The list of the oldest universities in the world varies, depending on how one defines a university. If a university is considered to be a degree granting institution, all of the world’s oldest universities are located in Europe, where the practice of granting certification was widespread by the 1100s. However, many institutions of advanced learning in Asia and Africa are far older than European universities, and rightly belong on a list of the world’s oldest universities when one thinks of them as institutions of learning. For the purpose of this list, both are considered as institutions of learning, some of which offered degrees later than others, but all were established to provide a higher standard of learning and knowledge advancement. In some instances, the exact date of foundation is sometimes difficult to establish, since many universities organized themselves slowly.
10. University of Cambridge, England: 1209
This University was formed by scholars who left the University of Oxford over a dispute. Consisting of over 31 colleges, this University has a long standing rivalry with the University of Oxford, and is in fact the second oldest University in the English speaking world. Located in the city of Cambridge, England, it is ranked in the top 5 Universities of the world today, and its alumni consists of no less than 87 different Nobel Laureates.
9. University of Montpellier, France: 1311
The university is considerably older than its formal founding date, associated with a bull (quia sapientia) issued by Pope Nicholas IV in 1289, combining all the long-existing schools into a single university. It is the oldest medical school in Europe, and the school of law was founded by Placentinus, from the school of law at Bologna, who came to Montpellier in 1160.
8. University of Oxford, England: 1096
There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. Teaching was temporarily suspended in 1209 due to town execution of two scholars and in 1355 due to the St. Scholastica riot, but was continuous during the English Civil War (1642-1651), at which time the University was Royalist. All Souls College and University College have repeatedly claimed that they own documents proving that teaching in Oxford started in the year 825, but these documents have never seen the public light (allegedly, John Speed dated his famous 1605 Oxford maps based in these documents).
7. University of Paris, France: 1090
This institution was established in 1090 but abolished in 1789 by the French Revolution. Teaching suspended for two years from 1229 under similar circumstances to Oxford’s later St. Scholasticas riots in 1355. The modern University of Paris was established to continue in the footsteps of the original. In 1890, 101-years after the abolition of the medieval schools, Napol�on’s 1808 academy of the Imperial University received university status in Paris. Following rioting in 1968 by Paris students the new university was again dissolved. Its assets were split into 13 independent institutions by the French government’s 1970 reforms. Several of the 1970′s vintage foundations incorporated the word “Sorbonne” in their name, also acquiring some buildings of older vintage, but these are not the Sorbonne of 1253 – it too was abolished in 1789 by the French Revolution.
6. University of Bologna, Italy: 1088
The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly translated as “community of teachers and scholars” in Latin countries such as France. The term was coined by the Italian University of Bologna, which, is considered the first university by proper naming convention. Bologna was the first degree-granting university, the first in the sense of a higher learning, degree awarding institute, the term ‘university’ being coined at its foundation. The origin of many medieval universities can be traced to the Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools which appear as early as the 6th century AD and were run for hundreds of years as such before their formal establishment as university in the high medieval period.
No other European institution has spread over the entire world in the way in which the traditional form of the European university has done. The degrees awarded by European universities � the bachelor’s degree, the licentiate, the master’s degree, and the doctorate � have been adopted in the most diverse societies throughout the world. The four medieval faculties of artes variously called philosophy, letters, arts, arts and sciences, and humanities � law, medicine, and theology have survived and remain none the less at the heart of universities throughout the world.
5. Al-Nizamiyya, Iran: 1065
This is not an independently standing University by itself, but rather a collection of independent educational institutions started by Khwaja Nizam Al-Mulk in Iran in the 11th century AD� in what is now modern Iran. These centres of advanced learning were recognized as bewing among the best of educational centers at the time. The Al-Nizammiya University of Baghdad was founded in 1065 AD in Dhu’l Qa’da, and is the centre of the schools. Other places of operation are Amul, Mosul, Basra, Herat, Damascus and Nishapur.
4. Al-Azhar University, Egypt: 972
Located in Cairo, Egypt this university is considered one of the premier educational institutions in the Islamic world, and was founded around 972 AD. This university serves as a center for Arabic literature and Sunni Islamic learning. Al-Azhar university concentrates upon a religious syllabus, which pays special attention to the Quranic sciences and traditions of Muhammad on the one hand, while also teaching all modern fields of science.
3. University of Al Karaouine, Morocco: 859 AD
Located in Fes, Morocco, this university – also known as the University of Al-Qarawiyyin – was originally a mosque founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, a woman. It developed into one of the leading universities for natural sciences. It wasn�t until 1957 that the university added mathematics, physics, chemistry and foreign languages.
2. University of Nanjing, China: 258 AD
Nanjing is a major commercial center with over six million inhabitants, is located on the lower Yangtze River in eastern China. Nanjing has served as the capital of China during several periods of history, including much of the Ming Dynasty, and has long been a center for learning and the arts. Nanjing University, one of the most prestigious universities in China, was founded in the early 20th century, but traces its lineage back to AD 258. Nanjing University was refounded in 1915 with the name Nanjing Higher Normal Institute on the site of former Nanking Imperial Universitywhich, was originally founded in the first year of Yong’an reign (AD 258) under the Kingdom of Wu by the emperor Sun Xiu, and the first president Wei Zhao.
This was the Kingdom’s central university. In 470 during the Song Dynasty, the Imperial Nanking University became a comprehensive institution combining higher education and research and consisted of five divisions: Literature, History, Confucianism, Dao Study and Yin Yang Study, and it was the first research educational institution in history. In the period the faculty members included such scholars and scientists as Zu Chongzhi, Ge Hong, Wang Xizhi.� In the 15th century during the Ming Dynasty, the Imperial Central University in Nanking was the world’s largest higher education institution, with about 10 thousand students, many of whom came from a number of other countries.
1. The University of Nalanda, India: 5th c. BC
The site of Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south east of Patna, and was a Buddhist center of learning from 427 CE to 1197 CE partly under the Pala Empire. It has been called by historians “one of the first great universities in recorded history.”
Nalanda was one of the world’s first residential universities, with dormitories for students. In its heyday it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. The library was located in a nine storied building where meticulous copies of texts were produced. The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered all fields of learning, and it attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey. The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang left detailed accounts of the university in the 7th century.
It is said that The Buddha himself often visited and stayed at the university, which is well known for its Buddhist teachings and knowledge. In 1193, the Nalanda University was sacked by Bakhtiyar Khilji (Muslim Turk leader who invaded, sacked and conquered much of northern India), a milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. The Persian historian Minhaz, in his chronicle the Tabaquat-I-Nasiri, reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded, and the burning of the library contin�ued for several months, when “smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills.”
Honourable Mention: Plato’s Academy, Athens: 387 BC
Although this institution of advanced learning is long gone, it is perhaps one of the best known of all educational centres and produced one of the most famous scholars of Western civilization, Aristotle. Plato was a teacher/student, mathematician, author, philosopher and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the western world.Together with his teacher, Socrates, and his premier student, Aristotle, Plato and his Academy helped to lay the philosophical foundations of Western culture.