The University of Algiers stemmed out of various higher-education institutions created in the 19th century under the French colonial rule : medersas founded in 1850 to train the Muslim cadres of religion, justice and administration under Islamic law (the Algiers medersa eventually became the Institut d’Études Supérieures Islamiques in 1946), then the four superior schools or faculties established in 1879 by the university reform of the French IIIrd Republic for medicine-pharmacy, sciences, literature, and law. These four superior schools became the University of Algiers under the Law of 30 December 1909, as one of the 16 French regional universities. It allowed students to pursue in Algiers a complete curriculum up to the doctorate. Most students came from European families installed in North Africa (Pied-Noirs).
There were some 30 “indigenous Algerian” students in 1914 (out of a total of about 500), and a hundred a year in the 1930s. A higher number of North African students chose to study in France. The University of Algiers was attractive, hosted high-level teachers and researchers, as it created over the years scientific laboratories, libraries and specialized institutes.
The installation of the Free French government in Algiers in 1943, with French citizenship awarded by general De Gaulle to 65,000 Muslims gave a new importance to the University of Algiers, which became for the next two years the university of the de facto capital of France. In 1945–1946, Muslim students were 360 in Algiers, compared to 350 in Paris, and as many in other French faculties. In 1961, just before Algerian independence, Muslim Algerian students represented 18% of the total of the University.