Some of the oldest universities in the world have their routes back in the first millennium of our era, with the oldest university in the world that still exists to this day established in the eighth century, more precisely in 737.
In spite of what many believe, that the first university in the world is Italy’s University of Bologna, in fact, the latter is only the fifth oldest university in the world, while the first is the Ez-Zitouna University located in Tunisia according to Erudera.
While to this day, it remains unknown who the founders of the oldest existing university are, the second oldest university, the Al Quaraouiyine University in Morocco, has been established in 858 by Fatima al-Fihri, the first and among very few women to achieve such a thing.
Third comes the Al-Azhar University established in 970 in Egypt, and then Mali’s Sankore Mosque and University, the foundations of which were laid in 989 by Mansa Musa, who is often described as the wealthiest man to have ever existed.
Commenting on the findings, Gent Ukëhajdaraj from Erudera.com calls attention to the fact that the number of first universities worldwide established by women is very low.
“Very few other women in the world have managed to establish first universities, and that, quite a few centuries later than al-Fihr, like Queen Elizabeth I who founded the Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, in 1592,” Ukëhajdaraj notes.
Despite the fact that European countries do not occupy the four first places in the list of the oldest university in every country, they are mostly placed at the top of the list, leaving countries with world-renown universities like the US and Australia quite behind.
The oldest university of Europe is the University of Bologna, founded in 1088 in Italy, which at the same time is the oldest university in the Western world, followed by the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, founded in 1096.
Germany, on the other hand, which is currently one of the top study destinations for international students in the world, became with a university after in 1386 Rupert I Elector Palatine established the Heidelberg University, which makes it the 15th country in the world to become with a university.
“What’s interesting about the very first universities established in Europe is that almost all of them were founded by Popes and monarchs,” Ukëhajdaraj says.
The same applies to universities in North America, where Pope Paul III founded the very first two universities, the St. Thomas Aquinas University in Dominica and the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in 1538.
“Just as in other parts of the world, the first universities in North America were founded by monarchs and people of religion. Even the University of Harvard was founded by English clergyman John Harvard in 1626,” Ukëhajdaraj further explains.
In 1551, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V established the National University of San Marcos in Peru, the first university of the country, and at the same time the first in South America.
The oldest university established in Asia, which still exists to this day, is the University of Economic Sciences in Iran, founded in 1315, now part of the Kharazmi University.
In Oceania, the University of Sydney in Australia and the University of Otago in New Zealand top the list of the countries in this part of the world that had their universities established before the others, in 1850 and 1869 respectively.
The Nauru Campus of the University of the South Pacific, founded in 2018, makes the tiny Micronesian island of Nauru the world country that had its first university established most recently.