The Oldest Universities in the World

  • By ThiQuyen
  • March 13, 2021
  • 0

Universities have been around for hundreds of years. Although the earliest universities looked a lot different from modern ones, especially as they generally only accepted men, they marked the beginnings of education as we now know it. Here is a list of the oldest universities in the world.

1. University of Al Quaraouiyine

oldest universities in the world


The University of Al Quaraouiyine is the oldest universities in the world existing, continually operating and the first degree-awarding educational institution in the world according to UNESCO and Guinness World Records. The institution was incorporated into Morocco’s modern state university system in 1963.

Education at Al Quaraouiyine University concentrates on the Islamic religious and legal sciences with a heavy emphasis on, and particular strengths in Classical Arabic grammar/linguistics and Maliki law. Teaching is delivered with students seated in a semi-circle around a sheikh, who prompts them to read sections of a text, asks them questions, and explains difficult points. The university is open to both men and women.

The University was founded with an associated madrasa, a specific type of religious school or college for the study of the Islamic religion, by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Fatima vowed to spend her inheritance on the construction of a mosque suitable for her community.

2. Al-Azhar University

oldest universities in the world


Al-Azhar University is Egypt’s oldest degree-granting university and is renowned as “Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university.” The institution oversees a national network of schools with approximately 2 million students. Its main mission is to propagate Islam and Islamic culture, and trained Egyptian government-appointed preachers in proselytization. Its library is considered second in importance in Egypt only to the Egyptian National Library and Archives.

The university was founded as a center of Islamic learning, and students studied the Qur’an and Islamic law along with logic, grammar, and rhetoric. The format of education at Al-Azhar remained relatively informal for much of its early history: initially, there were no entrance requirements, no formal curriculum, and no degrees. Additional faculties, like those of medicine and engineering, were established during reforms in the early 1960s.

3. University of Bologna 

oldest universities in the world


The University of Bologna (UNIBO) is a public university and is the oldest university in continuous operation in the Western world. It is made up of 11 schools and was the first place of study to use the term universitasfor the corporations of students and masters, which came to define the institution, located in Bologna.

The origins of the university can be traced to societies of foreign students called “nations,” who hired scholars from the city to team them. They formed a larger association that became a universitas. UNIBO is historically notable for its teaching of canon and civil law and was central in the development of medieval Roman law. Until modern times, the only degree granted at the university was the doctorate, but Bachelors’s and Master’s degrees are now offered in any of the 11 schools that make up the university.

This is one of the oldest universities in the world you should know.

4. University of Perugia

oldest universities in the world


One of the early public universities, the University of Perugia was founded in 1308 and was immediately recognized by the pope at the time, Pope Clement V. Before that, it had already existed as a place of study, but this recognition raised it to a studium generale. Numerous popes have studied within its walls, and it can count Luca Pacioli, the father of accounting, as one of its more well-known former faculty members.

Nowadays, it has an enrolment of about 28,000 students.

5. Sapienza University of Rome


Given its date of founding, it’s no surprise that the Sapienza University of Rome has racked up its fair share of Nobel laureate alumni and professors.

In addition to its place as the 12th oldest university in the world, Sapienza was also the first pontifical university, created by Pope Boniface VIII. It wasn’t entirely for selfless purposes – he wanted a university where he could keep a closer eye on the theological teachings, as the universities of Bologna and Padua had escaped his control.

6. University of Coimbra


Two hundred years after the founding of the first university, Portugal decided to get in on the action with the University of Coimbra. Originally established in the capital city of Lisbon, it moved around a few times before settling in Coimbra, a city located in central Portugal.

The student body is about 24,000, and the university hosts thousands of international students every year. Thanks to its age and impressive campus, the university was awarded a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013.

7. University of Valladolid


One of the oldest universities in the world is University of Valladolid. Moving just a little bit east to Spain, we get to the University of Valladolid. It was founded in what is now the autonomous region of Castile and León, and today has seven campuses stretching across the whole region.

At the time of the university’s birth, Spain did not exist as the political entity it currently is, so like all of the universities mentioned here, it has lived through many changes.

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