List of oldest universities in continuous operation

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Map of medieval European universities

This is a list of the oldest extant universities in the world. To be listed on this page, an educational institution must satisfy the definition of a university at the time of founding; it must have been founded before 1500 or be the oldest university in a region; and it must have been operational without a significant interruption ever since. The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars" in Latin countries.

Because the awarding of academic degrees for advanced studies was historically most prevalent in Europe and the Middle East, and the modern definition of a university includes the ability to grant degrees, most of the oldest institutions of higher learning that have always satisfied the modern definition were either European or Near Eastern.[1][2] If, however, the definition is broadened and changed today to include ancient institutions that did not originally grant degrees but now do, then this list would expand significantly to include many other institutions from both Europe and other parts of the world. For instance, Nanjing University (Imperial Nanjing Institute), which exists to this day, originally founded in 258 in China, as well as many other newly defined universities. However, they did not award degrees in the strictest sense, instead, it prepared students for standardized exams that would bestow upon them a rank in the scholar-gentry.

Regarding the precise definition of the original Latin word university, which includes the ability to grant degrees in a wide range of fields, the categorization of many of the oldest learning institutions as de facto ancient universities in continuous operation could be controversial and problematic. For example, if the definition were broadened to include ancient institutions that did not originally grant degrees, were strictly religious schools for centuries or vanished without trace for long periods of time, then such categorization may agree with specific points of view which are not widely accepted.


[edit] Founded before 1500

Year Contemporary location Current location Name Notes
1088 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Kingdom of Italy Flag of Italy Bologna, Italy University of Bologna The first university, the term 'university' being coined at its foundation. [1]
1150 Flag of France Kingdom of France Flag of France Paris, France University of Paris Exact date uncertain, founded before 1150. Teaching suspended in 1229. Split into 13 universities in 1970.
1167 Kingdom of England Flag of the United Kingdom Oxford, England, UK University of Oxford Exact date uncertain, teaching existed since 1096, founded before 1167 ("There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris."[3]). Teaching suspended in 1209 (due to town execution of two scholars) and 1355 (due to the St. Scholastica riot)
1209 Kingdom of England Flag of the United Kingdom Cambridge, England, UK University of Cambridge Founded by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute.
1218 Standard of the Kingdom of LeónStandard of the Kingdom of Galicia United Kingdom of León and Galicia Flag of Spain Salamanca, Spain University of Salamanca It is the oldest university in operation of Spain. Although there are records of the University granting degrees many years before (James Trager´s People's Chronology sets its foundation date in 1134), it only received the Royal chart of foundation in 1218, making it possibly the fourth or even the third oldest European university in continuous operations. Having being excluded from the University in 1852 by the Spanish government, the Faculties of Theology and Canon Law became the Pontifical University of Salamanca in 1940.
1222 Coat of arms of Padua Commune of Padua Flag of Italy Padua, Italy University of Padua Founded by a large group of students and professors leaving University of Bologna for more academic freedom. Suspended in 1237–61, 1509–17, 1848–50.
1224 Flag of Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Kingdom of Sicily Flag of Italy Naples, Italy University of Naples Federico II Founded by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. Closed in 1435–51, 1451–65, 1474–78, 1480–87, 1496–1507, 1527–29, 1531, 1547, 1562, 1585, etc.[4]
1240 Coat of arms of Siena Commune of Siena Flag of Italy Siena, Italy University of Siena Originally called 'Studium Senese'. Closed in 1402–04 and 1808–14.
1241 Flag of Castile and León Crown of Castile and León Flag of Spain Valladolid, Spain University of Valladolid Claims continuity with University of Palencia, founded in 1212 in Palencia. [5] Accepting that claim, it would be the oldest one on the Iberian Peninsula.
1290 Flag of Portugal Kingdom of Portugal Flag of Portugal Coimbra, Portugal University of Coimbra Founded in Lisbon as a Studium Generale, it was based there in 1290–1308, 1338–54, and 1377–1537.
1303 Coat of arms of the Papal States Papal States Flag of Italy Rome, Italy University of Rome La Sapienza Founded by Pope Boniface VIII, but became a state university in 1935. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, the university "remained closed during the entire pontificate of Clement VII".
1308 Commune of Perugia Flag of Italy Perugia, Italy University of Perugia Attested by the Bull of Pope Clement V.
1321 Coat of arms of the Republic of Florence Republic of Florence Flag of Italy Florence, Italy University of Florence moved to Pisa from 1473 to 1497 and from 1515 to 1860
1343 Coat of arms of the Republic of Pisa Republic of Pisa Flag of Italy Pisa, Italy University of Pisa
1348 Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Bohemia Kingdom of Bohemia Flag of the Czech Republic Prague, Czech Republic Charles University of Prague Three of four faculties closed in 1419, joined with Jesuit university and renamed Charles-Ferdinand University in 1652, split into German and Czech part in 1882, Czech branch closed during Nazi occupation (1939-1945), German branch closed in 1945.
1356 Flag of France Kingdom of France Flag of France Angers, France University of Angers Before being officially recognized in 1356, it existed as a renowned school from the 11th century.[6] There was no university in Angers between 1793 and 1971.
1361 Coat of arms of Visconti Milan Lordship of Milan Flag of Italy Pavia, Italy University of Pavia Closed for short periods during the Italian Wars, Napoleonic wars, and Revolutions of 1848.
1364 Coat of arms of Poland Kingdom of Poland Flag of Poland Kraków, Poland Cracow Academy Development stalled early, re-established from 1400 onwards. Closed after the German occupation of Poland in 1939 but reopened clandestinely three years later.
1365 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Austria Vienna, Austria University of Vienna Modelled on the University of Paris.
1367 Coat of arms of HungaryKingdom of Hungary Flag of Hungary Pécs, Hungary University of Pécs Founded by Louis I of Hungary, refounded in 1912
1386 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Germany Heidelberg, Germany Ruprecht Karls University of Heidelberg Transferred to Neustadt an der Haardt in 1576–83, suppressed between 1632 and 1652, and moved out to Frankfurt am Main and elsewhere in 1689–1700.[7]
1391 Coat of arms of Ferrara Marquisate of Ferrara Flag of Italy Ferrara, Italy University of Ferrara There was no teaching in 1794–1824 and 1848–50.[8]
1402 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Germany Würzburg, Germany University of Würzburg From our article: "The initial inauguration of a university in Würzburg would ultimately not be resumed until a hundred and fifty years later".
1404 Flag of the Duchy of Savoy Duchy of Savoy Flag of Italy Turin, Italy University of Turin There was no university in Turin between 1536 and 1566 and during the Napoleonic occupation.
1409 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Germany Leipzig, Germany University of Leipzig Founded when German-speaking staff left Prague due to the Jan Hus crisis.
1409 Flag of France Kingdom of France Flag of France Marseille / Aix-en-Provence, France University of Provence Closed down during the French Revolution.
1410 Flag of Scotland Kingdom of Scotland Flag of the United Kingdom St Andrews, Scotland, UK University of St Andrews Founded by a Papal Bull
1419 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Germany Rostock, Germany University of Rostock During the Reformation, "the Catholic university of Rostock closed altogether and the closure was long enough to make the refounded body feel a new institution".[9]
1425 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Belgium Leuven, Belgium Catholic University of Leuven The oldest university in the Low Countries and oldest still existing Catholic university in the world. Transferred to Brussels in 1788, shut down by the French Republic in 1797, reopened in 1816, reorganized in 1834. Since 1968 split between the French-speaking Université Catholique de Louvain and the Dutch-speaking Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
1431 Flag of France Kingdom of France Flag of France Poitiers, France University of Poitiers The modern university in Poitiers was founded in 1896 by merging several schools. The old university was abolished during the French Revolution.
1432 Flag of France Kingdom of France Flag of France Caen, France University of Caen Disbanded during the French Revolution.
1434 Flag of Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Kingdom of Naples Flag of Italy Catania, Italy University of Catania The oldest in Sicily.
1438  Kalmar Union Flag of Sweden Lund, Sweden University of Lund Was cancelled at 1536 when the Danish reformation took place. Lund's University was later founded as a new institution in 1666. Originally part of Denmark prior to the Peace of Roskilde in 1658.
1441 Coat of arms of the Kingdom of England Plantagenet Aquitaine Flag of France Bordeaux, France University of Bordeaux Officially founded in 1441 by a Papal Bull, it was closed due to the French Revolution in 1793. The faculties of Science and of Letters were founded again in 1838, but it is not until 1896 that it recovered its official status as a university.[10]
1450 Standard of the Crown of Aragon Crown of Aragon Flag of Spain Barcelona, Spain University of Barcelona The University of Barcelona was closed by the Bourbon dynasty and transferred to Cervera after the War of the Spanish Succession (from 1714 until 1837). Plans to open the University of Cervera did not get underway until 1715 and it did not start its academic work until 1717.
1451 Flag of Scotland Kingdom of Scotland Flag of the United Kingdom Glasgow, Scotland, UK University of Glasgow Founded by a Papal Bull
1456 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Germany Greifswald, Germany University of Greifswald Teaching existed since 1436. Closed down during the Protestant Reformation (1527–39).
1457 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Germany Freiburg, Germany Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg Temporarily transferred to Constance in 1686–98 and 1713–15.
1460 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Switzerland Basel, Switzerland University of Basel
1460 Coat of arms of Brittany Duchy of Brittany Flag of France Nantes, France University of Nantes Abolished by the French revolutionaries
1472 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Germany Munich, Germany Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich Founded in Ingolstadt in 1459, transferred to Landshut in 1800, moved to Munich in 1826.
1477 Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire Flag of Germany Tübingen, Germany Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen
1477  Kalmar Union Flag of Sweden Uppsala, Sweden University of Uppsala Teaching lay mainly dormant between 1515 and 1593.
1479  Kalmar Union Flag of Denmark Copenhagen, Denmark University of Copenhagen
1481  Republic of Genoa Flag of Italy Genoa, Italy University of Genoa It was little more than a Jesuit school during the Renaissance, and was not operational in 1798–1812, 1821–23, 1830–35 etc.
1495 Flag of Scotland Kingdom of Scotland Flag of the United Kingdom Aberdeen, Scotland, UK University of Aberdeen King's College was founded in 1495 and Marischal College in 1593; they merged in 1860
1495 Kingdom of Galicia Kingdom of Galicia Flag of Spain Santiago de Compostela, Spain University of Santiago de Compostela In 1504, Pope Julius II approved the foundation of a university in Santiago but "the bull for its creation was not granted by Clement VII until 1526".[11]
1499 Pennant of the nascent Kingdom of Spain Kingdom of Spain Flag of Spain Madrid, Spain Complutense University of Madrid Claims continuity with Estudio de Escuelas Generales de Alcalá, founded in 1293 in Alcalá de Henares
1499 Pennant of the nascent Kingdom of Spain Kingdom of Spain Flag of Spain Valencia, Spain University of Valencia

[edit] Islamic religious institutions

The university as an autonomous, self-governing educational institution was preceded by the religious college/university, whose origins lie in the medieval Islamic world. The madrasah was a medieval Islamic college of law and theology, usually affiliated with a mosque. Philosophy and the secular sciences were often excluded from the curriculum, which was mainly focused on religion,[12] but this varied among different institutions, with some only choosing to teach the "religious sciences", and others teaching both the religious and the "secular sciences", usually logic, mathematics and philosophy. Some madrasahs further extended their curriculum to history, politics, ethics, music, metaphysics, medicine, astronomy and chemistry. In contrast to the madrasah, the Jami`ah was an institution that had individual faculties for different subjects and could house a number of madrasahs within it, with the most notable example being Al-Azhar University,[1] which had individual faculties[13] for a theological seminary, law and jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, astronomy, philosophy, and logic.[1] Professors at Al-Azhar also delivered lectures on medicine during the time of Saladin.[14] Another notable example was Mustansiriya University which offered courses dealing with philosophy, mathematics and the natural sciences.[15]

The madrasahs differed from medieval universities of Europe in several important respects, e.g., in that instruction was presented by a small group of teachers or even by a single teacher. The crucial difference is that the degree took the form of a license (ijazah) which "was signed in the name of the teacher, not of the madrasa".[16] In other words, "the authorization or licensing was done by each professor, not by a group or corporate body, much less by a disinterested or impersonal certifying body".[12] As a result, the concept of a degree from a specific university was replaced with multiple licenses from individual scholars working within the same religious college/university. Islamic "universities" that operated within this framework of multiple licenses include:

Year Current Location Name Other notes
859 Flag of Morocco Fes, Morocco University of Al-Karaouine
975 Flag of Egypt Cairo, Egypt Al-Azhar University A degree-granting Jam'iah ("university" in Arabic)[1] with individual faculties[13] for a general college and theological seminary, Law and Jurisprudence, Grammar, Astronomy, Philosophy, and Logic.[1] Professors at Al-Azhar also delivered lectures on Medicine during the time of Saladin.[14]
1233 Flag of Iraq Baghdad, Iraq Mustansiriya University Established by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir in 1233, and, in addition to the religious subjects, offered courses dealing with philosophy, mathematics and the natural sciences.[15] The college/university was incorporated into the Baghdad University in 1962, and, in 1963, it was reopened as Al-Mustansiriya University.
1327 Flag of Mali Timbuktu, Mali University of Sankore Foundation of the school was financed by Kankan Musa who paid for the Granada architect Abu Ishaq es Saheli from Egypt to build mosques and palaces throughout the empire.
1453 Flag of Turkey Istanbul, Turkey Istanbul University Founded as a philosophical and theological higher education institution, refounded 23 July 1846 as a Darülfünun (House of Multiple Sciences), and refounded again on 1 August 1933 as a Üniversitesi (Arts and Sciences University). Today, it has no direct religious affiliation with Islam.
1780 Flag of India Calcutta, India Calcutta Madrasah College The oldest continuously running Islamic seminary in India; it attained university status in 2008
1851 Flag of Iran Tehran, Iran Dar al-Funun

This university opening by Amir Kabir Minester of Iran at 1851.Amir Kabir was a pitier of iranian minester.

1866 Flag of India Deoband, India Darul Uloom Deoband It was founded as an institution for the revival of Islamic scholarship in India. From its inception, it has been a center of both the Sharia and the Tariqah schools of thought.

[edit] Post-1500, oldest universities by country or region

The majority of European countries had universities by 1500. After 1500, universities began to spread to other countries all over the world:

[edit] Caveat

The actual date a university started to function is often rather hazy and differs a good deal from legend, or from the date its ancestor-institution was founded. For example, it is generally admitted today that Oxford's foundation cannot be precisely dated, but must lie somewhere in the mid-to-late 12th century. However, the notion that a college could be empowered to give the bachelor's degree is a modern American one; by European terms, Harvard College had already adopted the powers (if not the style) of a university in 1642. The University of Pennsylvania was simply the first U.S. institution to call itself a university; but neither it, Harvard, or any of the seven other Colonial American colleges were nearly as large or diverse as European universities of the time. The first U.S. university to create a modern graduate school and award a Ph.D. degree was Yale University, in 1861.

[edit] See also

[edit] References and notes

  1. ^ a b c d e Alatas, Syed Farid, "From Jami`ah to University: Multiculturalism and Christian–Muslim Dialogue", Current Sociology 54 (1): 112-32 
  2. ^ Makdisi, George (April-June 1989), "Scholasticism and Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West", Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (2): 175-182 [175-77] 
  3. ^ A brief history of the University of Oxford, Oxford University
  4. ^ Grenler, Paul F. The Universities of the Italian Renaissance. John Hopkins University Press, 2004. Pages 43–44.
  5. ^ Tradition and Progress since the 13th century, University of Valladolid
  6. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, University of Angers
  7. ^ See: Ridder-Symoens, Hilde de. A History of the University in Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2003. Page 83.
  8. ^ Ferrara, The new American cyclopædia, ed G. Ripley and C.A. Dana, 1859
  9. ^ Quoted from: Chadwick, Owen. The Early Reformation on the Continent. Oxford University Press, 2003. Page 257.
  10. ^ History, University of Bordeaux IV
  11. ^ See: Ridder-Symoens, Hilde de. A History of the University in Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2003. Page 84.
  12. ^ a b Toby E. Huff. The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West. Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pages 77-78.
  13. ^ a b Goddard, Hugh (2000), A History of Christian-Muslim Relations, Edinburgh University Press, p. 99, ISBN 074861009X 
  14. ^ a b Necipogulu, Gulru (1996), Muqarnas, Volume 13, Brill Publishers, p. 56, ISBN 9004106332 
  15. ^ a b Dodge, Bayard (October-December 1964), "Reviewed Work(s): History of Islamic Origins of Western Education by Mehdi Nakosteen", Journal of the American Oriental Society 84 (4): 429-431 [430] 
  16. ^ William J. Courtenay, Jürgen Miethke, David B. Priest. Universities and Schooling in Medieval Society. Brill Academic Publishers, 2000. ISBN 9004113517. Page 96.
  17. ^ ""

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