The university was founded in 1971 on the basis of an agreement reached between the protestant churches in the Rhineland, Westphalia and Lippe. Its founding coincided with a state educational reform process leading to the former institutions of higher education being transformed into universities of applied sciences. The churches and diaconal organisations responsible for the traditional institutions of higher education recognised the opportunity this process presented: In light of growing demands, the need was felt to set the training on a more sound scientific and methodological foundation, and so the eight education and training centres operated by the three regional protestant churches within North- Rhine-Westphalia were amalgamated to form the largest single protestant-run university of applied sciences in Germany.
The university’s historic roots go as far back as 1836. In that year, the protestant pastor Theodor Fliedner set up training courses for kindergarten teachers and nurses in Kaiserswerth near Düsseldorf. The college of social education operated by the diaconate services in Kaiserswerth was later to emerge from these beginnings.
In Bochum there was a College of Higher Education for Social Work supported by the Westphalian women’s fellowships “Frauenhilfe” and dating back to a “Social School for Women” established in 1927.
In Cologne there was a College of Higher Education for Social Work, and in Bielefeld-Bethel there was an Institute for Special Education. Catechetical seminars existed in Bochum, Düsseldorf and Radevormwald.
The new university of applied sciences was initially located at three centres in Bochum, Bielefeld und Düsseldorf. In 1971 -72, these three centres together accounted for a total of 650 students and 36 university teaching staff.
In 1986, the departments in Düsseldorf and Kaiserswerth were closed and their courses relocated to Bochum. Prior to that, in 1982, the special education courses hitherto taught in Bethel were transferred to Bochum, the aim behind these moves being to offer greater course choice and structuring options and to cut back on the excessive administrative costs involved in operating the decentralised model.
Diploma courses in social education, social work, inclusive education and in theology and religious education were set up when the university was founded. In 2007, these courses were reorganised to form Bachelor and Masters’ degree courses in line with the Bologna Process for the harmonisation of European higher education. Further degree courses were also introduced in the process.