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Top 15 Oldest Universities in the World: Date Founded


Discover the top oldest universities in the world in this article. Universities have played a crucial role in shaping our world and advancing human knowledge for centuries. These institutions of higher education have been centers of learning, innovation, and progress since ancient times. The concept of universities dates back to the early civilizations in Egypt, Greece, and Persia, where scholars gathered to exchange ideas and advance their understanding of various subjects.

Over time, universities evolved into complex institutions with diverse faculties and departments offering courses in various disciplines such as law, medicine, philosophy, theology, arts, and sciences. These institutions became hubs for intellectual activity and attracted students from all over the world seeking higher education.


Apart from providing education to students from different backgrounds and cultures, universities also played a significant role in preserving historical texts and manuscripts. They served as libraries where precious documents were collected and preserved through generations. Universities also contributed greatly to scientific breakthroughs by conducting research that led to significant discoveries.

Universities have played a significant role in shaping our world and its progress. From their humble beginnings as centers of learning to become influential institutions that continue to shape the future, universities hold great significance in our history. As we explore into the top oldest universities in the world, we will discover how these esteemed institutions have contributed to human development and advancement over time.

Explanation of How the Age of a University is Determined

1. Founding Date:

The most basic way to determine the age of a university is by looking at its founding date. This refers to the year in which the institution was officially established or granted a royal charter. However, it’s essential to note that some universities may have existed for centuries before receiving official recognition from authorities.

For example, the University of Bologna in Italy dates back to 1088 and is considered the oldest university in Europe. Still, it only received its official charter from Pope Alexander IV in 1158. Therefore, while its founding date may be listed as 1088, it can also be argued that its actual age is 1158.

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Oldest Universities in the world

2. Continuous Operation:

Another crucial factor in determining the age of a university is whether it has been operating continuously since its founding date. Some universities may have faced periods of closure due to wars or financial difficulties; thus their age would be calculated from when they re-opened rather than their initial establishment.

For instance, Oxford University in England was founded in 1096 but experienced several closures during political turmoil and religious conflicts throughout history. Its continuous operation can be traced back to 1167 when King Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris and encouraged them to study at Oxford instead.

3. Historical Significance:

The historical significance of a university also plays a significant role in determining its age. It refers to the impact and contributions made by an institution throughout history, making it an important part of our cultural heritage.

For example, Al-Azhar University in Egypt holds great historical significance as one of the world’s first degree-granting institutions established around AD 970-972 during the Islamic Golden Age. Despite facing periods of closure and re-opening, its age is calculated from its initial founding date due to its cultural and educational significance in the Muslim world.

The age of a university is determined by several factors such as founding date, continuous operation, and historical significance. It’s essential to consider all these elements while ranking the oldest universities in the world to provide an accurate representation of their legacy and impact on global education.

Top 15 Oldest Universities in Chronological Order with Brief Descriptions and Notable Achievements

1. University of Bologna (1088)

Located in Bologna, Italy, the University of Bologna is considered the oldest university in the world. It was founded by students and teachers who came together to form a guild for higher learning. Today, it boasts an impressive list of notable alumni, including three popes and multiple Nobel laureates.

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2. University of Oxford (1096)

Founded in 1096 by scholars fleeing from Paris during political unrest, the University of Oxford is one of the most prestigious universities globally and continues to be a leading center for academic excellence and research. Notable alumni include 28 British prime ministers and over 70 Nobel laureates.

3. University of Salamanca (1134)

Established by King Alfonso IX as a cathedral school in Spain, the University of Salamanca became one of Europe’s first formal universities when it received its royal charter in 1218. Its notable achievements include being one of the first European institutions to teach astronomy and hosting renowned philosophers like Francisco de Vitoria.

4. Cambridge University (1209)

The second-oldest university in England after Oxford, Cambridge was founded by academics seeking refuge from hostile townsmen at Oxford. The university has produced many famous scientists such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Stephen Hawking.

5. University of Padua (1222)

Situated in Northern Italy’s Veneto region, Padua is known for its medical school that dates back to ancient Roman times but was officially recognized as a university later on by emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen. The university’s notable achievements include the discovery of the circulatory system by William Harvey and the first female graduate, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia.

6. University of Naples Federico II (1224)

Founded by Emperor Frederick II in 1224, this is one of the oldest public universities in Europe. Its notable alumni include philosopher Thomas Aquinas and astronomer Giovanni Cassini.

7. University of Toulouse (1229)

Located in France, it was founded by Pope Gregory IX to counter heresy and teach law and theology. Today, it is known for its strength in social sciences and humanities.

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8. University of Siena (1240)

One of Italy’s oldest universities located in Tuscany, Siena was initially a college for legal studies but later expanded into other fields like medicine, philosophy, literature, and engineering.

9. University of Valladolid (1241)

Established as a cathedral school before receiving its formal recognition as a university from Pope Innocent IV, it played an essential role during Spain’s golden age with notable alumni including Miguel de Cervantes and Christopher Columbus.

10. University of Montpellier (1289)

Founded by the King of Aragon and located in France, it is one of the oldest universities in Europe and was a center for medical studies during the Middle Ages.

11. University of Coimbra (1290)

Portugal’s first university, it has a rich history and is known for its beautiful campus and historical buildings, including the Joanina Library.

12. University of Macerata (1290)

Located in Italy’s Le Marche region, this university was founded as a law school but later expanded into other fields such as humanities and sciences.

13. University of Lisbon (1290)

One of Portugal’s oldest universities, it played a significant role in the country’s colonial expansion and is known for its strong research programs in various fields.

14. University of Florence (1321)

Founded by the Republic of Florence, this university played an important role in shaping Italian Renaissance thought. Its notable alumni include Dante Alighieri and Galileo Galilei.

15. University of Perpignan Via Domitia (1349)

Located in southern France, this university was initially a medieval school before becoming a formal university recognized by Pope Clement VI. It is known for its strong focus on arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Now, you have known the oldest universities in the world and when they were founded.

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