The 5 Oldest Universities in the World


Date of Publication: 17 February 2020

Ever wondered what the oldest university in the world is that is still in operation today? Take a look at our list of the top five oldest universities in the world!


  1. University of Cambridge, UK – 1209

It is widely believed that the University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 by a group of Oxford students after the ‘town and gown’ riots took place in the city between the townspeople and scholars. 

Continuing to inspire students today, it is currently ranked as the second best university in the UK, and one of the leading higher education institutions in the world.

Home to more than 18,000 students and 9,000 staff members, the university is comprised of 31 colleges, some of which date back to the 13th century! 

The university is particularly renowned for their excellence in mathematics, having produced some of the most famous British scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin and David Attenborough.



  1. University of Salamanca, Spain – 1134

The University of Salamanca was the first higher education institution to have been granted the title of ‘university’ in 1254 by the King of Castile and Leon, Alfonso X and Pope Innocent IV.

Situated in West Madrid, the University of Salamanca has disputed dates over its establishment. The university today claims to have been founded in 1218 by Alfonso IX of Leon in 1218, however James Trager’s book, People’s Chronology which includes a year by year history of human events lists the date as 1134. Regardless of this, it still remains the oldest university in Spain that still operates today.


  1. University of Oxford, UK – 1096

The oldest English-speaking university, the University of Oxford is still today constantly ranked as one of the best universities in the world, as well as the leading higher education institution in the UK. While the exact founding date is slightly disputable, evidence of teaching dates back to 1096, with some claiming it was established earlier than that!

Boasting an alumni list that includes several British Prime Ministers, Archbishops of Canterbury, Nobel laureates, Nobel Prize winners, 2 Oxford Summer Courses CEOs and many more astounding individuals, it’s no surprise that it is one of the most desirable institutions for students to apply to – with over 20,000 applications reaching them each year. 


  1. University of Bologna, Italy – 1088

The oldest higher education institution in Europe, the University of Bologna was established in 1088 and has been open since the very first day it was created. Known by its Latin motto as the ‘Nourishing Mother of the Studies,’ it is home to around 85,000 students, of which around a third are postgraduates. For a long while, the university only taught doctorate studies, but today, it offers a range of programmes open to students of all levels. 

Ranked joint 177th in the QS World University Rankings, notable alumni include famous fashion designer, Giorgio Armani; screenwriter, Michelangelo Antonioni; and opera director, Liliana Cavani.


  1. University of Karueein, Morocco – 859 AD

Coming in at number one as the oldest university in the world, the University of Karueein – also known as the University of al-Qarawiyyin is situated in Fez, Morocco. Interestingly founded by a female refugee – Fatima al-Fihri – yet it was only recently (1940) that the university began to accept women to study there.

Still in operation today, it is one of the leading spiritual and educational centres of the historic Muslim world. Education here focuses on the Islamic religious and legal sciences, with emphasis on Classical Arabic grammar and Maliki law.

Students at the University of Karueein range between the ages of 13 and 30, with some studying towards high-school diplomas, and others studying university-level bachelor’s degrees. Famous alumni include Pope Sylvester II – who is believed to have introduced Arabic numerals to Europe after studying at the university in the 10th century; Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who became one of the most prominent Torah scholars.

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