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List of oldest universities in continuous operation

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Map of medieval universities in Europe
The University of Bologna (Italy) is the oldest university in continuous operation.

This article contains a list of the oldest existing universities in continuous operation in the world. Inclusion in this list is determined by the date at which the educational institute met the traditional definition of a university used by academic historians[Note 1] although it may have existed as a different kind of institute before that time.[1] This definition limits the term "university" to institutions with distinctive structural and legal features that developed in Europe, and which make the university form different from other institutions of higher learning in the pre-modern world, even though these may sometimes now be referred to popularly as universities. Thus, for the list below, the university must have been founded before 1500 in Europe or be the oldest university derived from the medieval European model in a country or region. It must also be still in operation, with institutional continuity retained throughout its history, and so some early universities, most notably the University of Paris, which was abolished by the Revolution in 1793,[2] are excluded. Some institutions re-emerge, but with new foundations, such as the modern University of Paris, which came into existence in 1896 after the Louis Liard law disbanded Napoleon's University of France system.

Universities are dated from when, according to scholars, they met the definition of a university. For universities, such as Bologna and Oxford, that trace their history back to teaching in individual schools prior to their formation into a university, or which existed in another form prior to being a university, this can means the date in the list below for when these institutions became universities is later than the date given by the institutions for their foundation.

The word university is derived from the Latin: universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which approximately means "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 to be the first university.[3][4] The origin of many medieval universities can be traced back to the Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools, which appeared as early as the 6th century and were run for hundreds of years as such before their formal establishment as universities in the high medieval period.[5]

Other institutions of higher learning, such as those of ancient Greece, ancient Persia, ancient Rome, Byzantium, ancient China, ancient India and the Islamic world, are not included in this list owing to their cultural, historical, structural and juristic dissimilarities from the medieval European university from which the modern university evolved.[Note 2][Note 3].[8]

List of oldest universities in continuous operation Intro articles: 7

Medieval origins

The university as an institution was historically rooted in medieval society, which it in turn influenced and shaped:[8]

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 realisation of curricula (courses of study) and of the objectives of research as well as the award of publicly recognised degrees, it is a creation of medieval Europe, which was the Europe of papal Christianity [...].

List of oldest universities in continuous operation Medieval origins articles: 4

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. The process occurred in the following chronological order:[9]

  • Southern and Western Europe (from the 11th or 12th century)
  • Central and Northern Europe (from the 14th or 15th century)
  • Americas (from the 16th century)
  • Australia (from the 19th century)
  • Asia and Africa (from the 19th or 20th century), with the exception of the Philippines, where the University of Santo Tomas was established in the 17th century.

List of oldest universities in continuous operation Modern spread articles: 3

Founded as universities before 1500

This list includes medieval universities that were founded before 1500 and which have retained institutional continuity since then. Several of these have been closed for brief periods: for example the University of Siena was closed 1805–1815 during the Napoleonic wars, and non-German speaking universities in the Czech Republic and Poland were closed during Nazi occupation, 1939–1945.

Year University Location Notes
Original Current
(teaching from c. 1088)
University of Bologna Kingdom of Italy,
 Holy Roman Empire
Bologna, Italy Law schools existed in Bologna from the second half of the 12th century, with 1088 often considered to be the date on which teaching outside of ecclesiastical schools began.[11] In 1158, petitions by Bolognese doctors of law led to Emperor Barbarossa granting the "Authentic Habita", which granted various rights to students and masters but did not name Bologna or any other particular place of study.[12] However, it is unlikely that the university had become organised by the 1150s, and this may have been as late as the 1180s.[13] The law schools appear to have remained independent, private entities until around 1180, but became organised over the following decade. In 1189 the masters made an agreement with the commune not to transfer the studium to another town, while the Lombard students were organised into a 'nation' by 1191.[11][14]
(teaching from c. 1096)
University of Oxford  Kingdom of England Oxford, United Kingdom Teaching existed in Oxford from the late 11th century,[16] with the university giving the date of 1096 for the earliest classes.[17] However, it was not until the early 13th century that the schools in Oxford took on an organised character. In 1201 a papal letter described John Grimm as magister scolarum Oxonie.[18] In 1209 the masters suspended their teaching in Oxford and moved to other towns (including Cambridge, leading to the foundation of the university there),[19] returning after a bull issued on 20 June 1214 by the papal legate, Niccolò de Romanis, that granted a number of rights to the university and established the office of chancellor.[20] Both Oxford and Cambridge were granted rights of discipline over students and of fixing rents in letters issued by King Henry III in 1231.[21] A royal charter, sometimes referred to as the Magna Carta of the university, was granted in 1244, awarding further rights to the university.[22] The university received a papal bull Querentes in agro in 1254, with a first version issued on 27 September and a second version on 6 October. The first version followed the common form of privileges granted to monastic houses, confirming the liberties and immunities granted to the university and placing the members of the university under papal protection, but the second version (which was the version recorded in the papal register) explicitly recognised and approved the existence of the university as a scholarly community and confirmed its "liberties, ancient customs and approved statutes".[23]
1209–1225[24] University of Cambridge  Kingdom of England Cambridge, United Kingdom Founded by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute caused by the execution of three scholars in 1209.[19] The university was organised under a chancellor by 1225.[25] The university takes 1209 as its official anniversary.[26] Along with Oxford, Cambridge was granted rights of discipline over its students and of fixing rents in letters issued by King Henry III in 1231.[21] It received papal recognition as an academic corporation via an indult granted by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 and was named as a studium generale in the papal bull Inter singula in 1318. The traditional view was that this raised it to a studium generale but more recent scholarship (which is now generally, although not universally, accepted) sees the bull as confirming, rather than conferring, this status.[27][28]
By 1218–1219[24] University of Salamanca Kingdom of León Salamanca, Spain The oldest university in the Hispanic world. The university was founded by Alfonso IX of León in 1218 and recognised by a papal bull from Pope Alexander IV in 1255.[29]
1222[24] University of Padua Medieval commune of Padua Padua, Italy Founded by scholars and professors after leaving Bologna. Awarded the first degree in the world to be conferred on a woman, Elena Cornaro Piscopia, in 1678.[30][31]
1224[24] University of Naples Federico II Kingdom of Sicily Naples, Italy Claims to be the oldest public university in the world,[32] as one of the first to be founded by a head of state, Frederick II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Refounded in 1234, 1239 and 1465, and closed 1490–1507.[33]
1290[24] University of Coimbra Kingdom of Portugal
Coimbra, Portugal Originally established in Lisbon but relocated to Coimbra from 1308 to 1338 and again from 1354 to 1377,[24] before finally moving permanently to Coimbra in 1537.[34]
(Papal recognition 1346)[24]
University of Valladolid Crown of Castile Valladolid, Spain Founded in the late 13th century,[24] probably by the city,[35] with the first documented reference dating from 1293.[36]
1308[24] University of Perugia Papal States Perugia, Italy The university traces its history back to 1276 and statutes were granted in 1306 prior to the bull of Pope Clement V of 8 September 1308.[37]
1347[24] Charles University Kingdom of Bohemia,
 Holy Roman Empire
Prague, Czech Republic Faculties of theology, law and medicine closed during the Bohemian Reformation, leaving only the faculty of liberal arts. Became Charles-Ferdinand University after the Thirty Years' War, with all four faculties restored. Split into German and Czech parts in 1882; the Czech branch restored the name Charles University after independence in 1918 and closed briefly during Nazi occupation (1939–1945) while the German branch closed permanently in 1945.[38]
(originally 1246-1252)[24]
University of Siena Republic of Siena Siena, Italy Claims to have been founded in 1240 by the Commune of Siena,[39] although Rashdall dates the proclamation of the Studium to 1246, when Frederick II tried to place a ban on scholars travelling to Bologna, the date also given by Verger.[24] Was granted some exemptions from taxes by Pope Innocent II in 1252, but closed shortly after when the scholars returned to Bologna. Attempted revivals in 1275 and (fed by further short-lived migrations of scholars from Bologna) in 1321 and 1338 were unsuccessful. Gained an Imperial Bull in 1357 "granting it de novo the 'privileges of a Studium Generale.'", but was not firmly established until "[i]n 1408 a fresh grant of privileges was obtained from Pope Gregory XII".[40] Closed temporarily in 1808–1815 when Napoleonic forces occupied Tuscany.[39]
1361[24] University of Pavia Domain of the House of Visconti Pavia, Italy Transferred to Piacenza 1398-1412.[24] Closed for short periods during the Italian Wars, Napoleonic wars, and Revolutions of 1848.
1365[24] University of Vienna  Holy Roman Empire Vienna, Austria
1385[24] Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg Heidelberg, Germany
(originally 1364-before 1370)[24]
Jagiellonian University Kingdom of Poland Kraków, Poland Founded by King Casimir the Great as a studium generale but ceased to exist after hia death in 1370. The faculty of theology was reestablished in 1397 and Queen Jadwiga left a large endowment to the university upon her death in 1399. It was formally refounded on 26 July 1400 by King Vladislaus Jagiełło. After Kraków was incorporated into Austria in 1795 the university was merged with Lviv University from 1805 to 1809, when Kraków became part of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. The university was forcibly shut down during the German Occupation of Poland (1939–1945). The staff was deported to Nazi concentration camps, and many of its collections were deliberately destroyed by the occupying German authorities. Underground lectures continued for around 800 students during this period and the university formally reopened in 1945.[41]
c. 1400[24]
(originally 1343 to c. 1360)[24]
University of Pisa Republic of Pisa Pisa, Italy Established 1343 but closed around 1360; refounded at the start of the 15th century.[24] Formally founded on 3 September 1343 by a bull of Pope Clement VI, although according to the university "a number of scholars claim its origin dates back to the 11th century". Transferred to Pistoia, Prato and Florence between 1494 and 1543.[42]
1404[24] University of Turin  Duchy of Savoy Turin, Italy
1409[24] University of Leipzig  Holy Roman Empire Leipzig, Germany
1411[24]–1413[43] University of St. Andrews  Kingdom of Scotland St. Andrews, United Kingdom A school of higher studies was founded in 1410 and was chartered by Bishop Henry Wardlaw in 1411. Full university status conferred by a Papal bull of Antipope Benedict XIII on 28 August 1413.[43]
1419[24] University of Rostock  Holy Roman Empire Rostock, Germany Continuous operation during the Reformation is disputed. Some sources state that "the Catholic university of Rostock closed altogether and the closure was long enough to make the refounded body feel a new institution".[44] and that "[the university] fell into complete decay after the beginning of the Reformation in (1523) when the university revenues were lost and matriculations ceased".[45] However, Johann Oldendorp is reported by several sources as having held a professorship at the university from 1526–1534, although this is not proven beyond doubt,[46] and other historians refer to "the remaining university lecturers" as supporting plans to restore the university revenues in 1532 (which was eventually accomplished via the Rostock Formula concordiae in 1563).[47] Tere are records of a number of professors being appointed in 1551, including Johannes Aurifaber, David Chytraeus, and Johann Draconites [de].[48][49]
(originally 1391-1394)[24]
University of Ferrara House of Este Ferrara, Italy
(originally 1303 to c. 1400)[24]
Sapienza University of Rome Papal States Rome, Italy Founded in 1303 but closed at the end of the 14th century; refounded 1431.[24]
1444[24] University of Catania Kingdom of Sicily Catania, Italy
1450[24] University of Barcelona Crown of Aragon Barcelona, Spain Founded by Alfonso V of Aragon on 3 September 1450 as the Estudi General de Barcelona. From 1401 the city had a medical school founded by King Martin of Aragon (the Estudi General de Medecina de Barcelona), to which a faculty of arts was added in 1402. Before this, there were chairs of higher education (associated with the cathedral, the Dominican Convent of Santa Carolina, and the escoles majors supported by the city's governing council) from the 13th century.[50]
1451[24] University of Glasgow  Kingdom of Scotland Glasgow, United Kingdom
1456[24] University of Greifswald  Holy Roman Empire Greifswald, Germany Some professors from Rostock taught temporarily in Greifswald between 1437 and 1443 due to unrest in Rostock. The university was founded in 1456 by Duke Wartislaw IX with the approval of Pope Callixtus III on the initiative of Heinrich Rubenow, Lord Mayor of Greifswald (and first rector). Teaching paused temporarily during the Protestant Reformation (1527–39).[51]
1457[24] Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg Freiburg, Germany A papal bull of 1455 authorised the Bishop of Constance to establish a university, and in 1457 a ducal charter from Albert VI, Archduke of Austria founded the university.[52]
1459[24] University of Basel Basel, Switzerland
1459[24]–1472[53] Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich Munich, Germany Founded in Ingolstadt in 1472; with a Papal Bull obtained in 1459 from Pope Pius II by Louis the Rich, transferred to Landshut in 1800 and then to Munich in 1826.[53]
1475[24] University of Copenhagen  Kingdom of Denmark within the
 Kalmar Union
Copenhagen, Denmark
1476[24] Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen  Holy Roman Empire Tübingen, Germany
1477[24] Uppsala University Kingdom of Sweden within the
 Kalmar Union
Uppsala, Sweden Established in 1477 by the Catholic Archbishop Jakob Ulvsson. Decayed due to political unrest in the first decade of the 16th century and then the Reformation in the 1620s and 30s, remaining "only an idea without real content" until re-chartered in 1595.[54]
1495[24] University of Aberdeen  Kingdom of Scotland Aberdeen, United Kingdom King's College was founded by a Papal bull in 1495 and then Marischal College in 1593; they merged in 1860.[55]
1499[24] Complutense University of Madrid Crown of Castile Madrid, Spain A studium generale was founded by Sancho IV of Castile in 1293 in Alcalá de Henares. Very little is known of this institution over the next two centuries.[56] In 1499 a papal bull was granted by Pope Alexander VI authorising Archbishop Cisneros to establish a Colegio Mayor in Alcalá with the same powers as the universities of Salamanca and Vallodolid, from which date Verger considers it a university.[24] The new university opened in 1509.[57] The university was moved to Madrid in 1836 by royal decree.[58]
1500[24] University of Valencia Crown of Aragon Valencia, Spain

List of oldest universities in continuous operation Founded as universities before 1500 articles: 158

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. Many universities were established at institutes of learning such as schools and colleges that may have been founded significantly earlier but were not classed as universities upon their foundation; this is normally described in the notes for that institution. In some countries (particularly the US and those influenced by its culture), degree-granting higher education institutions that would normally be called universities are instead called colleges, in this case both the oldest institution that would normally be regarded as a university and the oldest institution (if different) to actually be called a university are given. In many parts of the world the first university to have a presence was an institution based elsewhere (often the University of London via the affiliation of a local college); where this is different from the first locally established university both are given.


Location Current name Year Notes
Current Original
French Algeria
University of Algiers 1909
Portuguese Angola
Agostinho Neto University 1962 Founded as Estudos Gerais Universitários de Angola. Was renamed Universidade de Luanda (University of Luanda) in 1968. After Angolan independence from Portugal in 1975, the institution was renamed the University of Angola (Universidade de Angola). In 1985 it was renamed Agostinho Neto University, in honour of Agostinho Neto, the first President of Angola.
Republic of Dahomey
University of Abomey-Calavi 1970 Originally the University of Dahomey. Renamed the National University of Benin in 1975 and took its current name in 2001.
(Gaborone, Francistown, Maun)
University of Botswana 1964 (as part of the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland; university 1982)
 Burkina Faso
Republic of Upper Volta
University of Ouagadougou 1974
Kingdom of Burundi
University of Burundi 1964
Federal Republic of Cameroon
University of Yaoundé 1962 In 1993 following a university reform the University of Yaounde was split into two (University of Yaoundé I and University of Yaoundé II) following the university branch-model pioneered by the University of Paris.
 Cape Verde
Jean Piaget University of Cape Verde 2001 as a result of the merger of the two previously existing higher education establishments (ISE and ISECMAR)
 Central African Republic
University of Bangui 1969
University of N'Djamena 1971 Originally the University of Chad, renamed the University of N'Djamena 1994.
University of the Comoros 2003[59]
 DR Congo
Belgian Congo
University of Kinshasa 1954 Originator established as the Lovanium University, affiliated to the Catholic University of Leuven. Merged into the National University of Zaire in 1971 then demerged under its current name in 1981.
People's Republic of the Congo
Marien Ngouabi University 1971 Founded as the University of Brazzaville in 1971, changed to current name in 1977.
(Djibouti City)
University of Djibouti 2006
Khedivate of Egypt
Cairo University 1908 The oldest university in Egypt and second oldest higher education institution (after Al-Azhar University, which was founded as a madrasa c. 970 and became a university in 1962)
 Equatorial Guinea
National University of Equatorial Guinea 1995
(Mai Nefhi)
Eritrea Institute of Technology 2003 Founded following the closure of the University of Asmara, which had been established as a college in 1958
University of Eswatini 1964 (as part of the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland; university 1982 Originally established as the University of Swaziland, changed to current name in 2018
(Addis Ababa)
Ethiopian Empire
(Addis Ababa)
University of Addis Ababa 1950 (as college offering degree courses; university 1962) The university was originally called the University College of Addis Ababa in 1950, offering courses leading to degrees of the University of London. It became Haile Selassie I University in 1962, named after the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I. The institution received its current name in 1975.
Omar Bongo University 1970 Founded as the National University of Gabon and took current name in 1978
University of the Gambia 1999
 Gold Coast
University of Ghana 1948 (as affiliate college of the University of London; university 1961)[60] Founded as the University College of the Gold Coast, an affiliate college of the University of London which supervised its academic programmes and awarded the degrees. It gained full university status in 1961.
Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry 1962[61]
Universidade Colinas de Boé 2003
Universidade Amílcar Cabral 2003
 Ivory Coast
Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny 1964 (as main campus of the University of Abidjan; university 1996)
Colony and Protectorate of Kenya


University of Nairobi 1961 (as affiliate college of the University of London; college 1956; university 1970) Oldest in Kenya. Established 1956 as the Royal Technical College. Renamed the Royal College of Nairobi when it became affiliated to the University of London 1961. On 20 May 1964, was renamed University College Nairobi when it was admitted as a constituent college of inter-territorial University of East Africa. In 1970, it transformed into the first national university in Kenya and was renamed the University of Nairobi.[62] Egerton University, which was established as a farm school in 1939 but did not become a university until 1987, claims to be "the oldest institution of higher learning in Kenya".[63]
Colony and Protectorate of Kenya


Egerton University 1939 as a farm school; 1987 as university Founded in 1939, and was originally named Egerton Farm School. It was established by a land grant of 740 acres (3 km2) by Maurice Egerton, 4th Baron Egerton of Tatton. The school's original purpose was to prepare white European youth for careers in agriculture. By 1955, the name had changed to Egerton Agricultural College. A one-year certificate course and a two-year diploma course in agriculture were offered. In 1958, Lord Egerton donated another 1,100 acres (4.5 km2) of land. Soon afterwards, the college opened its doors to people of all races from Kenya and other African countriese 1956. In 1979, with support from the Government of Kenya and USAID, the college expanded yet again, becoming part of the University of Nairobi system. In 1987, the college was recognized as a chartered public university.[64][65]
National University of Lesotho 1964 (as part of the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland; college 1945; university 1975
University of Liberia 1951 (college 1863) building on Liberia College founded in 1863
(Benghazi & Tripoli)
Kingdom of Libya
University of Libya 1956 A royal decree was issued on 15 December 1955 for the founding of the university. The first faculty to be formed was the Faculty of Literature in Benghazi, and the royal palace "Al Manar", from which King Idris I of Libya declared its independence on 24 December 1951, was assigned to be the campus. Later divided to University of Benghazi and University of Tripoli, the names were changed again during Gaddafi's era, but now they have reinstated their original names.
Colony of Madagascar and Dependencies
University of Antananarivo 1961 (as university; institute for advanced studies 1955) Founded December 1955 as the Institute for Advanced Studies in Antananarivo. Renamed the University of Madagascar in 1961.
(Zomba, Blantyre & Lilongwe)
University of Malawi 1965
University of Bamako 1996
University of Nouakchott Al Aasriya 1981
British Mauritius
University of Mauritius 1965 The Faculty of Agriculture is the oldest faculty of the university. It was founded in 1914 as the School of Agriculture in 1914, and in 1966 it was incorporated into the newly established University of Mauritius.
Idrisid Kingdom of Morocco
University of Al Quaraouiyine 1965 (as university; madrasa 859) Traces its origins back to the al-Qarawiyyin mosque and associated madrasa founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859, and was named a university in 1965. It is the oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning in the world,[66][67] though only became an official university in 1965.
Mohammed V University 1957 Founded as University of Rabat
Portuguese Mozambique
(Lourenço Marques)
Eduardo Mondlane University 1962 Estudos Gerais Universitários de Moçambique
University of Namibia 1992
Abdou Moumouni University 1974 Originally the University of Niamey
Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria
(Yaba, Lagos)
University of Ibadan 1949 (as affiliated college of the University of London; college 1932; university 1962) Founded as Yaba College in 1932 in Yaba, Lagos, as the first tertiary educational institute in Nigeria. Yaba College was transferred to Ibadan, becoming the University College of Ibadan, in 1948[68] and was a university college associated with the University of London. Independent university since 1962.[69]
Federation of Nigeria
University of Nigeria, Nsukka 1960[70] First university in Nigeria.
University of Rwanda 1963 Founded as the National University of Rwanda in 1963; incorporated into the University of Rwanda 2013
 São Tomé and Príncipe
(São Tomé)
University of São Tomé and Príncipe 2014 (as university; polytechnic school 1996)
 Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
University of Tifariti 2013
French Senegal
Cheikh Anta Diop University 1957
(Anse Royale)
University of Seychelles 2009
 Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone Colony and Protectorate
Fourah Bay College 1876 (as affiliated college of Durham University; college 1827; part of University of Sierra Leone 1967) Oldest university-level institution in Africa. Founded as a missionary school to train teachers in 1827. Became an affiliated college of Durham University in 1876 and awarded first degrees in West Africa in 1878. Became part of the federal University of Sierra Leone in 1967.[71][72]
Italian Somaliland
Somali National University 1954
 South Africa
Cape Colony
(Cape Town)
University of South Africa 1873 Originally founded as the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1916 it was transformed into the federal University of South Africa (Unisa) and relocated to Pretoria.
 South Sudan