WASHINGTON : Georgetown University on Thursday announced measures to atone for having profited from the sale of nearly 300 slaves in the 19th century, giving an edge in admissions for their descendants.

The US university’s president, John DeGioia, will discuss the steps in a speech later Thursday, and is to offer a formal apology. The measures planned also include the renaming of school buildings to honour those enslaved, the creation of a new institute for the study of slavery and the construction of a public memorial honouring slaves whose work benefited the university.

Georgetown, a Jesuit school founded in 1789 in the US capital Washington, is one of the oldest universities in the United States. It profited from the 1838 sale of 272 slaves who worked on Jesuit plantations in nearby Maryland. It used the proceeds to pay off debts.

The reconciliatory moves are the outcome of a year-long, 16-member working group at Georgetown including students, faculty, staff and alumni.

“The most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time,” DeGioia said in a statement.

Descendants will be given “an advantage in the admissions process,” the working group recommended. But the university stopped short of suggesting they be given financial aid.

Other top American universities - including Brown, Columbia and Harvard - have also publicly recognized their own ties to the slave trade.