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The 15 Oldest Universities in the World


Fascination is attached to the history of the concept of education and schooling encompassing an overview of how it all developed to where it is in the now. As a brief summary, the inception of education took place when men were hunter-gatherers. Then, via play and exploration, children educated themselves.

Following societal development, people practiced farming, adults discovered that learning the art ofraising crops and animals was easier to do so when they were at the infant stage.

The idea behind acquiring knowledge about something at a tender age received further confirmation when industries started to develop and the need for people to learn specific skills arose.

In addition, religion played an important role in the concept of education. Clarity set in that there needed to be a set place to bring children togetherand educate them. This led to the birth of schools and universities.

Environmental disasters hit many schools that led to their not being in existence presently but some of the schools that survived and are still in operation today include

  • Harvard University, 1636
  • Complutense University of Madrid, 1499
  • University of Perugia, 1308
  • The Sapienza University of Rome
  • University of Coimbra, 1290
  • University of Macerata, 1290
  • University of Valladolid, 1241
  • University of Siena, 1240
  • University of Naples Federico II, 1224
  • University of Padua, 1222
  • University of Cambridge, 1209
  • University of Salamanca, 1164
  • University of Oxford, 1096
  • University of Bologna, 1088
  • University of Al-Karaouine, 859

Before we begin, watch video below on 10 Unpopular Scholarships in Europe for International Students:

Let’s begin…

Harvard University, 1636

History of Harvard University

Harvard university is the oldest university in the US and is located inthe heart of Massachusetts. It was founded in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and began due to the need by some 17,000 Puritans migrating to the US for a place to train clergy members for the commonwealth,a “church in the wilderness”.Originally, Harvard university was known as “New College,” but the change of name occurred in 1639 due to the liberal lifestyle of John Harvard, who left half of his money to the school’s library when he passed away bywilling the new school £ 779 pounds sterling and his library of some 400 books Presently, the college is most known for being the best institution to receive a degree in either of these courses -medicine, law, or business.

Since the late 19th century Harvard has been recognized as one of the most prestigious schools in the globe because its library system and financial endowment is larger than those of any other.

After its establishment in 1638, the school received a printing press—the only press in what is now the United States until the acquisition of the second came in 1659.

Harvard university has the following graduate schools: Medical school, Law school and Business school.

Harvard Medical School was founded by John Warren, Benjamin Waterhouse, and Aaron Dexter, in the year 1782 as Massachusetts Medical College. It is the third-oldest medical school in the United States and is presently located at Longwood Avenue. 

The Harvard Law school was established in 1817and is known to be the oldest continuously operating law school in the nation.

Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences during the process of college modernization in the late 19th century which brought about the faculty being organized into departments and the beginning of addition of graduate programs, especially the PhD. As at 2004, 3200 graduate students in 53 separate programs and forty former or current professors were recorded to have gotten Nobel Prize laurels, most of which were scientists or economists based in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

From its inception, in the year 1908, a close relationship was in existence between the Harvard Business School and the corporate world. The major research program launched by the school gave the reputation of the Business School a lift that by 1949, almost half of the holders of MBA degree in the U.S. were alumni of the Business School and it was noted to be “the most influential graduate school of business”.

Complutense University of Madrid

The Complutense University of Madrid isone of the oldest universities in the world and a public research university with its location in Madrid. The university admits over 86,000 students. This made it the 3rd largest non-distance European university by enrollment and a consistent ranking as one of the top universities in Spain.

On 13 April 1499, a Papal bull for the expansion of Complutense into a full university was secured. It also brought about renaming the institution Universitas Complutensis, after Complutum, which was the Latin name of Alcalá de Henares, which happens to be original location of the University.

One of the remarkable things to note about this university is that one of the first universities in the world to grant a Doctorate to a female student, María Isidra de Guzmán y de la Cerda. This took place in 1785. In comparison with other universities, University of Oxford did not accept female scholars until 1920, and the University of Cambridge did not grant a Ph.D. to a female student until 1926.

Currently, the Complutense University is known to be the largest university in Spain.

University of Perugia

The University of Perugia is a public-owned university based in Perugia, Italy. The establishment of tis university in 1308 came through as a result of the attestation by the Bill issued by Pope Clement V certifying the birth of the Studium Generale.

It is known to be one of the “free” universities of Italy, it was erected into a studium generale on September 8, 1308, by the Bill “Super specula” of Clement V. After the existence of a school of arts about 1200, the teaching of medicine and law which medicine soon came up, with a strong commitment expressed by official documents of the City Council of Perugia.

This institution is made up of 11 faculties which include

  • Faculty of Agriculture
  • Faculty of Economics
  • Faculty of Education
  • Faculty of Engineering
  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Faculty of Law
  • Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Natural Sciences
  • Faculty of Medicine
  • Faculty of Pharmacy
  • Faculty of Political Science
  • Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

The Sapienza University of Rome

This institution is also called simply Sapienza or the University of Rome. It is a collegiate research university that is located in Rome, Italy. In terms of enrollment, it is one of the largest European universities and one of the oldest in history, established in 1303. This institution of learning is one of the most prestigious Italian universities and in the world, commonly ranking first in national rankings and in Southern Europe. In 2018, it was the first in the list released by world for Classics and Ancient history.

Most of the Italian ruling class obtained their education at Sapienza.

Sapienza University of Rome received reformation in 2011 after which it has eleven faculties and 65 departments. The following fields engineering, biomedical sciences,natural sciences, and humanities make up the university’s research programme.

Sapienza University of Rome has been making it in the list of rankings of World Universities. In Academic Ranking World Universities (ARWU), it was positioned within the 151–200 group of universities and among the top 3% of universities in the world, ranked the 1st in the world by QS World University Rankings by subject in 2018 and etc.

University of Coimbra

This institution of learning is a Portuguese public university located in Coimbra, Portugal. It was founded in Lisbon in the year 1290. It experienced a series of relocation for a number of time before its permanent location in its current city in 1537, being one of the oldest universities operating continuously in the world, the oldest university of Portugal and one of the country’s largest museums of higher education and research institutions.

The confirmation of papal was also given in 1290 (on 9 August of that year), during the Papacy of the Pope Nicholas IV. According to the Papal Bull, all the “licit” Faculties, with the exception of that of Theology, could be established. In 1308,the University moved to Coimbra likely due to problems of emancipation from the Church (relations between the latter and the political power being somewhat strained at the time) and conflicts between the inhabitants the city and the students.

In terms of organization, the university is divided into the following faculties:

  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Humanities
  • Sciences & Technology
  • Pharmacy
  • Economics
  • Psychology & Education Sciences and
  • Sports Sciences & Physical Education

University of Macerata

The University of Macerata is an institution of learning located in Macerata, Italy.

Established in 1290, it is one of the oldest in Italy and entire Europe. The focal point of its main activities is on humanities and social sciences. If offers students a wide range of courses supported state-of-art services, including undergraduate and post graduate degree programmes, masters and PhD programmes, specialization schools and summer schools in cultural heritage, economics, philosophy, law, arts and humanities, languages, linguistic mediation, education, communication, political science and tourism. From its history, it aims at contributing to the development of people and society through advanced research that has its focus on excellence and internationalization.

The University of Macerata consists of 7 faculties which include:

  • Faculty of Communication Sciences
  • Faculty of Cultural Heritage
  • Faculty of Economics
  • Faculty of Education
  • Faculty of Law
  • Faculty of Letters and Philosophy
  • Faculty of Political Sciences

University of Valladolid

This University is a public university in the city of Valladolid, province of Valladolid, in the autonomous region of Castile and Leon, Spain. It was established in the 13th century and is one of the oldest universities in the world. The University of Valladolid has 32,000 undergraduate students and at least 2,000 teachers.

The University of Valladolid abbreviated UVa is a Spanish public university established in 1241 as removal of studies at the University of Palencia, founded by Alfonso VIII of Castile, between 1208 and 1212. Its responsibility is to teach higher education in seven campuses distributed through four cities of Castile and Leon: Valladolid, Palencia, Soria and Segovia.

The university library has 14 library services. The library is located in Palencia, Soria and Segovia provinces, the rest are situated in Valladolid, each of them have a director.A chief Librarian manages all the services and thecoordination is seen to by Central Services.

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University of Siena

The University of Siena is abbreviated as UNISI and is located in Siena. From its origin, it was called Studium Senese, and was founded in 1240. The University of Siena is best known for its Schools of Medicine, Law, and Economics and Management.

In 1321, the studium had the ability to attract a larger number or pupils due to a mass sudden departure from the prestigious University of Bologna when one of its students was sentenced to death by Bologna’s magistrates for a supposed kidnap of a young woman.

The university experienced a period of changing state wherein the studium of Siena met an eventual promotion to the status of “Studium Generale ” by Charles IV, shortly after he was coronated as the Holy Roman Emperor in the year 1355.Through this, both the teachers and students were placed under the safeguard of the imperial authority (granting them protection from the local magistracy).


Italian universities received a general form  since 2012, and afterwards, the University has been composed of fifteen departments, grouped in four area which include:Biomedical and Medical Sciences, Economics, Law and Political Sciences, Experimental Science, Literature, History, Philosophy and the Arts

Each department enumerated above offers graduate and undergraduate courses.

University of Padua

The University of Padua is a university of Italian origin with its location in the city of Padua, Veneto, Italy. According to the age of universities in Italy, it is the second-oldest and the fifth-oldest surviving university in the world. In 2010, the University of Padua had an approximate number of 65,000 students and was established in 1222 as a school of law.

The first subjects to be taught in this university were law and theology before the curriculum experienced rapid expansion. This led to the division of the institution into two by 1399. They include Universitas Iuristarum for civil law and Canon law, and a Universitas Artistarum which taught astronomy, dialectic, philosophy, grammar, medicine, and rhetoric. There was also a Universitas Theologorum, founded in 1373 by Urban V.

The departments of the University of Padua offer a wide range of degrees which include:

  • Department of General Psychology
  • Department of Geosciences
  • Department of Historical and Geographic Sciences and the Ancient World
  • Department of Industrial Engineering
  • Department of Information Engineering
  • Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry
  • Department of Linguistic and Literary Studies
  • Department of Management and Engineering
  • Department of Mathematics
  • Department of Medicine
  • Department of Molecular Medicine
  • Department of Neurosciences
  • Department of Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Sciences
  • Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Education and Applied Psychology
  • Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Department of Political and Juridical Sciences and International Studies
  • Department of Private Law and Critique of Law
  • Department of Public, International and Community Law
  • Department of Statistical Sciences
  • Department of Surgery, Oncology and Gastroenterology
  • Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, etc.

The schools that unite these departments include:

  • Agricultural science and Veterinary medicine
  • Economics and Political sciences
  • Engineering
  • Human and social sciences and cultural heritage
  • Law
  • Medicine and surgery
  • Psychology
  • Sciences

University of Naples Federico II

The University of Naples Federico II is located in Naples, Italy. Established in 1224, it is the oldest public non-sectarian university in the world and is now organized into 13 faculties. It was the first university in Europe, dedicated to training secular administrative staff, and one of the oldest academic institutions in continuous operation. According to the number of students enrolled, Federico II is the third University in Italy but notwithstanding its huge size, it is still one of the best universities in Italy, being particularly notable for research; in 2015 it was ranked among the top 100 universities in the world with resdpect to citations per paper.

Arguably, the University of Naples is known to be the first to be formed from scratch not based upon an already-existing private school but by a higher authority,

The university is made up of 13 faculties which include:

  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Biotechnology
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • Law
  • Letters and philosophy
  • Mathematical, physical and natural sciences
  • Medicine and surgery
  • Pharmacy
  • Political sciences
  • Sociology
  • Veterinary medicine

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge is a collegial public research university in Cambridge, United Kingdom and was established in 1209 and was granted a royal legal contract by King Henry III in 1231. In the English-speaking world, it is the second-oldest university and in the world, the fourth-oldest surviving university.

At a point in its history, an association of scholars left the University of Oxford after a dispute with the townspeople and this brought about the growth of the university. The joint name, ‘ Oxbridge ‘ that the two ‘ ancient universities ‘ is often known for is as a result of their sharing many common features. The University of Cambridge is known for its academic standards, history, influence and wealth hence it is one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

31 semi-autonomous constituent Colleges and over 100 academic departments organised into six schools, which include Arts and Humanities, Biological Sciences, Clinical Medicine, Humanities and Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, Technology, makes up the University of Cambridge.

Cambridge University Press, one among other departments of the university, is the world’s oldest publishing house and the second-largest university press in the world.

Cambridge Assessment, also a department of this institution of learning, is one of the world’s leading examining bodies and provides assessment to over eight million learners globally on an annual basis.

Also, it operates eight cultural and scientific museums, which includes the Fitzwilliam Museum, as well as a botanic garden.

Cambridge university made the list as the world’s second-best university in the ranking by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, was ranked 3rd worldwide by ARWU, 6th by QS, and 7th by US News. As of 2016 and 2018, the ranking according to Nature Index Annual Tables had Cambridge at #10.

This ranking measures the largest contributors to papers published in 82 leading scientific journals.

Being a prestigious University, it has educated many notable alumni, including eminent mathematicians, philosophers, scientists, politicians, lawyers, actors, writers, monarchs and other heads of state. As of October 2019, students, alumni, faculty or research staff affiliated with Cambridge have the awards:  120 Nobel Laureates, 11 Fields Medalists, 7 Turing Award winners and 14 British Prime Ministers. Specifically, for the University alumni, they have won 194 Olympic medals.

University of Salamanca

The University of Salamanca (Spanish: Universidad de Salamanca) is a Spanish higher education institution, with its location in the city of Salamanca, west of Madrid, in the autonomous community of Castile and León. Its year of establishment is 1134 and received the Royal charter of foundation by King Alfonso IX in 1218.

The University of Salamanca is the oldest university in the Hispanic world and the third oldest university in the entire world still in operation.

As is the case of all older universities, it was a Cathedral School, whose existence can be traced back to 1130.

The confirmation of the Royal Charter of Alfonso led the school into obtaining the title of University. This was based on a papal bull by Alexander IV in 1255.

Presently, Salamanca attracts undergraduate and graduate students not just from Spain but the world. Its top-ranking as one of the university in Spain is on the basis of the population of students coming from other regions. In addition, the University of Salamanca is also known for its Spanish courses for non-native speakers, which draws a minimum of two thousand foreign students annually.

As of now, this institution is an important center for studying humanities and is particularly noted for its language studies, as well as in laws and economics. It also carries out Scientific research.

University of Oxford, 1096


Latin: Dominus illuminatio mea

English: The Lord is my light

England’s very own Oxford University happens to the first university in the English-speaking world but guess what, the lessons weren’t taught in English but in Latin! It is known to be the oldest university in the English-speaking world and is next to the University of Bologna in continuous operation hence is the world’s second-oldest university. This institution of learning witnessed a rapid growth from 1167 when a ban was issued by Henry II on English students from attending the University of Paris.

This initiated a dispute between the students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209 which led some academics flee north-east to Cambridge where what became the University of Cambridge was established.

Often times, the two ‘ ancient universities ‘ are jointly called ‘ Oxbridge ‘. The history of this institution and its influence has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It experienced a quick growth from 1167 when English students returned from the University of Paris.

The university constitutes of 39 colleges, and a range of academic departments, which are organised into four divisions. All the colleges have self-governance within the university, each being in control of its own membership and with its own internal structure and activities.

University of Bologna

The University of Bologna known in Italian language as Università di Bologna, and abbreviated as UNIBO is a research university in Bologna, Italy and was founded in 1088 by an organised guild of students (hence studiorum, “nourishing mother of studies”). It is the oldest university in the world and added to that, one of the leading academic institutions in Italy and Europe. It is one of the most prestigious Italian universities and has commonly grabbed the first place in national rankings.

The University of Bologna has about 86,500 students in its 11 schools.

Campuses of University of Bologna is located in Ravenna, Forlì, Cesena and Rimini and a branch center abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In addition to this, it has aschool of excellence named Collegio Superiore di Bologna.

There is uncertainty in the date of its founding but believed by most accounts to have been 1088. To this regard, it is the oldest continuously-operating university in the world.

However, a gradual processbrought about the development of the institution at Bologna into a university. This is confirmed by Paul Grendler. According to him, it was unlikely that there was the   existence of enough instruction and organization to merit the term university before the 1150s, and even if there was, it might not have happened before the 1180s.

The university came up around mutual aid societies (known as universitates scholarium ) of students of foreign origin called ” nations ” (as they were grouped by nationality) for protection against city laws which caused the impositionof collective punishment on foreigners for the crimes and debts of their countrymen.

These students then embarked on hiring of scholars from the city’s pre-existing lay and ecclesiastical schools to tutor them on subjects such as liberal arts, notarial law, theology, and ars dictaminis ( scrivenery).

The students were lectured in informal schools called scholae . In time the various universitates scholarium came up with the decision of forming a larger association, or Studium. This led to the startup of this university.

23 faculties preexisted before its replacement by its present 11 Schools and included:

  • School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine
  • School of Economics, Management and Statistics
  • School of Engineering and Architecture
  • School of Foreign Languages and Literature, Interpretation and Translation
  • School of Law
  • School of Arts, Humanities, and Cultural Heritage
  • School of Medicine and Surgery
  • School of Pharmacy, Biotechnologies and Sport Sciences
  • School of Political Sciences
  • School of Psychology and Education Sciences
  • School of Sciences

The schools listed above is made up of 33 departments.

University of al-Qarawiyyin

Also written as Al-Karaouine, it is a university located in Fez, Morocco.  According to UNESCO and Guinness World Records, this institution of learning is the oldest existing, continually operating higher educational institution in the world and is occasionally referred to as the oldest university by scholars. The founder of this university is Fatima al-Fihriwith an associated madrasa in 859 which subsequently became one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the historic Muslim world. It underwent incorporation into Morocco’s modern state university system in 1963.

The age bracket of most students at the Qarawiyyin is from between the ages of 13 and 30, and study towards high school-level diplomas and university-level bachelor’s degrees, although Muslims with a sufficiently high level of Arabic also have the ability to attend lecture circles based on an informal ground, given the traditional category of visitors “in search of [religious and legal] knowledge” (“zuwwaar li’l-talab fii ‘ilm”). Aside being Muslims, prospective students of the Qarawiyyin are required to have had the Qur’an in full in their memory as well as several other shorter medieval Islamic texts on grammar and Maliki law, and , are to be fluent in the use of Classical Arabic. The university is not open to men alone as the common misconception has been; it is open to both men and women. Women were the first sex that were admitted into the university in the 1940s.

The Al Quaraouiyine mosque experienced expansion from successive dynasties until it became the largest in Africa, with a capacity of 22,000 worshipers.

Founded by Fatima al-Fihri , the daughter of a wealthy merchant named Mohammed Al-Fihri, it was established in 859. The Al-Fihri family were emigrants from Kairouan (hence the name of the mosque), Tunisia to Fes in the early 9th century, joining a community of other migrants from Kairouan who found settlement in a western district of the city. Fatima and her sister Mariam, both of whom were well learned, had a large amount of money to them as an inheritance from their father. Fatima took a vow to spend her own share of the inheritance entirely on the construction of a mosque suitable for her community. Then, the city of Fes was the capital of the Idrisid Dynasty.

In some sources, the medieval madrasa is given the description as a “university”. With regards to other scholars, the earliest universities met development in medieval Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries.


There you have it list of the words oldest universities still standing today. If you are a lover of history and a student, now you know the institutions that have withstood the test of time and are still equipped to give you quality education.

  1. Muhammad Yasin says

    where is University of Edinburgh???

  2. Leonidas says

    Why you did not mention Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, established October 28, 1538 in the Dominican Republic?

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