20 Oldest Universities In The World

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The University of Bologna, founded in 1088, holds the title of the world's oldest continuously operating university. Other ancient universities can be found in England, Salamanca, Toulouse, Italy, Portugal, and beyond.

In this list, we present the 20 oldest existing continuously operating universities worldwide. Some early universities like the University of Paris, founded around the early 13th century but abolished during the French Revolution in 1793 are excluded.

1. University of Bologna

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  • Date of Establishment: 1088
  • Location: Bologna, Italy

Established in 1088 by a guild of organized students, the University of Bologna is the world's oldest continuously operating university and the first degree-granting institution of higher education. It was at its inception that the term "universitas" was first coined.

Renowned for its prestige, the University of Bologna consistently secures top positions in both national and international rankings, standing as one of Italy and Europe's most esteemed academic institutions. With over 90,000 students, it ranks among the largest universities in Europe.

2. University of Oxford

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  • Date of Establishment: 1096
  • Location: Oxford, England

With evidence of teaching as early as 1096, the University of Oxford claims the title of the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Its growth gained significant momentum starting in 1167 when King Henry II prohibited English students from studying at the University of Paris.

The university comprises of thirty-nine semi-autonomous constituent colleges, four permanent private halls, and several academic departments organized into four divisions. In 2021, the institution enrolled over 26,000 students, including 12,683 undergraduates and 13,324 postgraduates. As of October 2022, the University of Oxford's impressive record includes 73 Nobel laureates and over 50 world leaders who have been associated with the institution.

3. University of Cambridge

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  • Date of Establishment: 1209
  • Location: Cambridge, England

Founded in 1209, the University of Cambridge ranks as the world's third-oldest continuously operating university. In 1231, 22 years after its inception, the university received formal recognition when King Henry III granted it a royal charter.

The institution's structure comprises 31 semi-autonomous constituent colleges and over 150 academic departments, faculties, and related institutions, all organized into six schools. Each college operates independently within the university, responsible for managing its own personnel and policies. Cambridge alumni, academics, and affiliates have earned a staggering 121 Nobel Prizes.

4. University of Salamanca

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  • Date of Establishment: 1218
  • Location: Salamanca, Castile and Leon, Spain

The University of Salamanca is a Spanish public research university founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX. It is known as the oldest university in the Hispanic world. Prior to the foundation of the university it was home to a cathedral school, believed to have been in existence by 1130.

With over 30,000 students from across Spain and the world, the university ranks top in the country based on the number of students hailing from other regions. Today, it serves as a prominent center for humanities studies, renowned especially for its language programs, as well as its offerings in law and economics.

5. University of Padua

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  • Date of Establishment: 1222
  • Location: Padua, Italy

The University of Padua was established in 1222 by a group of students and teachers who left the University of Bologna searching for more academic freedom. It is Italy's second-oldest university and one of the world's oldest surviving universities. The first subjects to be taught in the institution were law and theology.

In 2021, the university enrolled approximately 72,000 students, including undergraduates, postgraduates, and doctoral candidates. Presently, it boasts a dedicated team of some 2,200 teaching staff across its 32 departments, supported by an additional 2,400 technical administrators

6. University of Naples Federico II

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  • Date of Establishment: 1224
  • Location: Naples, Italy

The University of Naples Federico II is the world's oldest public or state university and ranks among the ten oldest continuously operating universities globally. Pioneering a groundbreaking approach, it was Europe's first institution dedicated to the education of secular administrative staff.

In Italy, the university stands in third place for its substantial student enrollment, with over 90,000 students across its 13 faculties. Named after its founder, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Frederick II, the university continues a legacy of academic excellence that has endured for centuries.

7. University of Siena

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  • Date of Establishment: 1240
  • Location: Siena, Italy

The University of Siena, originally called Stadium Senese, is one of Italy's oldest and first publicly funded universities. In 2022, the institution had around 16,000 students, which is nearly one-third of the city's total population of roughly 53,000.

Presently, the University of Siena is best recognized for its Medicine, Schools of Law, and Economics and Management. It has 15 faculties, 29 master's programs, 32 undergraduate programs, 24 doctoral programs, 11 dual degree programs, 729 teaching and research staff, and 997 technical and administrative staff.

8. University of Valladolid

( Source : britannica )

  • Date of Establishment: 1241
  • Location: Valladolid, Spain

Established in the 13th century, the University of Valladolid is among the oldest universities in the world. t stands committed to providing higher education across seven distinct campuses located in four cities of Castile and Leon: Valladolid, Soria, Palencia, and Segovia.

The university is home to 26,000 undergraduate students and over 2,300 professors. Within the university, cultural associations for music and theatre thrive, and the Joven Orquesta de la Universidad de Valladolid, a youth symphonic orchestra, is student-led and based at the Residencia Universitaria Alfonso VIII in Valladolid.

9. University of Coimbra

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  • Date of Establishment: 1290
  • Location: Coimbra, Portugal

Founded in 1290 in Lisbon, the University of Coimbra experienced multiple relocations before finally settling in its permanent home in Coimbra in 1537. The institution stands as one of the world's oldest universities in continuous operation.

Home to approximately 25,000 students, the university is organized into eight faculties, each further divided into departments. Among these academic entities, the Faculty of Sciences and Technology takes the lead, boasting the highest count of both professors and students.

10. University of Macerata

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  • Date of Establishment: 1290
  • Location: Macerata, Italy

The University of Macerata is one of Italy and Europe's oldest institutions, a testament to its enduring legacy. Nestled within the medieval walls of the city's historic center, this small university, near the Adriatic coast, specializes primarily in the social sciences and humanities.

The institution has seven faculties to choose from: Economics, Law, Cultural Heritage (in the nearby town of Fermo), Literature and Philosophy, Education sciences, Political Sciences, and Media Studies. Some courses are entirely in English.

11. Complutense University of Madrid

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  • Date of Establishment: 1293
  • Location: Madrid, Spain

Founded in 1293 by Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros in Alcala, the Complutense University of Madrid holds the distinction of being one of the world's oldest operating universities. In 1836, it was relocated to Madrid by royal decree.

With an enrollment exceeding 86,000 students, it ranks as the third-largest non-distance European university in terms of student population. The university operates on government subsidies, grants, and enrollment funds, boasting a substantial annual budget of over €500,000,000.

12. Sapienza University of Rome

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  • Date of Establishment: 1303
  • Location: Rome, Italy

The Sapienza University of Rome is one of Europe's largest universities in terms of enrollment and holds a place as one of the oldest institutions in history. It boasts an esteemed reputation, consistently securing the top position in national rankings and in Southern Europe.

In both 2022 and 2023, the university was named the best university in Italy by ARWU. Since the reform in 2011, Sapienza boasts eleven faculties and 65 departments. Presently, with 140,000 students and a team of 8,000 academic, technical, and administrative staff members, it stands as the largest university in Italy.

13. University of Perugia

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  • Date of Establishment: 1308
  • Location: Perugia, Italy

The University of Perugia, established in 1308, bears historical evidence through the Bull issued by Pope Clement V, confirming the birth of the Studium Generale. The university's official seal features Saint Herculan, one of its patron saints, alongside the city's symbol, the rampant crowned griffin.

With 16 faculties and a wide array of first and second-level as well as single-cycle degree programs, the university provides its main courses in Perugia and Terni. Additionally, it offers specialized programs throughout the Umbria region, spanning cities like Assisi, Foligno, and Narni.

14. University of Pisa

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  • Date of Establishment: 1343
  • Location: Pisa, Italy

One of the oldest universities in Europe, the University of Pisa was officially founded in 1343, though some scholars trace its roots back to the 11th century. However, there's concrete evidence that, by the mid-12th century, Pisa had a "Universitas" in its original sense; a community of students who gathered around masters.

Comprising 20 departments, the university offers an extensive range of educational opportunities, including approximately 150 first and second-level degree courses and single-cycle degree courses, over 20 doctoral programs, more than 60 postgraduate courses, and 50 specialized schools.

15. Charles University

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  • Date of Establishment: 1347
  • Location: Prague, Czech Republic

Historically known as the University of Prague, Charles University is the Czech Republic's oldest and largest higher education institution. The establishment of this medieval university in Prague was inspired by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, who personally asked Pope Clement IV, his friend and ally, to facilitate its creation.

Today, the institution comprises 17 faculties located in Prague, Plzen, and Hradec Kralove. Ranked around 200-300 in the world, Charles University holds the distinction of being one of three top universities in Central and Eastern Europe.

16. University of Pavia

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  • Date of Establishment: 1361
  • Location: Pavia, Italy

With evidence of teaching as early as 1361, the University of Pavia holds a place among the world's oldest universities. In 2022, Times Higher Education recognized the university as one of Italy's top 10 and ranked it among the world's 300 best universities.

Presently, the university boasts 9 faculties and 18 departments. With over 80 undergraduate programs, 40 master programs, and 20 doctoral programs (including 8 in English), the institution caters to more than 20,000 students hailing from Italy and all over the world.

17. Jagiellonian University

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  • Date of Establishment: 1364
  • Location: Krakow, Poland

The Jagiellonian University, founded by King Casimir III the Great in 1364, is the oldest university in Poland and is considered the country's most prestigious academic institution. It serves as a vanguard of Polish culture and makes a substantial contribution to the intellectual heritage of Europe.

It employs some 4,000 academics and provides education to students exceeding 35,000 in numbers across 166 fields. Furthermore, the university's organizational structure encompasses over 15 faculties, each with distinct sub-structures that reflect both their historical roots and operational requirements.

18. University of Vienna

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  • Date of Establishment: 1365
  • Location: Vienna, Austria

The University of Vienna is the oldest university in the modern German-speaking world founded by Duke Rudolph IV in 1365. Associated with 16 Nobel Prize winners, the university has been the home to numerous scholars of historical and academic importance.

It further ranks as Europe's largest institution of higher learning. The university offers 181 degree programs -110 master programs, 55 bachelor programs, 13 doctoral programs, and 3 diploma programs. Around 6,900 scholars are actively involved in research and teaching activities at this university.

19. Heidelberg University

( Source : britannica )

  • Date of Establishment: 1386
  • Location: Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Founded in 1386 under the instruction of Pope Urban VI, Heidelberg University is one of Germany's most prestigious institutions. It proudly holds the distinction of being the country's oldest university and the third to be established within the Holy Roman Empire, following the University of Vienna and Charles University in Prague.

The university boasts twelve faculties and provides a wide range of undergraduate and postdoctoral degree programs encompassing nearly 100 different disciplines. Each year, approximately 1,000 doctoral degrees are completed, with over a third of its doctoral students hailing from abroad.

20. University of Turin

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  • Date of Establishment: 1404
  • Location: Turin, Piedmont, Italy

Established as a stadium through the initiative of Prince Ludovico di Savoia, the University of Turin stands as one of Europe's oldest universities, playing a significant role in research and education. It proudly ranks among the top 5 Italian universities and holds the third position in Italy for research activities.

Presently, the University comprises 55 departments located in 13 faculties, including the Faculty of Agriculture, Faculty of Economics, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Pharmacy, and more. Moreover, it has established specialized schools dedicated to various academic disciplines, often in collaboration with other institutions.

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