Southern Federal University is the largest research and educational establishment of Rostov Oblast. The university began to operate in Rostov-on-Don in 1915 as an affiliate part of Imperial University of Warsaw whose Russian staff had been evacuated from Poland with the onset of World War I. Later, with the collapse of Russian Empire, the university was named Donskoy University after the region of Don by the decree of Russian Provisional Government on May 5, 1917. When founded in 1915, Donskoy University was the first higher education institution in Rostov-on-Don and had four academic departments: history & philosophy, medicine, physics & mathematics, and law. In 1917-1920, during Russian Civil War, Rostov-on-Don was under the control of the anti-Soviet coalition forces of Russian White movement including Kaledin's Don Army. Many of the staff who found refuge at Donskoy University at that time had a strong anti-Soviet stance and students were being drafted to White Army. During the turmoil years of the Civil War the official name of the university was Bogaevsky Donskoy University named after Mitrofan Bogaevsky, assistant to AtamanAlexey Kaledin. Following the takeover of Rostov-on-Don by Red Army in January 1920, the authority over Donskoy University passed to the Soviet government. That same year the Soviets purged the university off any seemed disloyal and pro-White movement staff members.
In 1925, Donskoy University was renamed to North Caucasus State University to reflect its status as an education center in then North Caucasus Krai. Another renaming of the university followed in 1934 giving Rostov-on-Don State University. Then again, in 1957, it was changed to Rostov State University. The latter name existed until 2006. In November 2006, Rostov State Academy of Architecture & Arts, Rostov State Pedagogical University and Taganrog State University of Radioengineering were merged into Rostov State University to form a single entity called Southern Federal University.