Oldest Universities in the World

Many people are familiar with Raphael’s famous fresco, “The School of Athens,” showing Plato and Aristotle in deep discussion (Plato’s famous dialogues), surrounded by what could be considered the first “students” at school. However back in 424 BC, when Plato founded the Academy, there was no distinction between teachers and students and there was no curriculum per se. However it was Plato’s forum for education as well as the concept of intellectual/academic freedom that paved the way for monastic and religious schools that, in turn, led to the formation and gradual development of universities in medieval Europe in the 11th century.

It was the visionary scholars of the legendary University of Bologna (considered the first true university) that coined the term university. University is derived from the Latin term universitas magistrorum et scholarium, meaning “a community of teachers and scholars.” A review of the oldest universities in the world reveals that the oldest U.S. university, Harvard University founded in 1636, is really the new kid on the academic block, dominated by schools founded in Europe. Two universities in the top ten list were founded by dissenting professors who left one university (Bologna, Oxford) to start another (Padua, Cambridge). The lesson here: don’t piss off your professors, or they will leave and start a competing school, not to mention creating a long-lasting bitter rivalry. According to Collegestats.com, here are the top ten oldest universities (continuously operating and granting degrees) in the world.

1. University of al-Qarawiyyin or al-Karaouine (Fes, Morocco), founded: 859
2. Al-Azhar University (Cairo, Egypt), 970
3. Nezamiyeh or Nizamiyya (Iran), 1065
4. University of Bologna (Bologna, Italy), 1088
5. University of Paris (Paris, France), 1096
6. University of Oxford (Oxford, England), 1096
7. University of Montpellier (Montpellier, France), 1150
8. University of Cambridge (Cambridge, England), 1209
9. University of Salamanca (Salamanca, Spain), 1218
10. University of Padua (Padua, Italy) 1222

Wikipedia has a slightly different list, including only universities that satisfied the traditional definition of a university at the time of its founding and must still be in continuous operation (sorry, University of Paris). Here is their list of the oldest universities in the world:

1. University of Bologna (Bologna, Italy), 1088
2. University of Oxford (Oxford, England), 1167
3. University of Cambridge (Cambridge, England), 1209
4. University of Salamanca (Salamanca, Spain), 1218
5. University of Padua (Padua, Italy) 1222
6. University of Naples (Naples, Italy) 1224
7. University of Toulouse (Toulouse, France), 1229
8. University of Siena (Siena, Italy), 1240
9. University of Valladolid (Valladolid, Spain), 1241
10. University of Montpellier (Montpellier, France), 1289

For further reading: http://collegestats.org/articles/2009/12/top-10-oldest-universities-in-the-world-ancient-colleges/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_universities_in_continuous_operation

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