It was founded in 1559 by John Calvin as a theological seminary and law school. It remained focused on theology until the 17th century, when it became a center for Enlightenment scholarship. In 1873, it dropped its religious affiliations and became officially secular. Today, the university is the third largest university in Switzerland by number of students. In 2009, the University of Geneva celebrated the 450th anniversary of its founding. Almost 40% of the students come from foreign countries.
The university holds and actively pursues teaching, research, and community service as its primary objectives. In 2016, it was ranked 53rd worldwide by the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities, 89th by the QS World University Rankings, and 131st in the TIMES Higher Education World University Ranking.
UNIGE is a member of the League of European Research Universities (including academic institutions such as Amsterdam, Cambridge, Heidelberg, Helsinki and Milan) the Coimbra Group and the European University Association.
The University of Geneva is located in several districts in the eastern part of the city and in the nearby city of Carouge (on the left bank of the Lake Léman and the Rhône), and the different buildings are sometimes very distant from each other (the Battelle buildings are for instance more than three kilometers away from the Bastions). The oldest building (1559) is the Collège Calvin, and is not anymore a university building. Lectures are given in six different main locations, Les Bastions, Uni Dufour, Sciences I, II and III, Uni Mail and Uni Pignon, Centre Médical Universitaire (CMU), and Battelle; as well as in other less important locations (for instance part of the Mathematics Section is located at the second and (partly) third and sixth storeys rented by the university in an office building in Carouge).
Built between 1868 and 1871, Uni Bastions is the symbol of Geneva's academic life. It is located in the middle of a park and is host to the faculty of Protestant Theology and to the Faculty of Arts.
Its architecture was inspired by Le Corbusier. It hosts the Rectorat and the administration of the University.
It is Switzerland's biggest building dedicated to social sciences. It currently hosts the Faculty of Law, of Economics and Management, of Psychology and Education and the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting.
The University of Geneva is structured in various faculties and interfaculty centers which are representing teaching, research and service to society in the various disciplines.
- Faculty of Sciences 
- Faculty of Medicine 
- Faculty of Humanities 
- Faculty Geneva School of Economics and Management (GSEM) 
- Faculty Geneva School of Social Sciences (G3S) 
- Faculty of Law (Geneva Law School) 
- Faculty of Theology 
- Faculty of Psychology and School of Education 
- Faculty of Translation and Interpreting 
The university is composed of fourteen interfacultary centers. Amongst others:
- Institute for Reformation History  (the Reformation)
- Computer Science Department  (computer science)
- Institute for Environmental Sciences  (energy policy)
- The Global Studies Institute 
- Interfaculty Center of Gerontology  (gerontology)
- Swiss Center for Affective Sciences (affective science)
The university has also several partnerships with the nearby institutions, where students at the university may take courses.
- Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID)
- Bossey Ecumenical Institute (of the World Council of Churches)
- Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro-engineering
- Swiss National Supercomputing Centre
- Art-Law Centre  
- Center for Biomedical Imaging  (CIBM)
- University Centre of Legal Medicine  (CURML)
- The Institute for Work and Health  (IST)
The University of Geneva had a budget of roughly 760 million CHF for the year 2016. It mostly comes from the cantonal subventions, the other notable contributors being the federal state and the tuition fees.
Libraries and press
UNIGE's library facilities are spread across four sites.
Uni Arve is host to seven libraries: the Bibliothèque Ernst & Lucie Schmidheiny, the Bibliothèque d'Anthropologie, the Bibliothèque du Centre universitaire d'informatique, the Bibliothèque Georges de Rham (Mathematics), the Bibliothèque de l'Institut des Sciences de l'environnement (ISE), Bibliothèque de l'Observatoire (Astronomy) and the Bibliothèque des Sciences de la Terre et de l'environnement.
Uni Bastions hosts the language libraries, as well as the university's libraries focused on history and musicology.
Uni CMU is home to an extensive collection of medical issues. Besides, it is also hosts the Centre de documentation en santé (CDS) and the Bibliothèque de l’Institut de la médecine et de la santé et de l’Institut d’éthique biomédicale (IHMS - IEB).
Uni Mail's collection is focused on the following themes: Economics and social sciences, Law, Psychology and Learning Sciences, Translation and Interpreting, European studies, French as a foreign language and Musicology. Besides, it also hosts UNIGE's multimedia library.
The journal de l'UNIGE is released biweekly. Its purpose is to ease communication inside the university, to inform the students about the research being carried at UNIGE, to convey new opinions and to inform students and teachers of upcoming university events via l'Agenda.
Campus is released monthly with the objective to ease communication between the scientific community and the citizens and to be a "bridge between science and city".
To be enrolled in a bachelor programme, one must hold a Swiss maturity diploma or a secondary diploma considered by the University of Geneva to be equivalent. If the degree was not pursued in French, applicants must pass an eliminatory French language test at the beginning of September, which consists of an oral and a written comprehension test and of a piece of argumentative writing. Tuition fees are of CHF 500 per semester.
UNIGE's academic year runs from mid-September to mid-June. It is divided in two semesters, each one being concluded by an examination session, held respectively at the beginning of January and at the beginning of June. An examination session is held at the end of August and beginning of September as a retake for students who failed their January or June examinations.
During the three days before the start of the new academic year, the Journées d'accueil (Welcome Days) are organized by the University to introduce the new students to the city and the facilities, tips are also given on how to succeed at university. A second chapter including city tours, outdoor concerts and animations is also organized by the student association UniAccueil (AUA) to celebrate the new academic year.
Before 2005, the University applied various very different models, depending on Faculties, and sometimes even on Departments (or "Sections"). Some Faculties applied the French education model of granting academic degrees, with some minor differences: demi-licence (two years), trois-quarts de licence (three years), licence (four years), diplôme d'études approfondies and diplôme d'études superieures spécialisées (DEA/DESS) (1–2 years), and doctorate (3–5 years).
The University now follows the requirements of the Bologna process: bachelor's (three years), master's (1–2 years), in some departments or sections Master of Advanced Studies (1–2 years), doctorate (3–5 years).
Students at UNIGE have the possibility to study abroad for a semester or a year during their degree. Partner universities include Free University of Berlin, Harvard Law School, École Normale Supérieure, Trinity College Dublin, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Université Libre de Bruxelles, King's College London, McGill University, HEC Montreal, University of Ottawa, University of Oxford, Uppsala University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Michigan, UCLA, University of Southampton, University of Sydney, University of Tokyo.
The key sectors of research at the University of Geneva are sciences (molecular biology, bio-informatics, etc.), elementary physics, astrophysics, economics, social sociences, psychology, chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics.
UNIGE is home to six national research centers: in genetics (Frontiers in Genetics), in material sciences (MaNEP), in study of emotions (Affective Sciences), in chemical biology (with EPFL), in study of mental illness (Synaptic, with EPFL and Unil), in study of life path (with Unil). UNIGE also carries research in international studies since the creation in 2013 of the Global Studies Institute, in finance with the Geneva Finance Research Institute, and in environmental studies, with the creation in 2009 of the Institut des sciences de l'environnement.
Famous discoveries have been made by researcher working at UNIGE including the discoveries of extrasolar planets by Michel Mayor, and of quantum teleportation by Nicolas Gisin.
The University of Geneva is consistently ranked one of the top universities in the world.
In 2016, the University of Geneva is ranked 53rd overall in the world according to the Shanghai Ranking. In 2012, it was ranked 69th overall in the world according to the Shanghai Ranking, 74th overall according to the QS ranking and 133rd overall according to the THE ranking. In 2006, Newsweek ranked the university 32nd in the world.
In molecular biology, the impact of the research carried in Geneva was ranked 4th in Europe by Times Higher Education for the period 1999-2009, directly behind the University of Oxford. In physics, UNIGE was ranked sixth.
The QS 2013 subject ranking placed the University of Geneva at the 21st place in the field of Pharmacy and at the 49th place in Philosophy. In every subject, the University was ranked in the world's top 200.
In the 2013 QS ranking, the University was ranked 24th in world for most international faculty and 20th in the world for most international student body.
In 2016, 16,530 students were studying at UNIGE, of whom 61% were female. 37% of the students were non-Swiss, originating from 151 countries. 4,449 teachers and collaborators, of whom 49% are female, are working for UNIGE.
The Bureau des sports organizes all the sports related activity at UNIGE. Free sports lessons are given everyday and it suffices to show one's student card to access. Other lessons organization with the university's partners demand a small fee. UNIGE is home to the Geneva university championships in basketball, indoor football, rowing, badminton, outdoor football. The university also sends teams to the Swiss university championship in badminton, indoor football, skiing, basketball, fencing, football, golf, ice-hockey, table tennis and volleyball. UNIGE also provides special schedules for students wishing to pursue their high level sporting career and to study at the same time.
Alumni UNIGE is the alumni association of the University of Geneva, it offers a network of several thousand people to its members, as well as other advantages, such as discount prizes, special events, access to the official networking platform. Atout-lettres is the alumni association of the literature students of the University, founded in 1997. Its purpose is to prepare the professional insertion of the literature students, to establish links between literature student and the working world and to promote the formation given by the Faculté de Lettres.
Over the course of its history, a sizeable number of UNIGE alumni have become notable in their fields, both academic, and in the wider world. Affiliates of the University of Geneva have won 10 Nobel prizes. Graduate alumni (Martin Hairer and Vaughan Jones) have won 2 Fields Medals.
The University has hosted several Nobel laureates as students, researchers and/or professors: Norman Angell (1872–1967), Nobel Peace Prize 1933; Karl Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987) Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences 1974; Daniel Bovet (1907–1992), Nobel Prize in Medicine 1957; Niels Kaj Jerne (1911–1994), Nobel Prize in Medicine 1984; Maurice Allais (1911–2010), Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences 1988; Edmond H. Fischer (1920–), Nobel Prize in Medicine 1992; Martin Rodbell (1925–1998), Nobel Prize in Medicine 1994; Alan Jay Heeger (1936- ), Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2000; Werner Arber (1929– ), Nobel Prize in Medicine 1978; Kofi Annan (1938–2018), Nobel Peace Prize 2001.
It has also hosted or graduated three Fields medal laureates: Vaughan Jones (1952– ), Fields Medal laureate in 1990, Stanislav Smirnov (1970– ), Fields Medal laureate in 2010 and Martin Hairer (1975- ), Fields Medal laureate in 2014.
- Werner Arber (1929-)
- Jonathan Barnes (1942-)
- Roland Barthes (1915–1980)
- Samuel Baud-Bovy (1906–1986)
- Yves Bonnefoy (1923-2016)
- Raymond Boudon (1934-)
- Jacques Bouveresse (1940-)
- Bernard Bouvier (1861–1941)
- Bertrand Bouvier (1929-)
- François Bovon (1938-)
- Michel Butor (1926-)
- Edouard Claparède (1873–1940)
- Georges Cottier (1922-2016)
- Gabriel Cramer
- Victoria Curzon-Price (1942-)
- Waldemar Deonna (1880–1959)
- Kuppamuthu Dharmalingam (1949-)
- Alfred Dufour (1933-)
- Jean-Pierre Eckmann (1944-)
- Pascal Engel (1954-)
- Georges Favon (1843–1902)
- Øystein Fischer (1942-2013)
- Théodore Flournoy (1854–1920)
- Bernard Gagnebin (1915–1998)
- Orio Giarini (1936-)
- Harry Gideonse (1901-1985), President of Brooklyn College, and Chancellor of the New School for Social Research
- Marcel Golay (1927-)
- Jeanne Hersch (1910–2000)
- Bärbel Inhelder (1913–1997)
- Albert Jacquard (1925-)
- Jean Kellerhals (1941-)
- Hans Kelsen (1881–1973)
- Stephan Klapproth (1958–)
- Ulrich K. Laemmli
- Jan-Erik Lane (1946-)
- Michel Léonard (1949-)
- Alain de Libera (1948-)
- Giorgio Malinverni (1941-)
- Michel Mayor (1942-)
- Franklin Mendels (1943–1988)
- Hans Morgenthau (1904–1980)
- Kevin Mulligan (1951-)
- Robert Mundell (1932-)
- Joseph Nye (1937-)
- Douglass North (1920-)
- Carlo Ossola (1946-)
- Jean Piaget (1896–1980)
- Jean Pictet (1914–2002)
- Olivier Reverdin (1913–2000)
- André Rey (1906–1965)
- Gonzague de Reynold (1880–1970)
- Georges de Rham (1903–1990)
- Anik de Ribaupierre (1946-)
- Denis de Rougemont (1906–1985)
- Jean Rousset (1910–2002)
- Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913)
- Klaus Scherer (1943-)
- Klaus Schwab (1938-)
- Jean de Serres (1540 - 1598)
- Stanislav Smirnov (1970-)
- Jean Starobinski (1920-2019)
- Maurice Stroun (1926-)
- George Steiner (1929-)
- Ernst Stueckelberg (1905-1984)
- Carsten Peter Thiede (1952–2004)
- Pierre Weiss (1952-)
- Chaim Weizmann (1874–1952)
- Éric Werner (1940-)
- Jean Ziegler (1934-)
- Henri of Luxembourg (HEI)
- Maria Teresa Mestre
- Astrid de Belgique (IUEE)
- Joséphine-Charlotte de Belgique
- Nora of Liechtenstein (HEI)
- Elias Farah
- Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia
- Bonaya Adhi Godana
- Hartley Shawcross, Baron Shawcross
- Sir Norman Angell
- Natalia Aszkenazy
- José Manuel Durão Barroso (IUEE)
- Ferdinand P. Beer
- Manolo Blahnik
- Nicolas Bouvier
- Micheline Calmy-Rey (HEI)
- Corinne Chaponnière
- Albert Cohen
- Ruth Dreifuss
- Jacques Dubochet
- Georges Favon
- Ian Fleming
- Paul Flowers
- Claude Goretta
- Christian Grobet
- Martin Hairer
- Jean Hoerni
- Afet İnan
- Sandra Kalniete (HEI)
- Sophie Kanza
- Lazare Kopelmanas
- Zygmunt Krasiński
- Dominique Lévy
- Gilles Marchand
- Alain Morisod
- Serge Moscovici
- Placide Nicod
- Claude Nicollier
- Jean Pictet
- Emma Pieczynska-Reichenbach
- Claude Piron
- Hans-Gert Pöttering
- Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah
- Marco Solari
- Jürgen Wöhler
- Ehsan Naraghi
- Georg Seelig
- Sigmund Widmer
- Tariq Ramadan
- Hani Ramadan
- Elena Aprile
- Paul Dubrule
- Frank Martin
- Enrique Moles Ormella
- Riadh Sidaoui
- Alain Tanner