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List of oldest universities

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List of oldest universities

This is a list of the oldest existent universities in the world. To be included in this table, an educational institution must satisfy a traditional definition[1] of university at the time of its founding. Chronologically it must have been founded before 1500 in Europe or be the oldest university derived from the medieval European model in a region. It must also be still in operation, with institutional continuity retained throughout its history, and so some early universities, most notably the University of Paris (which was suspended from 1793 to 1896), the University of Salerno and the University of Montpellier are excluded (see map).

The word university is derived from the Latin: universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars". The term was coined by the Italian University of Bologna, which, with a traditional founding date of 1088, is considered the first university.[2][3] 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 and were run for hundreds of years as such before their formal establishment as university in the high medieval period.[4]

Despite the important intellectual and cultural debts owed by modern European intellectual culture to the products of various other institutions of higher learning, like those of ancient Greece, ancient Persia, ancient Rome, Byzantium, ancient China, ancient India and the Muslim world,[5] these are not included in this list due to their cultural, historical, structural and juristic dissimilarities from the medieval European university from which the modern university evolved.[6][7][8]

Medieval origins

Main article: Medieval university

The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars". The term was coined by the Italian University of Bologna, which, with a traditional founding date of 1088, is considered the first university.[2][3] 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 and were run for hundreds of years as such before their formal establishment as university in the high medieval period.[4]

The university as an institution was historically rooted in that medieval society which it in turn influenced and shaped:

The university is a European institution; indeed, it is the European institution par excellence. There are various reasons for this assertion. As a community of teachers and taught, accorded certain rights, such as administrative autonomy and the determination and realization of curricula (courses of study) and of the objectives of research as well as the award of publicly recognized degrees, it is a creation of medieval Europe, which was the Europe of papal Christianity...

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 have been supplemented by numerous disciplines, particularly the social sciences and technological studies, but they remain none the less at the heart of universities throughout the world...

Moreover, the university is a European institution because it has, in its social role, performed certain functions for all European societies. It has developed and transmitted scientific and scholarly knowledge and the methods of cultivating that knowledge which has arisen from and formed part of the common European intellectual tradition.[9]

Modern spread

From the early modern period onwards, the university gradually spread from the medieval Latin west across the globe, eventually replacing all other higher-learning institutions and becoming the preeminent institution for higher education everywhere. This process occurred in the following chronological order:[10]

  • Western Europe (since 11th/12th century)
  • Eastern Europe (since 14th/15th century)
  • Americas (since 16th century)
  • Australia (since 19th century)
  • Asia and Africa (since 19th/20th century), except in the Philippines where the University of Santo Tomas was established in the 17th century.

Founded before 1500

The earliest and only universities before the colonization of the Americas were established and run in medieval Europe.

Year Name Contemporaneous location Current location Notes
1088 University of Bologna Italy Bologna, Italy The first university in the sense of a higher-learning, degree-awarding institute, the word university having been coined at its foundation.[11]
1167 (1254) University of Oxford  Kingdom of England United Kingdom Oxford, United Kingdom "Claimed to be the oldest university in the English speaking world, there is no clear date of foundation of Oxford University, 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."[12] Teaching suspended in 1209 (due to town execution of two scholars) and 1355 (due to the St. Scholastica Day riot), but was continuous during the English Civil War (1642–1651) - 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 on these documents). However, it was not until 1254 that Pope Innocent IV granted to Oxford the University charter by papal bull ("Querentes in agro").
1209 (1231) University of Cambridge  Kingdom of England United Kingdom Cambridge, United Kingdom Founded by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute caused by the execution of two scholars in 1209, and royal charter was granted in 1231.[13] The university takes 1209 as its official anniversary.[14] Through one of Cambridge alumni, John Harvard, it inspired the establishment of Cambridge in Massachusetts, United States with the first college in America, Harvard University.
1218 (1134) University of Salamanca Kingdom of León Spain Salamanca, Spain It is the oldest university in operation in 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 as "Estudio General" in 1218, making it possibly the fourth or even the third oldest European university in continuous operation. However, it was the first European university to receive the title of "University" as such, granted by king of Castile and León Alfonso X and the Pope in 1254. Having been 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 (probably older) University of Padua Italy Padua, Italy Founded by scholars and professors after leaving Bologna.
1224 University of Naples Federico II Kingdom of Sicily Italy Naples, Italy The first public university,[15] founded by Frederick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
1240 University of Siena Republic of Siena Italy Siena, Italy Originally called Studium Senese, was founded by Commune of Siena in 1240. In 1321, the studium was able to attract a larger number or pupils due to a mass exodus from the prestigious neighbouring University of Bologna. Closed temporarily in 1808–1815 when Napoleonic forces occupied Tuscany. On November 7, 1990 the university celebrated its 750th anniversary.
1241 University of Valladolid Crown of Castile Spain Valladolid, Spain One hypothesis is that its foundation is the result of the transfer of Palencia General Survey between 1208 and 1241 by Alfonso VIII, king of Castile, and Bishop Tello Téllez de Meneses.
1272 University of Murcia Crown of Castile Spain Murcia, Spain The University of Murcia was founded in 1272 by the King Alfonso X of Castile.[16]
1290 University of Macerata[17] Papal States Italy Macerata, Italy The University of Macerata (Italian: Università degli Studi di Macerata) is a university located in Macerata, Marche, Italy. It was founded in 1290 and is organized into 7 faculties.
1290 University of Coimbra[17] Lisbon Portugal Coimbra, Portugal Begun its existence in Lisbon with the name Studium Generale (Estudo Geral). Scientiae thesaurus mirabilis, the royal charter announcing the institution of the University, was dated 1 March of that year, although efforts had been made at least since 1288 to create this first university in Portugal. The papal confirmation was also given in 1290 (on 9 August of that year), during the papacy of Pope Nicholas IV.
1293 University of Alcalá Crown of Castile Spain Alcalá de Henares, Spain The University of Alcalá was founded by King Sancho IV of Castile as Studium Generale in 1293 in Alcalá de Henares. It was granted Papal Bull in 1499, and quickly gained international fame thanks to the patronage of Cardinal Cisneros and the production of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible in 1517, which is the basis for most of the current translations. The University moved to Madrid in 1836 by Royal Decree. The Moyano Law of 1857 established Complutense as the sole university in Spain authorized to confer the title of Doctor on any scholar. This law remained in effect until 1969.
1303 La Sapienza University of Rome Papal States Italy Rome, Italy 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 University of Perugia Italy Perugia, Italy Attested by the Bull of Pope Clement V.
1321 University of Florence Republic of Florence Italy Florence, Italy The University of Florence evolved from the Studium Generale, which was established by the Florentine Republic in 1321. The Studium was recognized by Pope Clement VI in 1349.
1336 University of Camerino Papal States Italy Camerino, Italy The great literate and jurist Cino from Pistoia, living in Marche in the years 1319-21, and in Camerino in the spring of 1321, remembers the territory blooming with juridical schools. Camerino has been a center of learning since no later than 1200, offering degrees in civil law, canonical law, medicine, and literary studies. Gregory XI took the decision upon the request of Gentile III da Varano with the papal edict of 29 January 1377, directed to the commune and to the people, authorizing Camerino to confer (after appropriate examination) bachelor and doctoral degrees with apostolic authority.
1343 University of Pisa Republic of Pisa Italy Pisa, Italy It was formally founded on September 3, 1343 by an edict of Pope Clement VI, although there had been lectures on law in Pisa since the 11th century. Nowadays is one of the most important universities in Italy.
1348 Charles University of Prague Kingdom of Bohemia Czech Republic Prague, Czech Republic 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.[18]
1361 University of Pavia House of Visconti Italy Pavia, Italy Closed for short periods during the Italian Wars, Napoleonic wars, and Revolutions of 1848.
1364 Jagiellonian University Kingdom of Poland Poland Kraków, Poland Founded by Casimir the Great. Development stalled after his death, re-established from 1400 onwards.

Closed during the German occupation of Poland 1939-1945. Re-opened after the occupation.

1365 University of Vienna  Holy Roman Empire Austria Vienna, Austria Modelled on the University of Paris.
1386 Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg  Holy Roman Empire Germany Heidelberg, Germany Founded by Rupert I, Elector Palatine. The oldest in Germany.
1391 University of Ferrara House of Este Italy Ferrara, Italy Founded by Marquis Alberto d'Este.
1404 University of Turin  Duchy of Savoy Italy Turin, Italy Founded by the prince "Louis of Piedmont" during the reign of Amadeus VIII.
1409 University of Leipzig  Holy Roman Empire Germany Leipzig, Germany Founded when German-speaking staff left Prague due to the Jan Hus crisis.
1413 University of St. Andrews  Kingdom of Scotland United Kingdom St. Andrews, United Kingdom A school of higher studies was founded in 1410 and became a full university by the issue of a Papal bull in 1413.[19]
1419 University of Rostock  Holy Roman Empire Germany Rostock, Germany 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".[20]
1434 University of Catania Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Kingdom of Sicily Italy Catania, Italy The oldest in Sicily. Founded by Alfonso V of Aragon.
1450[21] University of Barcelona Crown of Aragon Spain Barcelona, Spain Founded by Alfonso V of Aragon as Estudi general de Barcelona after the unification of all university education. For forty-nine years prior to that foundation, however, the city had had a fledgling medical school founded by King Martin of Aragon, and in the 13th century Barcelona already possessed several civil and ecclesiastical schools.
1451 University of Glasgow  Kingdom of Scotland United Kingdom Glasgow, United Kingdom Founded by a Papal bull.
1456 University of Greifswald  Holy Roman Empire Germany Greifswald, Germany Teaching had started by 1436. Founded by initiative of Heinrich Rubenow, Lord Mayor of Greifswald (and first rector), with approval of Pope Callixtus III and Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, under the protection of Wartislaw IX, Duke of Pomerania. Teaching paused temporarily during the Protestant Reformation (1527–39).
1457 Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg  Holy Roman Empire Germany Freiburg, Germany Temporarily transferred to Constance in 1686–98 and 1713–15.
1460 University of Basel  Holy Roman Empire Switzerland Basel, Switzerland Founded in 1460 (Schola Basiliensis), the University of Basel is the oldest university in Switzerland.[22]
1472 Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich  Holy Roman Empire Germany Munich, Germany Founded in Ingolstadt in 1459, transferred to Landshut in 1800, moved to Munich in 1826.
1477 Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen  Holy Roman Empire Germany Tübingen, Germany
1477 Uppsala University  Kingdom of Sweden within the
 Kalmar Union
Sweden Uppsala, Sweden Uppsala's bull, which granted the university its corporate rights, was issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1477, and established a number of provisions. Among the most important of these was that the university was officially given the same freedoms and privileges as the University of Bologna.
1479 University of Copenhagen  Kingdom of Denmark within the
 Kalmar Union
Denmark Copenhagen, Denmark
1481 University of Genoa  Republic of Genoa Italy Genoa, Italy Founded in 1481 (Genuense Athenaeum).
1495 University of Aberdeen  Kingdom of Scotland United Kingdom Aberdeen, United Kingdom King's College was founded by a Papal bull in 1495 and then Marischal College in 1593; they merged in 1860.
1495 University of Santiago de Compostela Kingdom of Galicia Spain Santiago de Compostela, Spain The university traces its roots to 1495, when a school was opened in Santiago.[23] In 1504, Pope Julius II approved the foundation of a university in Santiago, and the bull for its creation was granted by Clement VII in 1526.
1499 University of Valencia Crown of Aragon Spain Valencia, Spain

Oldest universities by country or region after 1500 still in operation

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


Latin America and the Caribbean

North America

  • Canada:
    • Université Laval, founded in 1663, chartered 1852 (oldest post-secondary institution in Canada; founded as Séminaire de Québec)
    • University of New Brunswick, founded in 1785, chartered in 1827 (oldest English-language post-secondary institution in Canada; founded as College of New Brunswick)
    • University of King's College, founded in 1789, chartered in 1802 (oldest chartered university in Canada; founded as King's College)
  • United States:
    • Harvard University, founded 1636, chartered 1650
    • The College of William & Mary, chartered 1693
    • Yale University, chartered 1701, moved to current location in 1718
    • University of Pennsylvania, est. 1740, chartered 1753, first in the U.S. to use the name 'university' and to have a graduate school



Australia and Oceania

See also


  • Ridder-Symoens, Hilde de (ed.): A History of the University in Europe. Vol. I: Universities in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-521-36105-2

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