StudyAdvantage Magazine

The World’s Oldest Universities

Published: November 15, 2016

Many of the truly great educational institutions in the world boast a history spanning many centuries. In fact, the date of inception has become quite the prestige indicator among universities. It is a factor that simply cannot be contested by younger institutions hungry for status. To place among the greats, one must first pass the test of time.

Universities are historical hubs for innovation and revolutionary insight, and historical significance is certainly appealing to many applicants. Whether you are studying the evolutionary theories of Darwin or the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas, you can actually do so in the very halls where these ideas took their first infant steps. In fact, both of these influential scholars studied at some of the oldest universities in the western world.

Having had such an impact on modern thought has most definitely helped cement these institutions’ reputations, but old age alone is also a contributing factor. StudyAdvantage has taken a closer look at some very old institutions in order to determine which universities in fact hold the title of being the oldest in the world.


4. University of Cambridge, England – Founded 1209

Trinity College, Cambridge

Trinity College, founded in 1564, is the largest constituent college of University of Cambridge.


Known both as one of the oldest and one of the most prestigious higher learning institutions in the world, University of Cambridge dates back to the early 13th century. It was founded by scholars leaving the University of Oxford, and was granted its royal charter in 1231.

Centuries later, Cambridge inspired the establishment of one of America’s oldest and certainly most prestigious universities – Harvard University – named after Cambridge alumni John Harvard.

If you’re interested in knowing more about student life at Cambridge University, check out our bloggers Arqum and Azfer’s blogs on the links.


3. University of Oxford, England – Founded 1167

Bodleian Library, Oxford University

The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, was founded in year 1602.


Occasionally claiming to be the oldest university in the world, University of Oxford places only third on our list. It is, however, the oldest university in the English-speaking world, which may be the cause of this common misconception.

Two of the university’s constituent colleges claim that they possess documents proving that Oxford was founded in year 825. These documents have, however, never been seen in public light.


2. University of Paris, France – Founded 1150


“Sorbonne” by Paul Joseph-Victor Dargaud, 1900


Following the political unrest of the 60’s, and more specifically the events of May 1968, Sorbonne was divided into 13 different universities. The humanities faculty and large parts of the historical facilities are since called Paris-Sorbonne University.

The institution dates back to the mid-12th century, and is the birthplace of many academic standards and traditions such as doctoral degrees and student nations. The school boasts an impressive alumnae repertoire.


1. University of Bologna, Italy – Founded 1088

University of Bologna 1088

The world’s first university – University of Bologna. Founded in year 1088 and laid the framework for what a university really is.


The term “university” was coined at the moment of University of Bologna’s founding. It was only 70 years after its inception that the terms, rules, rights and privileges of universities were outlined in the “Authentica Habita”, given to the University by the emperor in 1158.

University of Bologna easily claims the title as the oldest university in the world, as the very concept of a “university” did not exist before its founding. The institution is still operational today, and has throughout the ages educated many notable nobility, popes, scientists and philosophers.



* The oldest learning institution is not featured on this list. University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco has been actively teaching since year 859. It was, however, considered a religious center for non-vocational teaching for a long time, and was thus not considered a university until much later.

Other magazine articles