The 15 Oldest Universities in the World
The history of the concept of education and schooling is fascinating. Psychology Today gives an overview of how it all developed to where we are now. To briefly summarize, education began back when man were hunter-gatherers. Children would educate themselves through play and exploration. As societies developed and people practiced farming, adults discovered that learning how to raise crops and animals was easier to do so when they were children. The idea of learning something at a young age was further confirmed when industries started to develop and people needed to learn specific skills. Religion also played a significant role in the concept of education. It became clear that there needed to be a set place to gather children to educate them, and thus the birth of schools and universities.
Some of these schools survived wars and environmental disasters, and are still in operation today. Keep reading to find out the location of the oldest universities.
Harvard University, 1636
In the heart of Massachusetts is Harvard, the oldest university in the US. Harvard began when Puritans migrating to the US needed a place to train clergy members for the commonwealth. The school was originally known as “New College,” but changed names when John Harvard left half of his money to the school’s library when he passed away. Today, the college is most known for being the best institution to receive a degree in either medicine, law, or business.
University of Perugia, 1308
The father of accounting, Luca Pacioli studied at the University of Perugia in Italy as well as numerous popes. Today, the school has about 28,000 students and a history that keeps growing!
Sapienza University of Rome, 1303
Founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII, Sapienza University of Rome has been the school of the top Nobel laureates. Pope Boniface VIII created the school so that he could keep an eye on theological teachings as other universities in that period started to branch off and rebel.
Complutense University of Madrid, 1293
As one of the most reputable universities in Spain, the Complutense University of Madrid has had its fair share of famous alumni. People who attended the university include Queen Sofia of Spain, Saint Tomas de Villanueva, Albert Einstein, and founder of modern neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Caja.
University of Coimbra, 1290
After the establishment of universities in Europe, Portugal created its own. Originally, the school was in Lisbon, but eventually found its way to Coimbra. There are about 24,000 students and is very welcoming to international students.
University of Macerata, 1290
If you want to study humanities and social sciences overseas, travel to Italy and the University of Macerata. It is a small school and has many classes available in English.
University of Valladolid, 1241
For both education and beautiful architecture, visit the University of Valladolid in Spain. The university now has seven campuses, filled with 32,000 undergraduate students eager to learn!
University of Siena, 1240
Who doesn’t love a college town? At the University of Siena in Tuscany, the student body is around 20,000 and makes up almost half of the town. The university is most well-known for being an excellent choice to get a degree in law, medicine, and economics.
University of Naples Federico II, 1224
At the time the University of Naples Federico II was founded, the university was not connected to the Roman Catholic Church. Today it is one of the oldest universities that is publicly funded.
University of Padua, 1222
Feeling restricted from other universities in the 1200s, teachers and students founded the University of Padua. The university was more open to intellectual freedom drawing the attention of those looking to go beyond the church’s teachings. Former alumni include astronomers Copernicus and Galileo.
University of Cambridge, 1209
A university with a deep-rooted history, the University of Cambridge is one of the top universities in the world for scholarships. The school started when those attending the University of Oxford got into a dispute with the townspeople. Cambridge has a long history of famous alumni but is more so known as the birthplace of the computer. Graduates Alan Turing, Charles Babbage, and Maurice Wilkes all received a degree from Cambridge.
University of Salamanca, 1164
The origins of the University of Salamanca are a bit hazy. What historians do know is that teaching began on campus around 1094 until it was recognized by the king in 1164. It’s said that the discussion of Christopher Columbus’s exploring west of Spain took place at the university.
University of Oxford, 1096
The first university in the English speaking world is England’s very own Oxford University. Strangely enough, the lessons were taught in Latin!
University of Bologna, 1088
Latin term, “universitas” was first used to describe students and teachers at the University of Bologna. Today the university is made up of eleven schools and over 86,500 students.
University of Al-Karaouine, 859
Guinness World Records and The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) name the University of Al-Karaouine as the “oldest existing, and continually operating educational institution in the world.” It was actually a woman who founded the university. Fatima al-Fihri was the daughter of a wealthy merchant who used her inheritance to build a mosque. After its completion, al-Fihri established a university as an extension of the mosque.
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