Top 10 Oldest Universities in the World

The word university comes from the Latin word universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which means  “community of teachers and scholars”. The term was conceived by the Italian University of Bologna, which, with a traditional founding date of 1088, is considered the first higher education institution in the western world and a major part of this list. The following list of ten oldest universities in the world is as follows….

10. University of Toulouse (Toulouse, France, Founded in 1229)

The University of Toulouse III Paul Sabatier was founded in 1229 and is among the ten oldest universities in the world. The whole scientific disciplines in health, technologies and sport are taught at the University Paul Sabatier, whose size, scientific radiation, number of students, quality of its courses makes it one of the most prestigious universities in the world. The university is divided into several Units of Formation and Research (UFR), Faculties and Institutes, account around 3000 students, 2000 professors-researchers, 600 researchers working for national organizations of research and 1300 Engineers. The UPS forms each year several thousands of scientists and technical junior managers, doctors, dental surgeons, pharmacists, researchers and teachers. The University is in partnership with many companies in order to give the students a chance to get work experience, while studying, but also to help with a smoother transition into the workplace.

9. University of Naples Federico II (Naples, Italy, Founded in 1224)

Founded by Frederick II, a Roman Emperor.

The University of Naples Federico II is a university located in Naples, Italy. It first opened its doors in 1224 and is organized into 13 faculties. It is the world’s oldest state university and one of the oldest academic institutions to still be in operation. One of the most famous students of this university was Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas,  a Dominican friar and priest and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism. He was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology, and the father of Thomism.

8. University of Padua (Padua, Italy, Founded in 1222)


Founded by scholars and professors after leaving Bologna.

The University of Padua is Italian university that is situated in the city of Padua, Italy. The University of Padua first opened its doors in 1222 as a school of law and was one of the most prominent universities in early modern Europe at the time. It is also one of the  earliest universities of the world and the second oldest in Italy. As of 2010 the university had approximately 65,000 students.

The university is conventionally said to have been founded in 1222 (which corresponds to the first time when the University is cited in a historical document as pre-existing, therefore it is quite certainly older than many people think. Two of the first subjects to be taught were law and theology. The curriculum expanded rapidly, and by 1399 the institution had divided in two: a Universitas Iuristarum for civil law and Canon law, and a Universitas Artistarum which taught astronomy, dialectic, philosophy, grammar, medicine, and rhetoric. There was also a Universitas Theologorum, established in 1373 by Urban V.

7. University of Salamanca (Salamanca, Spain, Founded in 1218)

Located 120 miles west of Madrid, the University of Salamanca is truly ancient. This venerable institution was officially established in 1218 by the royal decree of King Alfonso IX, although it was actually founded in 1134, and teaching at the site dates back to at least 1130 – making it the oldest university in Spain.

Salamanca offers 81 different degree courses and is noted for attracting students from Spain and beyond. In 2008, 35 percent of its doctorate students were non-European, and a high number came from Latin America. The university has a very strong Spanish program, providing language courses to over 7,000 students in a single year. Meanwhile, its doctorate programs include microbiology and molecular genetics, neuroscience, psychology, and prehistoric science. Interestingly, centuries back the university also played a key role in the early development of law and economic science.

6. University of Cambridge (Cambridge, England, Founded in 1209)

Founded by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute caused by the execution of two scholars in 1209, and royal charter was granted in 1231. The university takes 1209 as its official anniversary.

The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world (after the University of Oxford), and the seventh-oldest in the world. In post-nominals the university’s name is abbreviated as Cantab, a shortened form of Cantabrigiensis (an adjective derived from Cantabrigia, the Latinised form of Cambridge).

The university grew out of an association of Cambridge scholars that was formed in 1209, early records suggest, by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute with townsfolk. The two “ancient universities” have many common features and are often jointly referred to as Oxbridge. In addition to cultural and practical associations as a historic part of British society, they have a long history of rivalry with each other.

5. University of Oxford (Oxford, England, Founded in 1167)

There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. Teaching was temporarily suspended in 1209 due to town execution of two scholars and in 1355 due to the St. Scholastica riot, but was continuous during the English Civil War (1642-1651), at which time 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 in these documents).

Today, the University is made up from a variety of institutions, including 38 constituent colleges and a full range of academic departments which are organized into four Divisions. Most undergraduate teaching at Oxford is organised around weekly tutorials at the self-governing colleges and halls, supported by classes, lectures and laboratory work provided by university faculties and departments. Oxford has educated many notable alumni, including 27 Nobel laureates (58 total affiliations), 26 British Prime Ministers (most recently David Cameron) and many foreign heads of state.

4. University of Paris (Paris, France, Founded in 1150)

It was founded in the mid-12th century, and officially recognized as a higher education institution between 1160 and 1170. Like many other medieval universities, the University of Paris was already well established before it received the official foundation act from the Church in 1200 After many changes, including a century of suspension (1793–1896), it ceased to exist as such in 1970 and 13 autonomous universities (University of Paris I–XIII) were created from it. The university is often referred to as the Sorbonne or La Sorbonne after the collegiate institution (Collège de Sorbonne) founded about 1257 by Robert de Sorbon. In fact, the university as such was older and was never completely centered on the Sorbonne. Of the 13 current successor universities, the first 4 have a presence in the historical Sorbonne building, and three include “Sorbonne” in their names.

Three schools were particularly famous, the palatine or palace school, the school of Notre-Dame, and that of Sainte-Geneviève Abbey. The decline of royalty brought about the decline of the palantine/palace school. The other two were ancient but did not have much visibility in the early centuries.

3. University of Bologna (Bologna, Italy, Founded in 1088)

The University of Bologna, which was founded in 1088, is the oldest university in the Western world. With its 95,000 students, 3,300 lecturers and researchers, over 1,000 research and scholarship winners and 1,800 PhD students, 23 faculties and 70 departments, it is considered to be one of the most popular higher education institutions in Italy and in Europe as well. From Chemistry to Engineering, from Archaeology to Law, from Medicine to the Humanities, research is at the heart of Bologna University’s strategic choices. The University of Bologna fosters academic and scientific relations with foreign partners: 540 Bilateral Agreements within the Erasmus Programme and some 200 Cooperation Agreements with overseas Universities all across the world, dedicated to mobility and joint research projects and activities.

2. Nalanda University (India, Founded: 500 A.D.)

The Nalanda University that operated for 800 years from 500 AD to 1300 AD. It had a campus that was a mile long and half a mile long. There were 300 classrooms and laboratories. It also had an observatory called the Ambudharaavlehi and a massive library known as Dharma Gunj. The entrance exam that needed to be given to get admission into this university was said to be extremely tough, with the number of students clearing it being only 3 out of 10. This institution was shattered by invaders. This university was also mentioned in the writings of Chinese Traveller Hiuen Tsang. Nalanda is significant because it was one of the world’s first residential universities where students could live and study on campus. It is also one of the most famous universities in the world at its golden age. In its heyday, it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. Chinese pilgrims estimated the students between 3,000 and 5,000.

1. Takshashila University (Pakistan, founded: 600 BC)

It was one of the greatest universities in the world 600 BC to 500 AD and is said to be the world’s first post secondary institution. It was present during the time of the Gandhara kingdom. Not only Indians studied there,  but students from as far as Babylonia, Greece, Syria, Arabia, Phoenicia and China enrolled in the university. Subjects included the vedas, warfare, surgery, grammar, medicine, archery, accounts, politics, futurology, astronomy, music, documentation, dance, the occult, and various others. These were taught by experienced people who had mastered them greatly. It was located in the northwest of the then Bharat (now India). Chanakya was one of the students of this university.