Just like other integrated institutions of higher education, the University of Debrecen was established as the legal successor of previously independent institutions through a process of their reunion and (re)integration which, in this case, was made official on January 1, 2000.

Its historical roots reach back to the foundation of the Reformed Protestant College of Debrecen (1538), whose three subsequent academic divisions laid the foundation for the Hungarian Royal University of Debrecen according to Statute XXXVI of 1912. This uninterrupted four-and-a-half-century past makes the University of Debrecen the oldest institution of higher education operating continuously in the same city. A program in agricultural studies in higher education was first offered in Debrecen in Debreceni Országos Felsőbb Gazdasági Tanintézet [Debrecen National Higher Institute of Agriculture] founded in 1868.

With 19000 full-time students and a total of 29000 students, instructed by more than 1400 academic faculty members, this is one of the largest institutions of higher education in Hungary, yet the 15 faculties and 23 doctoral schools (both figures being the highest in Hungary) obviously guarantee that it also offers the broadest range of choices both in education and research possibilities.