The University of Malta traces its origins to the founding of the Collegium Melitense which was set up through direct papal intervention on 12 November 1592. This college was run by the Jesuits on the lines of their other colleges established elsewhere and known as 'Collegia Externorum', catering for non-Jesuit students. By a papal Bull of Pope Pius IV, dated 29 August 1561, confirmed later by a further Bull of Pope Gregory XIII, dated 9 May 1578, the Jesuits were empowered to confer the degrees of Magister Philosophiae and Doctor Divinitatis. However, the foundation deed specified that besides Philosophy and Theology, other subjects such as Grammar and the Humanities should also be taught.
Following the abatement of the plague of 1675, Grandmaster Nicolò Cotoner appointed Fra Dr Giuseppe Zammit as 'lettore' in Anatomy and Surgery at the Sacra Infermeria on 19 October 1676. This attempt at formalising medical teaching at the Order's hospital is considered by many as the beginning of our medical school. Zammit went on to establish the first medical library on the island as well as a medicinal herb garden in one of the ditches of Fort Saint Elmo.
After the expulsion of the Jesuit Order from Malta in 1768, Grandmaster Pinto appropriated all the revenue accruing from its property on the island with the aim of establishing a 'Pubblica Università di Studi Generali'. The decree constituting the University was signed by Pinto on 22 November 1769, having been authorised to do so by the papal Brief, 'Sedula Romani Pontifici', received on 20 October 1769. On 25 May 1771, a Collegio Medico was set up as one of the faculties making up the University. At the time of the foundation of the University, the 'Principe dell’Accademia dei Medici' was the surgeon Michelangelo Grima who also held the combined chair of Anatomy and Surgery at the Medical School, whilst the Professor of Medicine was Giorgio Locano.
The first rector of the University was Fr Roberto Costaguti of the Servites' Order who had in previous years established a reputation as a preacher. A number of other foreign professors were brought over to help establish the University and these were installed in June 1771. They all lived together in the former Jesuit College. It appears that the Medical Faculty was the only one staffed solely by local teachers, a tradition which has been maintained throughout the centuries.
Soon after Grandmaster Pinto died his successor, Grandmaster Ximenes, reduced the number of chairs and expelled all expatriate staff as an economic measure. During the brief French interregnum formal University teaching came to an end as Napoleon abolished the University five days after landing in Malta on 18 June 1798. Fortunately, a few weeks after the French were forced to leave, Sir Alexander Ball reinstituted the University and appointed as rector Canon F.X. Caruana on 28 October 1800 in recognition of his services during the uprising against the French.
The first rector appointed by the Governor Sir Thomas Maitland, at the beginning of British sovereignty, was the Dominican Fr Gerolomo Inglott, the Professor of Philosophy. During the British period the University underwent a series of changes in its statutes and regulations bringing it into line with universities in the United Kingdom. The present coat of arms and the motto 'Ut Fructificemus Deo' were proposed on 1 March 1923 by the rector, Professor Sir Themistocles Zammit. Between 1937 and 1974, (when Malta became a Republic) the University petitioned for and obtained the right to the use of the word 'Royal' in its title.
The list of past rectors since 1771.
Following the Second World War, the Library and support structures were strengthened. The Evans Laboratories were opened in 1959 to house the Faculty of Science near the old hospital of the Knights in Valletta and a new Medical School building near St Luke's Hospital in Guardamangia was opened in 1968. At the same time, the new campus at Msida was inaugurated.
The Faculty of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (now, the Faculty of Engineering) and the Faculty of Education became part of the University when the former Polytechnic (known also as the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology) was incorporated with it.