Top 9 Oldest University In The World And Their History

Richard Atang
Posted Richard Atang February 13, 2023
Updated 2023/02/13 at 11:13 AM
12 Min Read
Oldest university in the world

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Higher education institutions have existed for hundreds of years, but not all have stood the test of time.

This is not a list of the Nine oldest universities in chronological order, but rather highlights nine of the oldest universities that also have a high international ranking. Below is the list of the oldest universities in the world.

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University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is a  research university in England. There is evidence of teaching dating back to 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest university still in operation currently. It quickly grew after Henry II prohibited English students from attending the University of Paris. Following a misunderstanding between students and residents of Oxford in 1209, some academics fled northeast to Cambridge, where they formed the University of Cambridge.

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The university is composed primarily of thirty-nine semi-autonomous constituent colleges, five permanent private halls, and a diverse range of academic departments organized into four divisions. Within the university, each college is a self-governing institution with its own membership, inner structure, and activities. It does not have a central campus, and its buildings and facilities are scattered throughout the city center. Undergraduate teaching at Oxford consists of lectures, small-group tutorials at colleges and halls, seminars, laboratory work, and, on occasion, additional tutorials offered by central university faculties and departments.

University of Salamanca

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Salamanca University is a Spanish higher education institution in Salamanca, in the autonomous community of Castile and León. King Alfonso IX established it in 1218. It is the Hispanic world’s oldest university and one of the world’s oldest in continuous operation which has over 30,000 students of various nationalities.

Salamanca had a cathedral school prior to the establishment of the university, which was known to exist by 1130. The Leonese King Alfonso IX established the university as a studium generale as the scholas Salamanticae in 1218, with the actual establishment occurring between August 1218 and the following winter. A further royal charter from King Alfonso X, dated 8 May 1254, established rules for the university’s organization and financial endowment and made reference to it by that name for the first time.

Now in the present day, Salamanca tends to draw undergraduate and graduate students from all over Spain and the world; it is Spain’s top-ranked university in terms of students from other regions.   It is also well-known for its non-native Spanish courses, which attract over 2,000 foreign students each year.

Today, the University of Salamanca is a main center for humanities research, especially in language studies, as well as in law and economics. The university and its affiliated research centers conduct scientific research.

University of Bologna

The University of Bologna is an Italian public research university in Bologna. It is the world’s oldest university which is in continuous operation, founded in 1088 by an organized guild of students and the first degree-awarding institution of higher learning. The term university was first used at its beginnings. It is Italy’s second largest university, after La Sapienza in Rome, with over 90,000 students.

It was the very first university to use the term university for the corporations of students and masters, which came to define the Bologna-based institution. The university’s emblem bears the motto Alma Mater Studiorum, which translates as “Nourishing Mother of Studies.

It has campuses in Cesena, Forl, Ravenna, and Rimini, as well as an international branch center located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.   It also has an excellent school education known as the Collegio Superiore di Bologna. Bononia University Press is a University of Bologna associate publisher. Bettisia Gozzadini was the first woman to earn a university degree and teach at a university, and Laura Bassi was the first woman to earn both a doctorate in science and a higher-paid position as a university professor.

It is one of Italy’s top institutions and is regularly ranked among the top universities in Italy and in the globe.

It is notably known for its studies in law, medicine, and natural sciences.  During the Italian Renaissance, the University of Bologna played a crucial role in the sciences, housing, etc.

University of Paris

The University of Paris, also known as the Sorbonne, was the leading university in Paris, France, from 1150 to 1970, with the notable exception of the French Revolutionary period between 1793 and 1806. It was Europe’s second-oldest university, founded around 1150 as a corporation affiliated with Notre Dame de Paris’ cathedral school.

Officially chartered in 1200 by King Philip II of France and acknowledged in 1215 by Pope Innocent III, it later became known as the Sorbonne after its theological college.

Since the Middle Ages, it has been known internationally for its academic performance in the humanities, particularly in theology and philosophy. It has established several academic standards and traditions that have sustained and spread internationally, such as doctoral degrees and student nations. The University of Paris educated many popes, royalty, scientists, and intellectuals.

During the French Revolution in 1793, the university was closed, and the college endowments and buildings were sold under Item 27 of the Revolutionary Convention.

It was replaced in 1806 by a new French University with four independent faculties. 

University of Padua

The University of Padua is an Italian university located in Padua, Veneto, northern Italy. A group of Bologna students and teachers founded the University of Padua in 1222. Padua University is the second-oldest in Italy and the world’s fifth-oldest having survived. The university had approximately 65,000 students in 2010. According to the Census institute, it was ranked the second “best university” among Italian institutions of higher education with more than 40,000 students in 2021, and among the top 200 – ranking universities in the world according to ARWU.

The university was historically founded in 1222 when a large group of students and professors left the University of Bologna in search of greater academic freedom. Law and theology were the first subjects taught. By 1399, the institution had split into two.

 University of Cambridge

Cambridge University is a research public university in England. Cambridge University was founded in 1209 and is the world’s third-oldest surviving university and one of its most prestigious, currently ranked second in the world and first in Europe by QS World University Rankings.

The 13th-century founding of the University of Cambridge was largely inspired by an association of scholars who left the University of Oxford for Cambridge following the hanging of the scholars in a disagreement with local townspeople. The two ancient English universities, though sometimes described as rivals, share many similarities and are often referred to collectively as Oxbridge. The university was formed by the merger of 31 semi-autonomous constituent colleges and over 150 academic departments, faculties, and other institutions organized into six schools. All colleges within the university are self-governing institutions, managing their own personnel and policies, and all students are required to have a college affiliation within the university.

The university has no main campus, and its colleges and central facilities are dispersed throughout the city. Undergraduate teaching at Cambridge is centered on weekly group supervision in small groups of one to four students in the colleges. This intensive teaching method is widely regarded as the crowning achievement of an Oxbridge undergraduate education. The central university faculties and departments provide lectures, seminars, laboratory work, and occasionally additional supervision, and postgraduate education is also primarily provided centrally; however, degrees are conferred by the university, not the colleges

 University of Naples Federico II

The University of Naples is located in Naples, Italy. Federico II is an Italian public university in Naples. It was established in 1224 and is the world’s oldest public non-sectarian university, having 26 departments. It was Europe’s first university devoted solely to the training of secular administrative personnel and is one of the oldest academic institutions still in operation. Federico II is the third largest university in Italy in terms of enrollment, but despite its size, it is still one of the best universities in Italy and the world; in southern Italy, it has led the first ranking since its inception,[citation needed], and it is particularly notable for research; in 2015, it was ranked among the top 100 universities in the world in terms of citations per paper.

 University of Siena

The University of Siena is one of Italy’s oldest and first publicly financed universities in Siena, Tuscany. The institution, originally known as Studium Senese, was founded in 1240. In 2006, it had approximately 20,000 students, accounting for nearly half of Siena’s total population of approximately 54,000. It had an overall undergraduate enrollment of 17,00 and a graduate enrollment of 2,989 in the academic year 2022-2023. Today, the University of Siena is best known for its Law, Medicine, Economics, and Management Schools.

 University of Coimbra

Coimbra University is a public research university in Coimbra, Portugal. It was founded in Lisbon in 1290 and relocated several times before settling entirely in Coimbra in 1537. The university is one of the world’s oldest continuously operating universities, as well as the oldest in Portugal, and has played a significant role in the growth of higher education in the Portuguese-speaking world. UNESCO designated the university as a World Heritage Site in 2013, citing its architecture, distinct culture and traditions, and historical significance.


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