Oldest Universities in the World

The Oldest Universities in the World

“University” is a term that was actually derived from “universitas magistrorum et scholarium”, which more or less means “the community of teachers and scholars” [1], coming from the same root as the word “universe”, obviously. Today, the word is used quite in the same meaning, with the addition that each university is a home to various academic research activities.

Funded by various financial bodies in every country, these institutions are preferred by millions of people every year for a Bachelor, Master or Doctor title, as well as for a better career.

Those titles or a better career, most of the time, have a cost, naturally. In the US where higher education is the most expensive in the world [2], for example, the average cost of a year of college education ranged from $3131 to $29056 in 2012-2013 academic year [3]. On the other hand, countries like Sweden, Turkey or Cuba are able offer free university education to their students.

But where did this all begin? In order to have an idea about the answer to this questions, one should definitely have a look at the oldest universities in the world, whose top-10 list is just below. Please scroll down for the ’10 oldest universities in the world that still operate’.

10. University of Coimbra, Portugal

University of Coimbra

Founded in 1290, University of Coimbra is the 10th oldest university in the world that is still in full operation. The Pope of the time, Pope Nicholas IV confirmed the foundation of the university on August 9 of the same year.

9. University of Macerata, Italy

University of Macerata

Actually, the 9th and 10th places in the oldest universities list are shared by two universities since they were founded in the same year (1290), and University of Macerata is the second one.

8. University of Valladolid, Spain

University of Valladolid

Once a university of the Kingdom of Castile, University of Valladolid is the 8th oldest university in the world (1241), founded during the reign of King Alfonso VIII.

7. University of Siena, Italy

University of Siena

Having had to be closed between 1808-1815 due to the invasion of Tuscany by the Napoleonic forces, University of Siena was founded in 1240 in the ‘Republic of Siena’ of the time, which makes it the 7th oldest university in the world.

6. University of Naples Federico II, Italy

University of Naples Federico

Once a part of the “Kingdom of Sicily”, University of Naples Federico II is the 6th oldest university in the world with the foundation year of 1224.

5. University of Padua, Italy

University of Padua

After some scholars from the University of Bologna resigned in search of more academic freedom, they founded the University of Padua with high hopes in 1222. However, 1222 is actually the date of a document mentioning University of Padua as an existing institution. For that reason, it is uncertain when the university was actually founded. However, 1222 is quite enough to make the university the 5th oldest in the world.

4. University of Salamanca, Spain

University of Salamanca

Also the oldest university in Spain, University of Salamanca was founded in 1218, making it the 4th oldest university in the world.

3. University of Cambridge, UK

University of Cambridge

Two scholars were executed in Oxford upon the accidental killing of a woman, which caused the scholars of Oxford University to leave their home and establish the University of Cambridge in 1209. Since then, University of Cambridge is the 3rd oldest university in the world.

2. University of Oxford, UK

University of Oxford

Although the Papal Confirmation was granted to Oxford in 1248, it is known that teaching has been going on there since 1096. However, there are claims as for the foundation of the university dating back to 825, although they have never been fully acknowledged. Therefore, taking 1096 as the foundation date of the University of Oxford, it is safe to say that it is the second oldest university in the world.

1. University of Bologna, Italy

University of Bologne

University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and this makes it the oldest university in the world. The beginning of the use of the word “university”, University of Bologna gave its name to the huge accreditation project by the EU, the ‘Bologna Process’.

So these are the oldest universities in the world that are still active. If you’re looking for a concept tour (and maybe some photography?), this might be it! Now you wonder about the oldest cities in the world? Just click on the link!


1.  Universities“. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.

2. Vasagar, Jeevan (January 21, 2008). “UK tuition fees are third highest in developed world, says OECD”. The Guardian (London).

3. “College Costs: FAQs”. The College Board. 2013.

Oldest Universities / En Eski Üniversiteler
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Oldest Universities / En Eski Üniversiteler
Oldest Universities / En Eski Üniversiteler

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