10 Oldest Universities in The World

1. Nalanda University

Nalanda University is on the first place in the list of 10 Oldest Universities in The World. It is worth noting that this is the only university to be established in BC. Its history is a strong example of Indian culture and the importance attached to education from the earliest days. It saw students from Babylonia, Greece, Syria and China. The subjects taught included the Vedas, languages, grammar, philosophy, medicine, surgery, archery among many other fields. Its glorious history was of only 800 years. It was destroyed thrice in history and the first two destructions were rectified.

Established by Shankaraditya (the then king), this university was supposed to accommodate over 10,5000 students at a time. It had a pass rate of just 3 out of 10 and students were admitted only after the age of 16. The third (1300) was permanent until 2006. From 2014 to 2020, Nalanda University enrolled 710 regular students, of whom 97 percent successfully completed their course. At present, the university has 172 regular students, 24 teaching staff, 18 guest or visiting faculty and 40 non-teaching staff.

2. University of al-Qarawiyyin

It is the second oldest and still operating university in the world. The special thing is that it was founded by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri. Initially it only had natural science as its offering which was not until 1957. Later other mainstream sciences were added to its portfolio. It was built as a mosque to begin with and gradually expanded to become the largest in Africa. Many ancient idols are kept in this university.

3. Al-Azhar University

Al-Azhar University is at the third place in the list of 10 Oldest Universities in The World. It is the second oldest institution in the Islamic world that is still in operation. It began as a center for the study of Arabic literature, Sunni Islamic learning, and religious focus. Today it teaches Quranic science and traditions along with learning from Prophet Muhammad on the one hand and all modern fields of science on the other.

Al-Azhar’s library is considered a treasure for the Islamic world and efforts are underway to preserve them online. Converting seven million pages of library content to online content is proving to be a herculean task for the university. It was founded during the Fatimid Empire of Egypt. This dynasty is the lineage of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima and her son-in-law Ali. The university is named after Fatima Al-Zahra.

4. Al Nizamiyya Of Baghdad

Established by Khwaja Nizam al-Mulk in the early eleventh century, it was a part of a chain of universities started by al-Mulk. Al Nizamiya remains the most successful and popular. Together these universities formed the ‘largest university in the medieval world’. It saw contemporary poets, learned scholars coming to share and teach.

Al-Ghazali was a professor at this place. The education given here was free. During an attack on the city of Baghdad in 1258, the university was destroyed along with the city. The Persian poet Sa’adi was one of the few who witnessed the destruction. Nonetheless, al-Nizamiya managed to eclipse all the other institutions in the surrounding areas by his brilliant talent.

5. University of Bologna

The first institution of higher learning in the western world and a leading innovator in the field of learning until the World Wars. The University of Bologna has an amazing history and is seen as the western world’s official step in the field of higher education institutions. Incidentally the world ‘University’ was created during its construction.

It was the intermediary to the western world with more educationally sound institutions around the world. As part of this process, the university gradually developed, with various universities being formed along the way. Today Bologna is seen as a leading example of European education and is among the top 200 in the world, with 23 schools and over 85,000 students.

6. University of Paris

No dates are available for the establishment of this university but the possible date is considered to be 1096 AD. It no longer operates under this name; It was reorganized into 13 different universities in 1970. These are popularly known as Collège de Sorbonne. It came around the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.

It had four main departments, Arts, Medicine, Law and Theology initially. The university was directly under the command of the Church, not the government, which caused problems. During its existence, the university was closed three times. The Cultural Revolution by the students in 1968 led to the split of the ancient college. In 1229 AD, and later in 1940 due to the invasion of the German army.

7. University of Oxford

Oxford University is at the seventh position in the list of 10 Oldest Universities in The World. This is not the exact date, but evidence suggests that the university was functioning in 1906. The influx of students increased significantly in 1167 AD, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. During Henry’s reign, the university gained royal assent. Seeing as Cambridge followed the controversy at Oxford, it was natural for discontent to explode for other universities.

But a joint appeal by the two universities to King Edward prevented this, allowing both universities to run free of charge until 1820. This university was closed twice in time, once due to the execution of two scholars and second due to academic riots. Currently ranked among the top universities in the world, the institute has 38 colleges affiliated to it and 58 Nobel laureates.

8. University of Montpellier

The reason why the university is said to be older than this date is because it was ordered by Pope Nicholas IV to merge all the old universities into one. Thus some parts of this center of knowledge may be out of date. The university was closed in 1793 during the French Revolution.

It was restored in 1810 AD but only the Faculty of Science and Letters survived. To keep up with the changing times, the university was ‘reestablished’ in 1969 with a major focus on science and technology. Today the University of Montpellier exists as the University of Montpellier 1, the University of Montpellier 2 and the University of Paul Valéry.

9. University of Cambridge

Cambridge is the second oldest English language university in the world. It was created as a result of a dispute between Oxford scholars and the people of the city. Oxford and Cambridge have been rivals all over the world. It has 85 Nobel laureates as its alumna, includes 31 colleges under its domain.

As would be expected from such an old university, Cambridge has some long-standing traditions. The broadcast of carols by the Choir of King’s College on Christmas Eve, handing a wooden spoon to the lowest scorer of the word is popular. Some are myths and some are still followed. Tourists encounter an overwhelming number of these stories when they come to Cambridge.

10. University of Salamanca

When Christopher Columbus set out to find the western route to the Indies, he consulted the geography department of this respected university. Currently set to celebrate its 8th century, the university has quite a history. Established in 1218 AD, this university got its official title in 1225 AD. Leonese King Alfonso IX built this place to give Leonese people a place to study without having to move to a different city. Today the university is known for its language and humanitarian courses, and is considered a good place to learn Spanish, especially for non-natives.

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