List of oldest universities in continuous operation

List of oldest universities in continuous operation
Map of medieval universities

This is a list of the oldest extant universities in the world. To be included in this table, an educational institution must satisfy the definition of a university at the time of its founding. It must have been founded before 1500 (invariably in Europe) or be the oldest university in a region; universities were first founded in Europe as degree-granting institutions before 1500, after which time they were spread around the world first to places the Europeans ruled, and then to other countries in the 19th century.

The word university is derived from the Latin: universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars". The term was coined by the Italian University of Bologna, which, with a traditional founding date of 1088, is considered the first university.[1][2] The origin of many medieval universities can be traced to the Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools which appear as early as the 6th century AD and were run for hundreds of years as such before their formal establishment as university in the high medieval period.[3]

Although there were other institutions of higher learning, like those of ancient Greece, China, the Arab World, and other civilizations, these aren't generally regarded as being universities as they largely didn't offer degrees or they were culturally dissimilar from the European universities where the concept of the modern university came from.


Medieval origins

The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars". The term was coined by the Italian University of Bologna, which, with a traditional founding date of 1088, is considered the first university.[4][5] The origin of many medieval universities can be traced to the Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools which appear as early as the 6th century AD and were run for hundreds of years as such before their formal establishment as university in the high medieval period.[6]

Rooted in medieval society, the university as an institution was intrinsically linked to Christian faith and the medieval lifeworld which it in turn influenced and shaped:

The university is a European institution; indeed, it is the European institution par excellence. There are various reasons for this assertion. As a community of teachers and taught, accorded certain rights, such as administrative autonomy and the determination and realization of curricula (courses of study) and of the objectives of research as well as the award of publicly recognized degrees, it is a creation of medieval Europe, which was the Europe of papal Christianity...

No other European institution has spread over the entire world in the way in which the traditional form of the European university has done. The degrees awarded by European universities – the bachelor's degree, the licentiate, the master's degree, and the doctorate – have been adopted in the most diverse societies throughout the world. The four medieval faculties of artes variously called philosophy, letters, arts, arts and sciences, and humanities – law, medicine, and theology have survived and have been supplemented by numerous disciplines, particularly the social sciences and technological studies, but they remain none the less at the heart of universities throughout the world...

Moreover, the university is a European institution because it has, in its social role, performed certain functions for all European societies. It has developed and transmitted scientific and scholarly knowledge and the methods of cultivating that knowledge which has arisen from and formed part of the common European intellectual tradition.[7]

Modern spread

From the early modern period onwards, the university gradually spread from the medieval Latin west across the globe, eventually replacing all other higher-learning institutions and becoming the preeminent institution for higher education everywhere. This process occurred in the following chronological order:[8]

  • Western Europe (since 11th/12th century)
  • Eastern Europe (since 14th/15th century)
  • Americas (since 16th century)
  • Australia (since 19th century)
  • Asia and Africa (since 19th/20th century)

Founded before 1500

The earliest and only universities before the colonization of the Americas were established and run in medieval Europe.

Year Contemporaneous location Current location Name Notes
1088[9] Coat of arms of the Papal States Papal States Italy Bologna, Italy University of Bologna The first university in the sense of a higher learning, degree awarding institute, the word university having been coined at its foundation.[10] It is also the oldest continually operating university in the world.
1096 (1231)[citation needed] Royal Arms of England (1198-1340).svg Kingdom of England England Oxford, England, UK University of Oxford "There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris."[11] Teaching suspended in 1209 (due to town execution of two scholars) and 1355 (due to the St. Scholastica riot), but was continuous during the English Civil War (1642–1651) - 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 on these documents). However, it was not until 1254 that Pope Innocent IV granted to Oxford the University charter by papal bull ("Querentes in agro").
1134 (1218) Pennant of the Kingdom of León Kingdom of León Spain Salamanca, Spain University of Salamanca It is the oldest university in operation in Spain. Although there are records of the University granting degrees many years before (James Trager's People's Chronology sets its foundation date in 1134), it only received the Royal chart of foundation as "Estudio General" in 1218, making it possibly the fourth or even the third oldest European university in continuous operations. However, it was the first European university to receive the title of "University" as such, granted by king of Castile and León Alfonso X and the Pope in 1254. Having been excluded from the University in 1852 by the Spanish government, the Faculties of Theology and Canon Law became the Pontifical University of Salamanca in 1940.
1150 Arms of the Kingdom of France (Moderne) Kingdom of France France Paris, France University of Paris The University of Paris was a university located in Paris, France and one of the earliest to be established in Europe. It was founded in the mid-12th century, and officially recognized as a university probably between 1160 and 1170 (or, possibly, as early as 1150). 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.
1175 Coat of arms of Modena Commune of Modena Italy Modena, Italy University of Modena Founded by professor Pillio of Medicina after leaving University of Bologna. Closed in the 1590s, the university was not reestablished in Modena until the 1680s and did not receive an imperial charter until 1685.
1204 Italy Vicenza, Italy University of Vicenza Closed in 1209.
1209 (1231)[citation needed] Royal Arms of England (1198-1340).svg Kingdom of England England Cambridge, England, UK University of Cambridge Founded by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute caused by the execution of two scholars in 1209.
1215 Commune of Arezzo Italy Arezzo, Italy University of Arezzo Closed in 15th century.
1222 (probably older) Flag of Most Serene Republic of Venice.svg Republic of Venice Italy Padua, Italy University of Padua Founded by scholars and professors after leaving Bologna.
1224 Flag of Naples.svg City of Naples Italy Naples, Italy University of Naples Federico II Founded by Frederick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
1229 Arms of the Kingdom of France (Moderne) Kingdom of France France Toulouse, France University of Toulouse
1240 Coat of arms of Siena Commune of Siena Italy Siena, Italy University of Siena Originally called Studium Senese, was founded by Commune of Siena in 1240. In 1321, the studium was able to attract a larger number or pupils due to a mass exodus from the prestigious neighbouring University of Bologna. Closed temporarily in 1808–1815 when Napoleonic forces occupied Tuscany. On November 7, 1990 the university celebrated its 750th anniversary.
1272 Escudo reino de murcia.jpg Kingdom of Murcia, Crown of Castile Spain Murcia, Spain University of Murcia It was founded as the Universitas Studiorum Murciana by Alfonso X of Castile around 1272. The current University of Murcia was founded in 1915, making it the tenth oldest university in Spain, but its seal carries the date of the thirteenth century founding.
1289 Arms of the Kingdom of France (Moderne) Kingdom of France France Montpellier, France University of Montpellier The university is considerably older than its formal founding date, associated with a bull issued by Pope Nicholas IV in 1289, combining all the long-existing schools into a university.
1290 Coat of arms of the Papal States Papal States Italy Macerata, Italy University of Macerata[12] The University of Macerata (Italian: Università degli Studi di Macerata) is a university located in Macerata, Marche, Italy. It was founded in 1290 and is organized into 7 faculties.
1290 Armas portugal 1247.png Kingdom of Portugal
LSB.png Lisbon
Portugal Coimbra, Portugal University of Coimbra[13] Begun its existence in Lisbon with the name Studium Generale (Estudo Geral). Scientiae thesaurus mirabilis, the royal charter announcing the institution of the University, was dated 1 March of that year, although efforts had been made at least since 1288 to create this first university in Portugal. The papal confirmation was also given in 1290 (on 9 August of that year), during the papacy of Pope Nicholas IV.
1293 Pennant of the Crown of Castile Crown of Castile Spain Madrid, Spain Complutense University of Madrid and University of Alcalá The Complutense University of Madrid was founded by King Sancho IV of Castile as Studium Generale in 1293. It was granted Papal Bull in 1499, and quickly gained international fame thanks to the patronage of Cardinal Cisneros and the production of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible in 1517, which is the basis for most of the current translations. The University moved to Madrid in 1836 by Royal Decree. The Moyano Law of 1857 established Complutense as the sole university in Spain authorized to confer the title of Doctor on any scholar. This law remained in effect until 1954.
1300[14] Standard of the Crown of Aragon Crown of Aragon Spain Lleida, Spain University of Lleida The University of Lleida has its roots in the Estudi General de Lleida, which was created in 1300 by virtue of a charter granted to the city of Lleida by King James II of Aragon. He based his decision on a papal bull issued in Rome on 1st April 1297, by Pope Boniface VIII.
1303 Coat of arms of the Papal States Papal States Italy Rome, Italy La Sapienza University of Rome Founded by Pope Boniface VIII, but became a state university in 1935. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, the university "remained closed during the entire pontificate of Clement VII".
1308 Commune of Perugia Italy Perugia, Italy University of Perugia Attested by the Bull of Pope Clement V.
1321 Coat of arms of the Republic of Florence Republic of Florence Italy Florence, Italy University of Florence The University of Florence evolved from the Studium Generale, which was established by the Florentine Republic in 1321. The Studium was recognized by Pope Clement VI in 1349.
1343 Coat of arms of the Republic of Pisa Republic of Pisa Italy Pisa, Italy University of Pisa It was formally founded on September 3, 1343 by an edict of Pope Clement VI, although there had been lectures on law in Pisa since the 11th century. Nowadays is one of the most important universities in Italy.
1348 Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Bohemia Kingdom of Bohemia

Coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire

Czech Republic Prague, Czech Republic Charles University of Prague Three of four faculties closed in 1419, joined with Jesuit university and renamed Charles-Ferdinand University in 1652, split into German and Czech part in 1882, Czech branch closed during Nazi occupation (1939–1945), German branch closed in 1945.[15]
1361 Lordship of Milan Italy Pavia, Italy University of Pavia Closed for short periods during the Italian Wars, Napoleonic wars, and Revolutions of 1848.
1364 Coat of arms of Poland Kingdom of Poland Poland Kraków, Poland Jagiellonian University Development stalled early, re-established from 1400 onwards. Closed after the German occupation of Poland in 1939 but reopened clandestinely three years later.
1365  Holy Roman Empire Austria Vienna, Austria University of Vienna Modelled on the University of Paris.
1386  Holy Roman Empire Germany Heidelberg, Germany Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg Founded by Rupert I, Elector Palatine. The oldest in Germany.
1391 Lordship of Ferrara Italy Ferrara, Italy University of Ferrara Founded by Marquis Alberto d'Este.
1409  Holy Roman Empire Germany Leipzig, Germany University of Leipzig Founded when German-speaking staff left Prague due to the Jan Hus crisis.
1413  Kingdom of Scotland Scotland St Andrews, Scotland University of St Andrews Founded by a Papal Bull
1419  Holy Roman Empire Germany Rostock, Germany University of Rostock During the Reformation, "the Catholic university of Rostock closed altogether and the closure was long enough to make the refounded body feel a new institution".[16]
1434 Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Kingdom of Sicily Italy Catania, Italy University of Catania The oldest in Sicily.
1450[17] Standard of the Crown of Aragon Crown of Aragon Spain Barcelona, Spain University of Barcelona Founded by Alfonso V of Aragon as Estudi general de Barcelona after the unification of all university education. For forty-nine years prior to that foundation, however, the city had had a fledgling medical school founded by King Martin of Aragon, and in the 13th century Barcelona already possessed several civil and ecclesiastical schools.
1451  Kingdom of Scotland Scotland Glasgow, Scotland University of Glasgow Founded by a Papal Bull
1456  Holy Roman Empire Germany Greifswald, Germany University of Greifswald Teaching had started by 1436. Closed down during the Protestant Reformation (1527–39).
1457  Holy Roman Empire Germany Freiburg, Germany Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg Temporarily transferred to Constance in 1686–98 and 1713–15.
1460  Holy Roman Empire Switzerland Basel, Switzerland University of Basel Founded in 1460 (Schola Basiliensis), the University of Basel is the oldest university in Switzerland. [2]
1472  Holy Roman Empire Germany Munich, Germany Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich Founded in Ingolstadt in 1459, transferred to Landshut in 1800, moved to Munich in 1826.
1477  Holy Roman Empire Germany Tübingen, Germany Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen
1477  Kalmar Union Sweden Uppsala, Sweden Uppsala University Uppsala's bull, which granted the university its corporate rights, was issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1477, and established a number of provisions. Among the most important of these was that the university was officially given the same freedoms and privileges as the University of Bologna.
1479  Kalmar Union Denmark Copenhagen, Denmark University of Copenhagen
1495  Kingdom of Scotland Scotland Aberdeen, Scotland University of Aberdeen King's College was founded by Papal Bull in 1495 and Marischal College in 1593; they merged in 1860
1495 Kingdom of Galicia Kingdom of Galicia Spain Santiago de Compostela, Spain University of Santiago de Compostela The university traces its roots to 1495, when a school was opened in Santiago.[18] In 1504, Pope Julius II approved the foundation of a university in Santiago, and the bull for its creation was granted by Clement VII in 1526.
1499 Standard of the Crown of Aragon Crown of Aragon Spain Valencia, Spain University of Valencia

Oldest universities by country or region after 1500 still in operation

The majority of European countries had universities by 1500. After 1500, universities began to spread to other countries all over the world:


Latin America and the Caribbean

  • Dominican Republic: Santo Tomas de Aquino University, Santo Domingo, founded by papal bull in 1538, and by royal bull in 1747. Closed in 1824. It is not the longest continuously operating university in the Americas.
  • Dominican Republic: Universidad Autonoma de Santo Dominigo, Santo Domingo, founded in 1538. The longest continuously operating university in the Americas.
  • Peru: National University of San Marcos, Lima, May 12, 1551, as the Royal and Pontifical University of San Marcos. Also known as the "dean university of the Americas".
  • Mexico: National Autonomous University of Mexico, September 21, 1551, as Royal and Pontifical University of México (in 1920 changes its name to National Autonomous University of Mexico, when has given it the freedom to define its own curriculum and manage its own budget without interference from the government).[25]
  • Colombia: Saint Thomas Aquinas University, 1580
  • Mexico: Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, founded 1587 as Colegio del Espíritu Santo (it was sponsored by Jesuits until its conversion into a public college in 1825, and a public university in 1937).
  • Argentina: National University of Córdoba, 1613
  • Ecuador: Central University of Ecuador, 1622, 19 May, as Real y Pontificia Universidad de San Gregorio Magno
  • Chile: Universidad de Chile, 1622, 19 August, as Universidad de Santo Tomás de Aquino, then Real Universidad de San Felipe (1738)
  • Bolivia: Royal and Pontificial Major University of St. Francis Xavier of Chuquisaca, 1624
  • Colombia: Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario - Universidad del Rosario, 1653
  • Guatemala: Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, 1676
  • Venezuela: Central University of Venezuela, 1721
  • Cuba: Universidad de La Habana, 1728
  • Mexico: Universidad de Guadalajara, founded October 12, 1791; legally established October 12, 1925.
  • Brazil: Real Academia de Artilharia, Fortificação e Desenho, 1792 (today Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)
  • Honduras: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, 1847
  • Uruguay: Universidad de la República, 1849
  • Paraguay: Universidad Nacional de Asunción, 1889
  • Puerto Rico: University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras 1903
  • Jamaica: University of the West Indies, Mona 1948 and University of Technology, Jamaica 1958
  • Surinam: Anton de Kom University, 1968
  • Grenada: St. George's University, 1976
  • Dominica: Ross University, 1978

North America



Australia and Oceania

See also


  1. ^ Hunt Janin: "The university in medieval life, 1179–1499", McFarland, 2008, ISBN 0-7864-3462-7, p. 55f.
  2. ^ de Ridder-Symoens, Hilde: A History of the University in Europe: Volume 1, Universities in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-521-36105-2, pp. 47–55
  3. ^ Riché 1978, pp. 126–7, 282–98
  4. ^ Hunt Janin: "The university in medieval life, 1179–1499", McFarland, 2008, ISBN 0-7864-3462-7, p. 55f.
  5. ^ de Ridder-Symoens, Hilde: A History of the University in Europe: Volume 1, Universities in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-521-36105-2, pp. 47–55
  6. ^ Riché 1978, pp. 126–7, 282–98
  7. ^ Rüegg, Walter: "Foreword. The University as a European Institution", in: A History of the University in Europe. Vol. 1: Universities in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-521-36105-2, pp. XIX–XX
  8. ^ Rüegg, Walter (ed.): Geschichte der Universität in Europa, 3 vols., C.H. Beck, München 1993, ISBN 3-406-36956-1
  9. ^ "Our History". Unversità di Bologna. Retrieved 25 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Nuria Sanz, Sjur Bergan: "The heritage of European universities", 2nd edition, Higher Education Series No. 7, Council of Europe, 2006, ISBN, p.136
  11. ^ A brief history of the University of Oxford, Oxford University
  12. ^ Times Higher Education - QS World University Rankings 2007 - World's oldest universities
  13. ^ Times Higher Education - QS World University Rankings 2007 - World's oldest universities
  14. ^ "A university founded over 700 years ago". Universitat de Lleida. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  15. ^ History of CU
  16. ^ Quoted from: Chadwick, Owen. The Early Reformation on the Continent. Oxford University Press, 2003. Page 257.
  17. ^ "The University of Barcelona: 599 years of history. The most important dates and events". Universitat de Barcelona. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  18. ^ "La Universidad de Santiago cumple 500 años" (in Spanish). El Mundo. March 22, 1995. 
  19. ^ History of Education in Romania
  20. ^ About University of Iaşi
  21. ^ About Cluj-Napoca University
  22. ^ About University of Bucharest
  23. ^ "Notable Dates in Scottish History". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 2 October 2011. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Elizalde,Guadalupe, Piedras en el Camino de la UNAM, EDAMEX, 1999 p.49.
  26. ^ Educational institutions were closed in China starting on June 13, 1966 due to the Cultural Revolution. They remained closed for a year, or longer in some cases. See [1]
  27. ^ 『徳川実紀』寛永9年条
  28. ^ 須藤敏夫『近世日本釈奠の研究』(思文閣出版、2001年) ISBN 978-4-7842-1070-1
  29. ^ ""
  30. ^ 深瀬泰旦著 『天然痘根絶史』 恩文閣出版、2002年9月 ISBN 4-7842-1116-0
  31. ^ Lim-Pe, Josefina (1973). The University of Santo Tomas in the Twentieth Century. Manila: University of Santo Tomas Press. 
  32. ^ Torres, Jose Victor (2011-01-27). "No contest: UST is oldest university". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 

  • Riché, Pierre (1978). Education and Culture in the Barbarian West: From the Sixth through the Eighth Century. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN ISBN 0-87249-376-8 

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