefore, this led to the closing of the University of Santo Tomas after 45 years of operation. This same decree created the higher schools of Law and Notaries, Medicine, and Engineering. Later, the schools of Pharmacy and Fine Arts were created in 1897.
After 1890, higher education in the country was represented by professional schools and colleges that operated under the direction of their respective professional associations, as there was no higher education institution as such. During the first decades of the XX century, a few proposals to create a university were made, but they had no success given the policy that dominated the country. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the reformism in Costa Rica led by Luis Demetrio Tinoco prompted the immediate creation of the University of Costa Rica. Thus, under the Administration of Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia, by means of Law N° 362, the Universidad de Costa Rica was officially created as an institution of higher education and culture.
Lucem Aspicio, Looking toward the Light
On March 7, 1941, the University of Costa Rica opened its doors in the capital neighborhood Gonzalez Lahmann with a total of 719 students.
The University is structured as a tripartite entity with a University Assembly, a University Council, and a University Presidency. Since its onset, its governing, administrative, and financial autonomy has been part of its organizational model, as dreamed by Luis Demetrio Tinoco, and as stated in Article 4 of its founding law. Since the beginning, the university has been a state entity as it provides a service that guarantees the equality of opportunities to have access to education and that is linked to democracy.
In 1946, several scholars such as Carlos Monge Alfaro, Abelardo Bonilla Baldares, and Rodrigo Facio Brenes got concerned about the seemingly disconnection of the various schools of the University. Thus, in that year, the First University Congress was organized. The fundamental result of this activity was the creation of the School of Humanities, which would operate as a unifying and articulating element in the institution.
Meanwhile, a project to build a university campus was presented. Construction started in San Pedro de Montes de Oca in 1956. The building of the College of Engineering was actually the first to be built.
As a consequence of the discussions of the previous years, in 1957, the University defined itself as “a general humanistic culture” entity, and it is reorganized into three sections: Humanities (sciences and letters), professional colleges and schools, and the College of Higher Studies.
Later on, after the Third University Congress in 1973, it was proposed to regionalize the institution; one of the main promoters of this movement was Carlos Monge Alfaro. The idea was materialized with the opening of the San Ramón Regional Center (known today as the Occidente Campus) under the full name Ciudad Universitaria Carlos Monge Alfaro. Its regional horizon has been expanded by opening campuses in other parts of the country: Atlántico, Limón, Guanacaste, and Pacífico.
Two important outcomes of this congress were the creation of the Vice Presidency of Research and, in 1974, the creation of the Vice Presidency of Social Affairs. The latter focuses on three areas: student social service through its Community Outreach Program, cultural outreach, and dissemination of the university activities in the media.
The Vice Presidency of Social Affairs currently offers programs committed to and interested in a variety of populations. The Centro Infantil Laboratorio was created in 1984 to care for the children of students, employees, and community residents. The Comprehensive Program for Senior Citizens was created in 1986. The Music Arts Basic Program grants children and adolescents who graduate from this program a VAU-2 diploma. Finally, the Continuous Education Program developed in cooperation with several academic units provides university employees the opportunity to get a GDE diploma.
In the 1980s, the research efforts were redoubled with the creation of 11 research units.
In the 1990s, the UCR entered the digital area by being the first institution in Central America and the Caribbean to bring Internet to its campus. Its regionalization expansion was also important to enrich the University of Costa Rica, as new majors were developed in some regional campuses according to the needs of their surrounding communities, including Informatics for Businesses, Chemical Lab Technician, and Ecological Tourism.
In 2001 the University of Costa Rica was declared by the Legislative Assembly as Meritorious Institution of the Education and Culture of Costa Rica through Decree No. 8098. Since 2011, the University of Costa Rica has been improving its position in the Latin American university ranking (www.topuniversities.com, as it went from the 59th position in 2011 to the 26th in 2013.