Oldest Universities in the World

Education has always been an essential aspect of human civilisation, and the world’s oldest universities have been instrumental in shaping the course of history. Universities are the pinnacle of higher education, providing students with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in their chosen careers.

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Some universities have been around for centuries, and have played a significant role in shaping the course of history.  These institutions of higher learning have produced some of the world’s greatest minds, fostered groundbreaking research, and laid the foundation for modern education systems.

Graana.com has listed the oldest universities in the world below, each with a unique history and a significant impact on education.


List of Oldest Universities in the World

The following are some of the most renowned and oldest universities in the world:

University of Bologna


Statue in the middle of University of Bologna


Location: Bologna, Italy

Year Founded: 1088

The University of Bologna, also known as Alma Mater Studiorum, is the oldest university in the world that is still operating. Established in 1088 as a law school, the University of Bologna became a model for other universities in Europe.

It has a strong emphasis on research and is widely known for its outstanding faculties of law, medicine, and engineering. The university has a long list of notable alumni, including four popes, several political leaders, and Nobel laureates.

It also played a significant role in the scientific revolution of the 17th century, with scholars such as Galileo Galilei and William Harvey contributing to the development of modern science.

Today, the university has over 80,000 students and offers over 200 programs in various fields, including arts, humanities, science, and technology. The campus is spread across several locations in Bologna, with historic buildings and modern facilities for students and researchers.


University of Oxford


building of University of Oxford


Location: Oxford, England

Year Founded: 1096

Located in the city of Oxford in England, this is the oldest university in the Anglosphere and the second-oldest university in continuous operation. It was established in 1096, and it prioritises research and academic excellence.

The tutorial system of the University of Oxford, which enables students to have one-on-one or small-group discussions with their tutors, has earned the university a reputation for excellence. It has produced many notable alumni, including several British prime ministers, writers, scientists, and Nobel laureates.

The university has a total of 44 colleges and halls, each with its own history and traditions. It has a wide range of faculties and departments, offering over 350 programs across various fields.


University of Salamanca, Spain


building of University of Salamanca, Spain


Location: Salamanca, Spain
Year Founded: 1134

Established in 1134, the University of Salamanca is the oldest university in Spain and the third-oldest university in Europe. It began as a cathedral school and has since grown to encompass faculties in diverse fields such as law, theology, and humanities.

Throughout its history, the University of Salamanca has been a centre of intellectual and cultural activity, attracting top scholars and researchers from around the world. Its research facilities include numerous libraries, archives, and museums, including the Casa de las Conchas, a building adorned with over 300 shells.


University of Paris


Building of University of Paris


Location: Paris, France

Year Founded: 1150

The University of Paris, also known as Sorbonne University, was founded in 1150. This university quickly became one of the leading centres of learning in Europe. It was initially established as a theological school but, over time, it grew to encompass various faculties, including law, medicine, and humanities.

It played a significant role in the development of Western philosophy and theology, with scholars such as Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus contributing to the intellectual tradition. The university has a long list of notable alumni, including several French presidents, writers, and Nobel laureates.

Today, the University of Paris has been divided into several institutions, including Sorbonne University, Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, and Paris-Saclay University. These institutions offer a wide range of programs in various fields, including arts, science, engineering, and business.


University of Cambridge


Building of University of Cambridge


Location: Cambridge, England

Year Founded: 1209

A group of scholars who had a dispute with the townspeople at the University of Oxford founded Cambridge university in 1209. It is located in the city of Cambridge in England.

It is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and has a total of 31 colleges. The university has produced many notable alumni, including several British prime ministers, writers, scientists, and Nobel laureates. 


University of Padua


a river and the building of University of Padua


Location: Padua, Italy
Year Founded: 1222

Founded in 1222, the University of Padua is one of the oldest universities in Italy. It has a long history of academic excellence and has produced several notable alumni, including Galileo Galilei, the famous astronomer. During the Renaissance period, the university transformed from a school of law to one of the most prestigious universities in Europe.

It has played a vital role in the development of modern medicine, thanks to the work of Andreas Vesalius, who conducted pioneering research in human anatomy at the university in the 16th century. Today, the University of Padua offers a wide range of courses in various disciplines, including economics, engineering, humanities, law, medicine, and sciences.

Its excellent research programs have earned the university a place among the top 100 universities in the world, making it widely known. The university has modern facilities and state-of-the-art research centers, including the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences and the Interdepartmental Center for Research in Environmental Sciences.


University of Naples Federico II


Building of University of Naples Federico II


Location: Naples, Italy
Year Founded: 1224

Established in 1224, the University of Naples Federico II is one of the oldest universities in the world. Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily founded the University of Naples Federico II with the intention of creating an educational institution that was free from heavy influence by the Pope.

The university, which is a state-supported and non-religious institution, is famous for its academic excellence. It has produced several notable alumni, including the philosopher Thomas Aquinas and the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana.

The university has 13 faculties, which further have three semi-independent divisions. These divisions comprise 13 schools and 82 different departments, covering a broad range of subjects from science and technology to social and human sciences.

The University of Naples Federico II aims to provide a high-quality education to its students, enabling them to excel in their chosen fields.


Al-Azhar University


buidling of Al-Azhar-University


Location: Cairo, Egypt
Year Founded: 970

Al-Azhar University, located in Cairo, Egypt, has a long and rich history. Established in 970 CE, it is considered the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt and one of the oldest in the world. The university’s name comes from the Arabic word for “the most resplendent.” Over the centuries, it has played a critical role in shaping Islamic thought.

The university has produced numerous scholars and leaders, and its faculty members are respected experts in various fields of Islamic studies. It has also been a major centre for Islamic jurisprudence, known as Sharia law.

The Al-Azhar Mosque, built in the 10th century, is closely linked to the university. It is one of the most famous mosques in the world. It continues to attract both tourists and pilgrims to this day.


University of Coimbra


building of University of Coimbra


​​Location: Coimbra, Portugal
Year Founded: 1290

Established in the Portuguese capital in 1290, the University of Coimbra is now located in the country’s third-largest urban centre, which has a rich Roman-era history. It has undergone numerous reforms throughout its history and, for many years in the 18th century, it was the only university operating in Portugal. Currently ranked 431st in the world, it has a student population of slightly over 24,000.

The UNESCO World Heritage List recognized the University of Coimbra in 2013 for its magnificent historical buildings, open courtyards, cultural traditions, and breathtaking city-wide views. The university has an important role in the region and the country as a whole.



These universities have a combined history of over 8,000 years of education and scholarship. They have produced some of the world’s most influential thinkers, scientists, and leaders. It continues to be a vital part of the global academic community.

Frequently Asked Questions


Which is the oldest university in the world, and when was it established?

Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, established in 970, holds the distinction of being the oldest university in the world.


What is the University of Bologna known for in the academic world?

The University of Bologna, with its long history of academic excellence and innovation. It is popular for its contributions to fields such as law, engineering, and medicine. Moreover, it is the first university to use the term “universitas” to refer to an academic community.


Who are some famous alumni of the University of Oxford?

The University of Oxford has produced many famous alumni, including several British Prime Ministers. These include Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, and David Cameron. Other notable alumni include J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen Hawking, and Emma Watson.


What is the main mission of Al-Azhar University in Egypt?

The main mission of Al-Azhar University in Egypt is to propagate Islam and Islamic culture. The university also trains Egyptian government-appointed preachers in proselytization. Also, it oversees a national network of schools with approximately 2 million students.


What is the significance of the University of Coimbra’s inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List?

This is significant because it recognises the university’s impressive yet modern architecture. It also highlights its role in preserving and promoting Portugal’s cultural heritage.

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