There have been learning centers available for students for many centuries, ever since knowledge started spreading, but not all olden learning centers can be classified as universities. A college is an institution that grants learning degrees, whereas a university is a collection of many such colleges granting various degrees. The classification and definition of a university differs from country to country. For example, in the United States, an educational institution that undertakes research work is given this title. In the United Kingdom, the Further and Higher Education Act of 1992 grants power to the Privy Council to confer this title upon an institution. Basically, it means an institution of higher education (both undergraduate and postgraduate) and research, which confers degrees upon its students.
There were two universities which came before all the old ones that are functioning today, although these two are not in existence anymore. One of these universities was Takshashila and the other one was Nalanda.
Location: Currently in Pakistan
Founded in: 600 BC
It prospered greatly from 600 BC to 500 AD. It is said to be the world’s first proper university. It was present during the time of the Gandhara kingdom. Students from all over, including Babylon, Greece, China, and Syria came to learn there. The subjects that were taught included the vedas, warfare, surgery, grammar, medicine, archery, accounts, politics, futurology, astronomy, music, documentation, dance, the occult, and many more. These were taught by experienced people who had mastered them greatly. It was located in the northwest of the then Bharat (now India). Chanakya was one of the students of this university.
Location: Bihar, India
Founded in: 500 AD
This university was in operation for 800 years from 500 AD to 1300 AD. It had a campus that was a mile long and half a mile wide. There were 300 classrooms and laboratories, and such other facilities. It also had an observatory known as the Ambudharaavlehi and a massive library known as Dharma Gunj. The entrance exam that needed to be given to get admission into this university was said to be extremely tough, with the number of students clearing it being only 3 out of 10. This institution was destroyed by invaders.
The following is a list of some of the oldest universities in the world that are functioning even today.
University of Al-Karaouine
Location: Fes, Morocco
Founded in: 859 AD
Also known as the University of Al-Qarawiyyin, it was founded in 859 AD by a woman called Fatima Al-Fihri. Located in Fes, Morocco, this is the oldest Madrassa in the world, and is revered by the Muslim world in particular. It is a great spiritual and educational center. It focuses mainly on Islamic religious and legal sciences. The Guinness Book of World Records has recorded it as the oldest continuously-operating degree-granting university.
Location: Cairo, Egypt
Founded in: 972 AD
Located in Cairo, Egypt, this is the second-oldest degree-granting university. It is also considered as one of the premier educational institutions in the Islamic world, and was founded around 972 AD. It teaches a unique blend of modern science and Quranic sciences and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Non-religious subjects were introduced after 1961.
Founded in:1065 AD
This is not an independently-standing institution, but is simply a series of universities started by Khwaja Nizam Al-Mulk in Iran in the 11th century AD. These eclipsed all other educational centers. The crown jewel in these series is the Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad, founded in 1065 AD in Dhu’l Qa’da. Other places of operation are Amul, Mosul, Basra, Herat, Damascus, and Nishapur.
University of Bologna
Location: Bologna, Italy
Founded in: 1088 AD
This university is believed to be one of the oldest universities which has been in operation continuously since its establishment in the year 1088 AD. Being the first one established in the Christian world, it has a rich heritage since it was founded. This institution was the first to use the term ‘university’ (universitas). It has 23 schools, and a total of about 100,000 students. The actual year of its founding is not exactly known, but it is believed that a group of historians traced the year to 1088 AD. This group was led by Giosuè Carducci.
University of Paris
Location: Paris, France
Founded in: 1150 AD
This was one of the premier higher education centers in the world for the fields of arts, medicine, theology, and law. It was shut down in 1970. Today, it operates as 13 different universities by the name of University of Paris I-XIII. Located around the Notre Dame Cathedral, it is also known as the Sorbonne or the la Sorbonne. It is named after the institution Collège de Sorbonne, which was founded in 1275 by Robert de Sorbon.
University of Montpellier
Location: Montpellier, France
Founded in: 1289 AD
Though the official founding year of this institution is 1289 AD, the teachings had begun much before that. It focuses mainly on the teachings of science and technology. Medicine and law are also very sought-after courses here. Originally founded by a teacher from the University of Bologna, it was ‘re-founded’ in the year 1969.
University of Oxford
Location: Oxford, England
Founded in: Year unknown
Although the foundation year of this university is not known, there is evidence of teaching being undertaken here as far back as the year 1096. It gained a lot of popularity in the year 1167, as Henry II imposed a ban on English students from attending the University of Paris. It is regarded as one of the best places to get a higher education today, and it consists of about 38 different colleges specializing in various fields of study.
University of Cambridge
Location: Cambridge, England
Founded in: 1209 AD
This is said to be the third-oldest university that is surviving, and the second-oldest in the English-speaking world. It was formed by some scholars who left the University of Oxford over a dispute. Consisting of over 31 colleges, this has a longstanding rivalry with the University of Oxford. Located in the city of Cambridge, England, it is ranked in the top 5 universities of the world today, and its alumni consist of no less than 87 different Nobel Laureates. The university’s press is the second-largest in any university in the world, and is the oldest publishing house. Also, its biggest library houses more than 8 million books. All the libraries of this university together hold over 15 million books.
University of Salamanca
Location: Salamanca, Spain
Founded in: 1218 AD
This is the oldest university in Spain, and is located in the town of Salamanca, west of Madrid. It is the third-oldest university in Europe that has been in continuous operation since it was founded. Today, it is the premier institution in the world for studying humanities and languages. Christopher Columbus is said to have consulted with its scholars when he was seeking a route to the Indies. The divide between the people of Leon and Castile in Spain led to its rise, as the Leonese king Alfonso IX created it so that people of Lèon would not have to go to Castile to pursue higher education. It was the first European university to receive the title of ‘University’.
University of Padua
Location: Padua, Italy
Founded in: 1222 AD
This is the chief university of Italy, and is the second-oldest institution there. It was started as a law school. It is said to have been founded in 1222 by a group of students and professors who are said to have left the University of Bologna in the search of more freedom in academics. Theology and law were the first subjects taught. The fields of botany, history, and theater are the most well-known and pursued courses here, and it has established its greatness in the educated world. In 2009, it was ranked as the best university among all Italian educational institutions for higher education.
University of Naples Federico II
Location: Naples, Italy
Founded in: 1224 AD
This university was founded by emperor Frederick II of the Roman Empire on 5th June, 1224, from whom it gets its name. It has 13 faculties as of the present. It is one of the oldest higher education and research institutions supported by the state, and is one of the oldest ones in continuous operation. The famous philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas was one of its students.
University of Toulouse
Location: Toulouse, France
Founded in: 1229 AD
The forming of this institution was enforced on Count Raymond II as a part of the Treaty of Paris. He was made to finance the subject of theology as a punishment for supporting the heretics. One of the first founders of this institution was Bishop Foulques de Toulouse. The faculties of medicine and law were included later. It was split into three separate universities and many different specialized institutions in the year 1969. This university is a part of the Midi-Pyrènèes area which is the fifth-largest university area in France.
University of Siena
Location: Siena, Italy
Founded in: 1240 AD
This is one of the oldest universities in Italy that is funded by the public. It was originally known as Stadium Senese. It was closed from 1808 to 1815 when Napoleon’s forces had occupied Tuscany. Law and medicine are what this university is most popular for. It celebrated its 750th anniversary on 7th November, 1990.
All these universities are educational hubs where knowledge is greatly valued. They have not remained popular for so long for nothing. It is the quality of education that they offer that has kept them alive and popular for so long.