Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions

pp 1-4

Date: Latest Version

Chair System in Higher Education

  • Michael DobbinsAffiliated withInstitut für Politikwissenschaft, Goethe University of Frankfurt Email author 


The university chair system has its roots in the earliest European universities established between the thirteenth and sixteenth century. Ever since, it has taken on various context-specific forms both in Europe and beyond. The term “chair” is derived from the Greek and Latin word catheda which was originally translated into German as Lesestuhl (reading chair). Later the term evolved into the German word Lehrstuhl (teaching chair) which described a high position of a teaching professor or professor ordinarius at a university. Originally, university chairs were a reflection of the guild-like internal structure of the first European universities (e.g., Bologna, Paris, Florence), in which research and teaching activities were centered in small units specializing in a highly specific area of inquiry. These units were headed by a master, or maestro in Italian, who had highly specialized knowledge (Clark 1983). He directed and oversaw the research activities of small groups of “pupils ...

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