Bilkent University was founded on October 20, 1984 by İhsan Doğramacı, through the joint resolution of İhsan Doğramacı Education Foundation, İhsan Doğramacı Science and Research Foundation and İhsan Doğramacı Health Foundation. The establishment of this private university was later approved by an act of Parliament. The aim was to create a center of excellence in higher education and research. The name "Bilkent"' exemplifies the founder's aim, since it is an acronym of ''bilim kenti'' in Turkish for ''city of science and knowledge.''
It had long been an objective of the founder to establish a private university distinguished by its high quality education and research. The founder, himself an academician by profession, had earlier contributed to the establishment of numerous public institutions of higher learning and served as rector of Ankara University, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Middle East Technical University and founder and first rector of Hacettepe University.
Preparations for Bilkent University had begun as early as 1967, with the purchase of a large tract of land to the west of Ankara. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the above mentioned foundations undertook construction, on the future site of Bilkent, of the buildings which now house administrative offices, the Faculty of Engineering, and the library. Construction of residences for academic staff, cafeterias, student dormitories, the Student Union building and various academic buildings followed in rapid succession.
Currently there are about 12,500 students in nine faculties, two four-year professional schools and three two-year vocational schools. Among them are foreign students from different countries. With funds from the endowments provided by the founder, the university each year awards scholarships to 45% of the student body.
From the outset, the design of the university structure provided for student union representatives to be voting members of the administrative committees of various schools, as well as of the University Senate. Beginning in the second year of instruction, the practice of student evaluation of courses and instructors, at the time not a common practice in Turkey, was instituted.
To promote the enrichment of teaching and research programs, Bilkent University entered into collaborative projects and exchange programs with many universities abroad. Bilkent has student exchange agreements with universities from countries such as Australia, Japan, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America.
The Career Center, another service established at the incentive of Bilkent's founder early in the University's development, helps final-year students to acquire the skills necessary to apply successfully for a job. The Center arranges interviews between representatives of major corporations and students seeking employment.
The faculty is comprised of an academic staff from around 40 different countries. Most of them were working in prominent universities in North America and Europe when they received offers from Bilkent University. According to ISI Citation Indexes, Bilkent ranks high in Turkey and internationally in number of published papers per faculty member.
Bilkent University has been ranked 31st in the 2014 Times Higher Education (THE) 100 Under 50 list of the worlds best young universities. THE also ranks Bilkent 98th among the Worlds Top 100 Universities for Engineering and Technology.