Its origins were in the Free University of Brussels, a liberal institution, which became the subject of controversy in December 1892 when the anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus was prevented from teaching for political reasons. In the aftermath, a number of liberal and socialist members of faculty began to plan for an independent "new" university, eventually created in October 1894. It was libertarian in political outlook, and attracted a significant proportion of international students and faculty members. However, its degrees were not recognised by the Belgian government and it remained short of funds.
The New University was the only university in Belgium which continued teaching through the German occupation of Belgium during World War I. In 1919, however, it was decided to re-merge the institution with the Free University. Its last surviving remnant is the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Belgique which provides free public lectures and conferences.
- Laqua, Daniel (2013). The Age of Internationalism and Belgium, 1880–1930: Peace, Progress and Prestige. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-8883-4.