On 1st December 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II, the Polish University Abroad was established in France, with its temporary seat in the Polish Library in Paris. One of the initiators and the first rector of the wartime University was Professor Oskar Halecki. The French government gave its full support to Polish academic activity. However, the quick defeat of France made it impossible to continue that activity there.
The United Kingdom became the country where Polish science and academic work could develop in the difficult times of war. Gradually, new faculties were set up: the Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1941, together with the Polish School of Veterinary Studies, opened in 1943; the Polish School of Architecture at the University of Liverpool in 1942; Polish Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford in 1944, and Polish University College in 1947. Additionally, throughout the war years and after the end of the war, Polish academics strived for the sustainment and development of an independent university that would operate in accordance with the traditions and standards of the Polish higher education system of the interwar period.
The Polish Government in Exile, by means of decrees of the President of the Republic of Poland of 1941, 1944 and 1945, made attempts lay the formal foundations of the university that ultimately took the name of ’the Polish University Abroad’ (PUNO). The decree of the President of 15th December 1952 granted PUNO the status of a private academic school working in accordance with the Act on Academic Schools of 15th May 1933.
Since the very beginning, the Humanities were the strongest focus of the University, but the creation of the Faculty of Technical Sciences was, without a doubt, an important moment in its development. The Faculty was established after the Polish University of Technology in London (RAST), which taught students in years 1942-1962, was incorporated into PUNO in 1962.
The Polish University Abroad was established thanks to the great involvement of its creators and the generosity of numerous Polish emigrants. The call of the Ambassador Edward Raczyński for financial help for PUNO was answered with an influx of donations to the University, which allowed it to start its operations and withstand the difficulties.
Keeping in mind all the Poles who were prevented from completing their studies by the war and did not obtain their academic degrees in Poland, PUNO started to organize PhD and habilitation (post-doctoral) exams in Polish Studies, History, Law, Economy, Sociology, as well as Natural and Technological Sciences. The second task of the University was comprehensive and regular academic education of the young generation on the basis of the curricula and regulations of the pre-war Polish universities, adjusted, however, to the specific needs and conditions of the Polish emigration community.
Diplomas granted by PUNO were recognized by many foreign universities, among others in the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France. A number of PhD graduates of PUNO found employment at universities in various countries.
Among the professors of the Polish University Abroad there were eminent Polish academics in exile, most of whom found employment at foreign universities.
PUNO granted a number of honorary degrees – in recent years, among the distinguished persons were: Dame Cecily Saunders, Professor Józef Rotblatt, Jan Nowak Jeziorański, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Father Zdzisław Peszkowski, Professor Michał Kleiber, and Zbigniew Brzeziński.