Some universities have independent departments, but some put departments under supervision of a faculty. For instance, a university has fifty independent departments, but another has 5 faculties containing departments. In the former, the Dean of Faculty is intermediate between the department chairs and the university administration.

I understand that most of these structures come from the university history, but how these structures affect the department performance, and why universities prefer different structures, instead of a standard one (which should be most efficient).

For example, what is the different of Department of Computer Science in one university, and Department of Computer Science in another university which is part of Faculty of Engineering?

  • 10
    As a rule, universities in the US don't have sub-organizations called "faculties"; we generally call them "colleges". The academic employees (instructors, researchers, and academic administrators) constitute the faculty.
    – JeffE
    Jun 3, 2013 at 14:07
  • 1
    @JeffE I know that in the US terminology, college or school are used; but my question, in general, is about the pros and cons of having such sub-organizations, regardless of their names.
    – Googlebot
    Jun 3, 2013 at 16:33
  • Well Thanks everyone I quite figured what I was looking for! Faculty (science, Law, Languages, Medicine) while different Departments are placed under that. i.e: Under the faculty of languages we have Chinese, English, french as departments! While I am still confused where a School would go in this division? Is a School the same as Faculty?
    – user28821
    Feb 2, 2015 at 13:13
  • 3
    @JeffE: Harvard has a Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
    – Dan Fox
    Sep 29, 2015 at 7:00

7 Answers 7


The distinction between "faculty," "department," and "school" depends a lot on where you are. As Peter suggests in his answer, a faculty can be a collection of "departments." However, a faculty in Germany (for instance) consists of a number of "chairs," each of which is closer to a professorship in a department than an actual "department." Thus, the faculty is effectively halfway between the American "department" and "faculty" in its function, as it combines some of the hierarchy and responsibilities of each.

The reason for having multiple subdivisions is that there are often many university functions—including personnel and budget decisions, facilities management, teaching, and so on—that can vary widely across the entire university, but significantly less among certain departments that have a similar focus. For these departments, it makes sense to combine these duties in a central administration, rather than duplicate the effort across multiple departments.

  • I quite like this answer, except for the comparison to "an actual 'department'". "department" is a very vaguely defined term in general, and in particular, its definition (or various variants thereof) is being discussed in this very question, so using the term as a point of reference is confusing. Maybe "a 'department' as used by many American universities" would be less ambiguous. (The background of this comment is that various German universities indeed split "Fakultäten" ("faculties") into several "Institute" ("institutes"), each of which can contain one or more chairs/groups, each ... Sep 29, 2015 at 13:52
  • ... headed by one professor. In that nomenclature, "Abteilung" ("department") is sometimes used as a synonym for "Institut" ("institute"), and sometimes as a synonym for "chair"/"group" (but never as a synonym for "Fakultät"). Thus, the statement "a faculty can be a collection of 'departments.'" would fully apply, somewhat contradicting the "However, a faculty in Germany" in the next sentence.) Sep 29, 2015 at 13:53

The faculty is a collection of departments. In my system we have the Faculty of Sciences, Law, Humanities, and Social Sciences. In addirions there can be Faculty of Theology, Arts, Languages, Educational Science, Medicine, Pharmacy and probably many others.

The term Faculty is known from the University in Paris already in medieval times. It was a way in which major fields distinguished themeselves from a genral body of learning. The faculties of Philosophy, Law, Theology and Medicine can be found back to the 13th century. As the universities grew and knowledge became more specialized departments started to form within these faculties and we now have the system of faculties as an administrative level in many university systems. Departments are, however, relatively modern creations from the late 19th century.


Sometimes using one word or another is seen as more prestigious or as more independent than another. In one place I was at, they made a big deal of changing their name from "Department of Computer Science" to "School of Computer Science".

Similarly, some people perceive one Faculty as more prestigious for the purposes of undergraduate recruiting. In many Universities in North America, computer science moved from "science" to "engineering" and my father perceived that computer science departments in "engineering" were more promising than those in "science" (as at the time engineers made more money and had more job opportunities than scientists). Of course, the real reason that this happens is often a question of autonomy, funding, and mutual interests behind the scenes.

In the end, the question of "For example, what is the difference of Department of Computer Science in one university, and Department of Computer Science in another university which is part of Faculty of Engineering?" is very, very difficult to answer and I would argue that the differences are much more dependent on the actual "department" than on what faculty/college/administrative area it's under. In North America, most departments (especially computer science departments) are relatively autonomous and do not rely heavily on their college for assistance - it's simply a bureaucratic layer through which funds go through.


In the Nigerian University system, a college has several faculties under it. A college is headed by an elected provost while an elected dean heads a faculty. Departments are under the faculties with an acting or substantive head (HOD).


In Spain, "Faculties", "Schools" and "Departments" (literally facultades, escuelas and departamentos) are legally defined in articles 8 and 9 of the "Organic Law" (ley orgánica) that governs universities. One might summarize (paraphrasing the law) the technical distinction as that faculties/schools (these are essentially equivalent) are charged with organizing teaching and academic processes, while departments are charged with realizing teaching and academic processes. What a department teaches is determined by the faculty/school in which it teaches, but how it teaches the material is determined by the department. The power to create or destroy faculties/schools resides with the regional government, while the power to create or destroy departments resides with the university. A faculty has a Dean (decano), a school has a School Director (functionally equivalent to a dean), and a department has a Departmental Director. A department can belong to several schools/faculties in the same university (for instance a mathematics department can be responsible for the teaching of math in several different engineering schools in the same university, although there are also universities in which each school has its own mathematics department). While the overall organization is similar in concept to what one finds in US universities, it is more rigid in the sense that the powers, competencies and responsibilities associated with each administrative structure are fixed by law.


Around here (Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María in Chile), we had "facultades" under a dean, some 10. For example, chemistry had chemistry (the science), chemical engineering and later (as an offshot from chemical engineering and mechanical engineering, mostly by historical reasons) materials science. Others, like electricity had just electrical engineering, and science had mathematics and physics. Around 1975 it was reorganized into three "facultades", engineering, science and business administration (the last was essentially an external institution under the umbrella of UTFSM for legal reasons relating to the right to grant professional degrees). Note that science had three departments (mathematics, physics and chemistry) while engineering had some eleven. Around 1990 the "facultades" were dissolved, and we have just departments. The Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (essentially the business administration "facultad") had regained its independence before. Our current departments are more or less the "facultades" up to the seventies.

As you see, this is mostly an internal organization issue, which very well can change, and names vary.


Faculty is equivalent to College. For example, Faculty of Science contains several departments e.g. Department of Biology, Dept. of Chemistry, etc. This is the same as College of Arts and Science which have several departments e.g. Biology, Physics, etc.

  • Did you read the comments under the question?
    – Kimball
    Feb 24, 2016 at 13:34
  • I don't think this is true in all cases. As described in aeismail's answer, this is strongly location-dependent. Here at CMU, if you told someone you were in the "faculty of computer science", they would have no idea what you're talking about.
    – eykanal
    Feb 24, 2016 at 15:23

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