While adapting to a rapidly changing world is fairly difficult for most humans, it becomes immensely difficult for universities that are massive in terms of both their infrastructure and the number of people associated to them. Yet you will be surprised to find how ancient behemoths of knowledge have transformed over centuries to remain relevant in the educational world even today, and in the process built on their historic prominence to become some of the most sought after institutions around the globe.

Here, we have complied a list of the oldest universities of the world that continue to enlighten and empower minds with educational prowess.

University of Bologna

The University of Bologna was established in 1088 and has been imparting knowledge ever since. It is located in Bologna, the largest city in northern Italy. The varsity presently has a student strength of 84,200, of which 30,000 are postgraduate candidates. The university was traditionally famous for doctorate studies, but has adapted to accommodate a wide range of undergraduate and master programmes in various disciplines. The Latin motto of the University of Bologna says “Nourishing Mother of Studies”, which is actually true as many top politicians, businessmen and three popes happen to be graduates of University of Bologna.

University of Oxford

Oxford University, One of the Oldest Universities in the world.

Everyone knows it’s one of the best, but does everyone also know that it’s one of the oldest as well? Boasting an impressive 27 Nobel laureates, 47 Noble prize winners and 27 UK prime ministers in an alumni list of thousands of renowned personalities, Oxford is a name synonymous with top class education.

It was named top university in Times Higher Education’s 2018 ranking of top universities in the world, while the QS top universities ranked it the sixth best in the world for 2018. Although the exact date of the university’s foundation is unknown, most believe it started operations as far back as 1096. Oxford is made of 38 constituent colleges and a wide range of academic departments that fall under four divisions. Oxford University has the world’s largest university press, the largest university museum and the largest academic library system in Britain. Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s oldest international scholarship award, is also maintained by Oxford.

University of Salamanca

The third oldest university in the world also happens to be the oldest university of Spain. Founded in 1134 in Madrid, the university was awarded a royal charter in 1218. Another reason for its place in history is that it was here that Christopher Columbus requested royal support for his expeditions in the late 15th century. There are about 30,000 students enrolled in the university presently, pursuing education in diverse fields.

University of Paris

The University of Paris was one of the first universities to be established in mainland Europe between 1160 and 1250 and is still considered the top university in Paris. The only time the university ceased operations was during the French Revolution, between 1793 and 1896. In 1970, the university was divided into 13 independent universities whose campuses are located across the city. The units now function independently, although it can be claimed that they are in fact successors of the University of Paris and continue to build upon its legacy.

University of Cambridge

The genesis of the University of Cambridge are rather clamorous. It has its roots in an association of scholars at University of Oxford who got into a conflict with townsfolk and left Oxford. The university formally came in to being in 1209, making it second oldest university in the English speaking world. Its existing strength is over 19,000 students, of which 4,100 students are from non-European countries. The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge are considered traditional rivals and compete against each other in a number of events, including cricket, rugby and the annual Boat Race.

University of Padua

The University of Padua is one of many medieval universities of the world, which are still operational. It was established in 1222 in Italy, while the Botanical Garden of Padua was established by the university in 1545, considered the oldest academic gardens in the world. The university runs nine museums and hosts 61,000 students. University of Padua is famous for its research in law, medicines, philosophy and astronomy.

University of Naples Federico II

University of Naples Federico II exists in the world’s oldest inhabited city of Naples in Italy and is the world’s oldest public, non-religious university. The famous university was established by Emperor Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire in 1224. The university is home to close to 100,000 students and offers a wide range of academic programmes. The university has been a learning ground for many a known saints, philosophers, politicians, presidents and scientists, including Saint Thomas Aquinas, Giambattista Vico and Saint Alphonsus Liguori.

University of Siena

The University of Siena is another Italian university located in Siena, a small city in the country’s Tuscany region. The university facilitates around 20,000 students, almost equal to half of the city’s entire population. In the present age, the university is well known for its schools of law, medicine, and economics and management. Famous alumni include Pietro Ispano, Pope John XXI, Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte, Pope Julius III and mathematician and economist Richard M Goodwin.

University of Coimbra

The University of Coimbra was established in 1290 in the capital of Portugal. Historically, the university kept relocating per the demands of the kings, but finally set camp in Coimbra. Coimbra is famous for its rich history and considered to be the third largest urban center in Portugal. The university went through many historical reforms in the 18th century and was once the only operating university in the entire country. The university is made up of 24,000 students and considered to be the most cosmopolitan university in Portugal. The University of Coimbra is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its traditional culture, historic buildings and wonderful city-wide views.

Al-Azhar University

The world renowned Al-Azhar University was initially established as a madrasa in Cairo in 970 AD, but only became a university in 1961. It was acknowledged as the centre of Islamic education and used to teach students from primary to tertiary level. Later, it expanded itself and adopted modern curriculum and many secular subjects which ensured its survival.

The school went through many hard times, especially in the 12th century when thousands of books were destroyed by a new dynasty that came to power. Despite the setbacks, Al-Azhar University is still a beacon of knowledge in the Middle East and the world. Besides higher education, Al-Azhar University also oversees a vast network of schools acorss Egypt, affecting over two million students. By 1996 more than over 4,000 teaching institutes in Egypt were affiliated with Al-Azhar.


Bonus Fact

The oldest existing, and continually operating educational institution in the world is the University of Karueein, founded in 859 AD in Fez, Morocco.

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