The term “university” has been derived from the Latin word “Universitas magistrorum et scholarium” which means “community of teachers and scholars”. In most places across the world, the term “university” is granted to institutions through government agency but in few places like the United States, there is no national standard for its definition. During medieval times, the institutions or universities for higher studies have their roots in Europe where few of the oldest universities were first founded in the world.
There are at least the 36 oldest universities in the world or in Europe. All of them were founded before the year 1500. Eleven of them in what is now Italy, seven in Germany, five in Spain, five in the UK, two in Portugal whereas one in Czechia, Austria, Poland, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden. This list includes medieval universities that were founded in 1500. In this review article, we discussed the top ten oldest universities in the world in more detail.
Being knowledgeable by holding a degree from different universities offers multiple benefits in your personal as well as professional life. For example – with the experience of attending universities, you reap the following benefits mention below
- Become self-reliant.
- The knowledge that you gain from universities is useful to start and advance within your chosen career.
- You learned skills like communication skills, presentation skills, and time management.
1. University of Al Quaraouiyine
|Type – State university
Established – 859
Location – Fez, Morocco
Current no. of students – 8,120
It was founded by Fatima al- Fihri as a mosque in 859. The school was founded as a madrasa – a school primarily for the study of Islamic religion but other subjects are also taught as well. Fatima and her sister Miriam both were educated but Fatima decided to spend her large inheritance to build a mosque for her community in Fez (the university is situated inside of the mosque).
2. Al-Azhar University
|Type – Public
Established – 972
Location – Cairo, Egypt
Current no. of students – c.2 million
It is considered to be one of the most influential universities of the Sunni Islamic world. The goal of Al-Azhar University is to propagate Islam and Islamic culture; non-religious subjects were added to the school’s curriculum such as engineering and medicine in 1961 and were granted university status.
3. University of Bologna
|Type – Public
Location – Bologna, Italy
Current no. of students – 87,590 (36,266 postgraduates and 47,253 undergraduates)
It is considered to be the oldest university in continuous operation in the western world. Before, the academic offering was only for doctoral degrees but this has since changed as there is now a range of programs at various levels. The main campus of the university is in Bologna but it has other campuses as well in Ravenna, Forli, Cesena, and Rimini (all in Italy) and an international branch center in Buenos Aires.
4. University of Oxford
|Type – Public/Private collegiate research university
Location – Oxford, England
Current no. of students – 24,515 (11,955 undergraduates and 12,010 postgraduates)
The University of Oxford commonly known as just oxford is one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world. The numerous students run away from the University of Oxford after disputes with the townspeople in 1209 and went to Cambridge where they formed the University of Cambridge – the two universities are often called “Oxbridge”. It has produced several notable alumni including 27 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and 28 Nobel laureates.
5. University of Salamanca
|Type – Public
Location – Salamanca, Spain
Current no. of students – 28,000
It is the oldest university in Spain, in continuous operation in the world. Like all ancient universities, the University of Salamanca began out as a Cathedral School, and though the university was founded itself in 1130 and granted its Royal charter of foundation by King Alfonso IX in 1218. It was officially identified as a “University” by King Alfonso X in 1254. The school was chartered by Pope Alexander IV after a year.
6. University of Paris
|Type – N/A
Location – Paris, France
Current no. of students – N/A
The University of Paris was founded in 1150. The school was recognized by Pope Innocent III in 1215 and officially chartered by King Philip II in 1200. After its theology school, the university was commonly called Sorbonne, which was founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon and chartered by Saint Louis (King of France). During the French Revolution period, the university was closed whereas the new University of France replaced it with four independent faculties: the Faculty of Science, the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Law (later including Economics), the Faculty of Theology and, the Faculty of Humanities (Faculté des Lettres) which was closed in 1885.
7. University of Cambridge
|Type – Public research university
Location – Cambridge, England
Current no. of students – 24,450 (11,600 postgraduates and 12,850 undergraduates)
The University of Cambridge is the second oldest university in the English-speaking world. It grew out by an association of scholars who fled from the University of Oxford after disputes with its townspeople. It was founded in 1209 and granted a royal character in 1231 by Henry III. The University operates several scientific and cultural museums and provides its students with access to around 15 million books.
8. University of Padua
|Type – Public
Location – Padua, Italy
Current no. of students – 59,317 (20,822 postgraduates and 38,495 undergraduates)
The University of Padua is the second oldest university in Italy, was established in 1222 as a school of law and theology. It was started when large group of students and teachers left the University of Bologna in the pursuit of more academic freedom. The university is well known for its early research in law, philosophy, medicine, and astronomy.
9. University of Naples Federico II
|Type – Public
Location – Naples, Italy
Current no. of students – 593,280
It was the first university of Europe dedicated to training secular administrative staff and is one of the oldest academic institutions in continuous operation. It is the third oldest university in Italy and the seventh oldest university in the world. Frederick II, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor founded the University of Naples in 1224.
10. University of Coimbra
|Type – Public
Location – Coimbra, Portugal
Current no. of students – 23,386 (9,589 undergraduates, 13, 363 postgraduates and 2,323 doctoral students
Originally, the school was situated in Lisbon but it went through a number of relocations until permanently moved to Coimbra in 1537. It is one of the oldest academic universities in continuous operation in the world and played an influential role in the development of higher education in the Portuguese-speaking world. UNESCO declared the university as a World Heritage Site in 2013 noting its unique culture and traditions, architecture, and historical role.
To summarize the above work, we can conclude that wherever you study whether an old as well as a new university, you’ll open to the door of countless possibilities and be a part of the ever-evolving nature of universities and their teachings across the whole world.