The Oldest universities in the world for higher education have been available for a very long time. The world’s population growth and the increased interest in higher education ensure that these institutions will be around for quite some time.
Many of the world’s oldest universities have changed beyond recognition by disbanding, splitting into separate institutions, or being overwhelmed by modernization.
Ancient institutions that have survived to the present day are noteworthy not just for the legacy they have left behind but also for demonstrating resilience in the face of globalization and stiff competition.
Below is a list of some of the world’s oldest universities in order of their founding year and current rating.
Find out The 15 Oldest Universities in the World
1. University of al-Qarawiyyin
Country: Fez, Morocco
Founded: 857 – 859
The University of al-Qarawiyyin is one of “the oldest existing and regularly operating educational institution in the world,” as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. Two hundred and twenty-seven years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, a woman established the university.
As early as the early 20th century, the university offered courses in the sciences as part of its religiously based curriculum. However, by the middle of the century, it had significantly increased its non-religious offerings. Before being admitted to the university, students must demonstrate that they have memorized the Quran. It ranks first in terms of the Oldest universities in the world.
2. Al Azhar University
Country: Cairo, Egypt
Founded In: 975
Since its founding in the 12th century, Al Azhar University has served as a hub for Sunni Islamic scholarship and Arabic language education.
In addition to its traditional role as a hub for Islamic religious education (including courses on the Quran and Hadith, i.e., the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), Al Azhar now provides degrees in fields such as commerce, medicine, and engineering and it is ranked second as one of the Oldest universities in the world.
3. Hunan University
Country: Changsha, China
Founded In: 976
The remarkable longevity of Hunan University has earned it the nickname “One Thousand-Year-Old University.” Hunan University originated from the Yuelu Academy, established in 976 AD, and is the first existing university in China and one of the oldest universities in the world today.
There are 27 doctorate programs, 36 master’s degree programs, 60 undergraduate majors, and two important national disciplines available at the institution. Most of the school’s focus is on technological and technical studies.
4. University of Bologna
Founded In: 1088
The University of Bologna may claim to be one of the world’s oldest continuously operating universities in the world.
There are 6,293 international students registered at the University of Bologna, making it one of the top institutions participating in the Erasmus+ exchange program. In 2019, the university was the leading public university in Italy.
The University of Bologna is not only one of the oldest institutions in the world but also the oldest university in Europe. It was initially founded as a secular school, apart from the other religious institutions already present in Italy at the time.
Its original faculty included prominent legal scholars who were language, rhetoric, and logic experts. Theology was not included in the curriculum until 1364, when the institution decided to broaden the range of subjects its professors covered.
5. University of Oxford
Country: United Kingdom
The University of Oxford is the oldest English-speaking university in Oxford. It was created when Henry II banned English students from Paris University in 1167, spurring its growth. It has the biggest university press, the most extensive academic library system, and the oldest university museum. With its university city format, the school pioneered college consolidation.
Oxford has no particular founding date, like many historical universities. Oxford’s teachings date back to 1096, but it’s unclear when they became an institution because King Henry II prohibited English students from Paris University in 1167, boosting Oxford’s growth.
6. University of Cambridge
Founded In: 1209
The University of Cambridge was created by Oxford academians fleeing political instability. Because the two schools had many similarities, the portmanteau “Oxbridge” was created.
The University of Cambridge is located in Britain and is one of the world’s oldest operating universities, rivaling Oxford. Threatened Oxford scholars established Cambridge, which is 84 miles distant. It’s one of the world’s oldest universities today.
Charles Darwin, Alan Turing, and J. Robert Oppenheimer are graduates of the prestigious school (physicist).
7. University of Salamanca
Founded In: 1218
Since it was essential for King Alfonso IX to have a university in his realm, he founded the Salamanca Schools, which eventually grew into the modern-day University of Salamanca.
Subjects covered include law, logic, language, and the natural sciences, much as other schools of the period. There are now schools of law, liberal arts, medicine, and science at the university, and each year the institution’s language and culture programs enroll hundreds of international students.
More than 2,000 international students enroll in the university each year, and the institution is especially well-known for its Spanish classes for non-native Spanish speakers.
8. University of Padua
Founded In: 1222
Bologna students and teachers founded the school. University of Padua, Italy, is the institution that changed humankind’s scientific and cultural progress. Andrea Vecellio, the founder of modern anatomy, attended the prestigious institution. Galileo and Copernicus examined stars and planets there also.
Andrea Vecellio, the father of modern anatomy, and scientists Copernicus and Galileo all called Padua home. Beyond its original law, medicine, arts and philosophy, and science departments, the university established new schools in the 1800s.
9. University of Siena
Founded In: 1240
For much of its existence, the University of Siena, located 50 miles south of Florence in the little provincial capital of Siena, has been a relatively modest school. The town’s population has grown to 54,000 since World War II, although a significant percentage are university students.
As a result, the picturesque Tuscan countryside is infused with youthful energy, making Siena a place where people want to spend time. Students are strongly encouraged to participate in internships and co-ops directly relevant to their academic interests, and practical experience is a required component of most degree programs.
10. University of Naples Federico II
Founded In: 1224
The University of Naples Federico II was created under a legal charter, making it one of the few oldest institutions of higher learning that still stands today. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, who issued the proclamation, was honored in 1987 by having the institution bear his name.
It is a southern university that might rival Bologna and Padua, two of Italy’s oldest and most prestigious institutions. It was a priority for King Roger II of Sicily. He also served as Holy Roman Emperor. Thomas Aquinas attended the school before enrolling at the Sorbonne in Paris.
11. University of Valladolid
Founded In: 1241
The University of Valladolid is the second-oldest university in Spain, and it is located in the northern autonomous community of Castile and León. The student-run orchestra, chorus, and theater of the Institution of Valladolid, a public university with four campuses. The people of this area speak what is often regarded as the purest Spanish, making it an excellent spot to immerse oneself in the language.
12. Sorbonne University
Founded In: 1257
Sorbonne University is the University of Paris, one of the oldest universities in the world, dating back to 1160. Academic endeavors resumed routinely in 1896, nearly a century after the French Revolution.
The Sorbonne leads the cooperation of 10 institutions, including France’s natural history museum and a business school. Famous alumni include Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Norman Mailer, and Marie and Pierre Curie.
13. University of Coimbra
Founded In: 1290
The University of Coimbra, one of the world’s most prestigious institutions of learning, offers education and research at all levels. Coimbra University is Portugal’s oldest university and one of the oldest universities in the world.
The institution has been involved with the Coimbra Group since the inception of the group in 1985. Coimbra was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List on June 22, 2013.
14. Sapienza University of Rome
Country: Rome, Italy
Founded In: 1303
The Sapienza University of Rome is the biggest and oldest in all of Europe among the world’s oldest institutions. Its goal is to aid in expanding the information age through innovative study, academic superiority, high-caliber teaching, and worldwide collaborative efforts.
The clergy built Sapienza University as part of an attempt to improve ties with the city’s growing academic community. Infusing new life into the university at the beginning of the 16th century, Pope Leo X recruited eminent academians from around Europe.
It has a great reputation in several fields, including Classics and Ancient History, Archaeology, Physics, Astronomy, Environmental Studies, Nanotechnology, Cellular, Gene Therapy, Design, Aerospace Engineering, and many more.
15. University of Perugia
Founded In: 1308
In 1222, Pope Clement V issued a decree creating the University of Perugia, and by 1355, Emperor Charles I had given it his blessing. This institution in central Italy formerly served as a center for studying law and the arts. Recently, the school has revised its course offerings to include majors more relevant to today’s job market. It also draws international students looking for Italian language immersion programs.