20 Of The Legendary Oldest Universities In The World

This post encompasses the list of oldest universities in the world. Some institutions were included based on their histories and how the schools were being operated even before the start of the traditional definition of universities we currently know of.

Higher institutions of the Islamic world, Byzantium, ancient China, Persia, India, Rome and Greece are also included because many of them went ahead to become universities. Others made the list as they were the oldest that can be found after the start of the traditional university system.


Even though some people might not agree with the addition of schools that were in existence before the traditional definition of universities started. However, the fact remains that these institutions are more or less in higher education levels.

They provided different courses such as History, Maths, Chemistry and also award certificate for completion of education. We think due to these reasons, they should be included in the list.

Our focus list is not on the period when the term “University” was officially coined and used with regards to higher education. Our list is based on a synergy between schools already providing university education before the term was officially categorized and the institutions that were created after the term came into existence.

To quote what a commenter at Top Universities by the name of Shereen N. said:

“It is kind of hard to be recognized for something that is yet to have an official categorical term. It’s like saying that a car isn’t an automobile because it wasn’t formally called one. If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck.” “Shereen N”

The following list is compiled according to when they were founded i.e. from old to the oldest.

20 Of The Oldest Universities In The World List

#1 Nalanda University, 400 A.D., India

ancient nalanda university
Photo Credit: Holidayiq

This is the oldest university in the world and in India which is located in Rajgir, India. It was founded by the monks and coined from three Sankrit words which mean “No Stopping of the gift of knowledge”.

One interesting fact is that of the mighty library taking three to 6 months to burn down due to the very large number of books that can be found there.

Motto: To supply the good quality of education in society.

#2 University of Karueein/University of Al-Karaouine, 859 A.D., Morocco

university of karueein morocco
Photo Credit: Reddit

This is one of the oldest functioning educational institutions in the world records and is situated at Fez in Morocco. According to research, the school was founded by a woman named Fatima El-Fihriyya who was a Moroccan Berber and a Muslim.

It became categorized as a modern-day university in 1965. Due to the fact that it was started as an Islamic school, we can say that it is the oldest Islamic university in the world.

There is always an ongoing controversy about whether the Nalanda University or the University of Karueein is the oldest. But for this, looking at the dates, it can easily be decided who is the clear winner.

#3 Al-Azhar University, 970 A.D., Egypt

al-azhar university cairo

The third university on our list that is located in Cairo, Egypt. Al-Azhar is one of the oldest universities in the Arab world. The institute obtained its name in honour of Fatma Az-zahraa from the Fatimid dynasty.

It is also seen as one of the most prestigious Islamic law school with the greatest Muslim scholars in the world.

Motto: Out of the mosques and onto the streets.

#4 The University of Ez-Zitouna, 120 A.H., Tunisia

University of Ez-Zitouna
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The fourth-oldest in the world in our list is Ez-Zitouna university located in Montfleury, Tunis. It is known as the home to one of the greatest universities in Islam. University Ez-Zitouna was modernized in the year 1956 and was one of the vital Islamic learning centers.

#5 Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad, 1065, Iraq

Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad
Photo Credit: Picgra

The higher educational institution that is described as the largest university of the medieval world dues to its free education status. It is similarly one of the oldest schools you will find around and it is located in Baghdad, Iraq. Al-Nizamiyya was one of the first Nezamiyehs.

It is the most celebrated of all the Nizamiyya schools. According to Wikipedia, Nizamiyya is a group of higher educations that were founded by Nizam al-Mulk during the Middle Ages or the 11th – 14th Century in Iran.

Motto: Safety lies in the tradition.

#6 University of Bologna, 1088, Italy

University of Bologna
Photo Credit: Reddit

The University of Bologna, Italy, was founded in 1088 and is the oldest one in Europe. It tops the list of the oldest universities in the Western world among others like Universities of Salamanca, Oxford, Sienna, Naples and the likes.

It is also the oldest university in Italy.

Motto: Petrus ubique pater legum Bononia mater

Meaning: St. Peter is everywhere the father of the law, Bologna is its mother.

#7 University of Oxford, 1096, England

University of Oxford uk

Oxford is the oldest university in the English speaking world and is located in Oxford, England. It possesses the largest University Press (Oxford University Press) in the world with offices in 50 countries. It is said that the university library has a bell that continues to ring ever since the past 175 years.

The Oxford University is also said to be older than the Easter Island heads by 150 years, Aztecs by 200 years and Machu Picchu by 300 years.

Motto: Dominus illuminatio mea.

Meaning: The Lord is my Light.

#8 University of Salamanca, 1164, Italy

University of Salamanca

The University of Salamanca in Salamanca, Italy is another one that made our oldest university in the world list. It is the first university in the world to teach classic language in school during the year 1508.

The most famous personality in the university is the famous frog sculpture on the facade.

Motto: Omnium scientiarum princeps Salmantica docet

Meaning: The principles of all sciences are taught in Salamanca.

#9 University of Cambridge, 1209, United Kingdom

University of Cambridge
Photo Credit: Movemeback

This university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom is one of the oldest universities in the UK and founded by scholars of Oxford University. Cambridge University is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world.

You have to be admitted to the colleges in the school after being admitted to the institution itself. The school also have three colleges that only admits women.

Motto: Hinc lucem et pocula sacra

Meaning: From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge.

#10 University of Padua, 1222, Italy.

University of Padua

This is a student- controlled university founded in Padua, Italy due to the migration of many students from Bologna and the University of Bologna. The higher education establishment can pride itself on having alumni like Galileo (Scientist), humanists and philosophers.

Motto: Universa Universis Patavina Libertas

Meaning: Liberty of Padua, universally and for all.

#11 University of Naples Federico II, 1224, Italy

University of Naples Federico II

Previously known as the University of Naples during its establishment in Naples, Italy. It was later changed to Federico II in 1987 to give honour to the founder of the school. The school can boast of alumni that were former presidents in Italy and Saint Thomas Aquinas, an influential philosopher and theologian.

Motto: Ad Scientiarum Haustum et Seminarium Doctrinarum.

Meaning: For the inculcation of the sciences and the dissemination of knowledge.

#12 University of Siena, 1240, Italy

University of Siena
Photo Credit: Abroad101

One of the higher institutions known for its Schools of Medicine, Law, Management and Economy and based in Sienna, Tuscany, Italy. It is the 5th oldest university in Italy.

Motto: Cor Magis Tibi Saena Pandit

Meaning: Siena opens its heart to you wider than this gate.

#13 University of Valladolid, 1241, Spain

University of Valladolid
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

With the Spanish name “Universidad De Valladolid” and established in Valladolid, Spain, here is the oldest university in Spain and one of the oldest in the world. The University of Valladolid’s rectory headquarters is currently home to two museums and is known as Palacio de Santa Cruz building.

Motto: Sapientia Aedificavit Sibi Domvm

Meaning: Knowledge built its house.

#14 University of Paris, 1257, France

University of Paris

Also known as La Sorbonne of Paris, France and in 1971 was divided into 13 different universities. La Sorbonne University is widely known as a guild of masters and scholars, in latin, universitas magistrorum et scholarium.

Motto: Hic et ubique terrarum

Meaning: Here and anywhere on Earth.

#15 University of Montpellier, 1289, France

university of montpellier
Photo Credit: Mamaself

It was founded in 1289 at Montpellier, France. The institution was previously divided into three different universities before two were combined into the University of Montpellier.

The third fraction which is now known as Paul Valery University, Montpellier is still a separate institution on its own as at the time of writing.

Motto: For the Homeland, Science and Glory.

#16 University of Macerata, 1290, Italy

University of Macerata
Photo Credit: Macerata

One of the most ancient universities situated in Macerata, an important city of the agriculture market, floriculture and horticulture. It has seven faculties from which students can make their choice.

Motto: Libertas, Veritas, Iustitia

Meaning: Freedom, Truth, Justice

#17 University of Coimbra, 1290, Portugal

University of Coimbra
Photo Credit: Universidade De Coimbra

The oldest university in Portugal which is located in Coimbra, Portugal. It also makes the list of one of the oldest universities around the world and a world heritage site.

It has the largest number of international students in Portugal can boast of 5 other sites or campuses.

Motto: Insignia Universitatis Conimbrigensis

Meaning: To put a mark upon the whole Coimbra

#18 Complutense University of Madrid, 20 May 1293, Spain

Complutense University of Madrid
Photo Credit: Erasmusu

Located in the western area of Madrid, Spain, Complutense University is known as one of the largest universities in the world. It is also one of the top-ranking universities in Spain.

Motto: Libertas Perfundet Omnia Luce

Meaning: Freedom Spreads The Light Over Everyone.

#19 Sapienza University of Rome, 1303, Italy

Image result for Sapienza University of Rome images
Photo Credit: Itinari

Also called the University of Rome or just Sapienza. This university is situated in Rome, Italy and has many other campuses around the city because of the large number of students they have.

The school is a collegiate research university and the world’s largest European university.

Motto: Il futuro è passato qui

Meaning: The future has passed here.

#20 The University of Perugia, 1303, Italy

The University of Perugia

Based in Perugia, Italy, the University of Perugia is one of the ancient universities in the world that has free university status. It has many world-famous scholars to boast of that has passed through the school. It is the 20th oldest university in the world on our list.

Here ends our oldest universities list. In conclusion, the 5 oldest universities in the world are Nalanda University, University of Karueein, Al-Azhar University, University of Ez-Zitouna, and finally, Al-Nizamiyyah of Baghdad.

It’s really interesting to note that the top 5 oldest have many Islamic universities on the list. Which other universities do you know that is very old? Do you have views different from ours? Leave your messages in the comment box below.

What is the world’s oldest university?

The oldest university in the world is Nalanda University, founded 400 A.D.in India which is located in Rajgir, India. It was founded by the monks and coined from three Sankrit words which mean “No Stopping of the gift of knowledge”

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