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The oldest universities in the world

Updated: Feb 8

Date of publication: 25/07/2023

Author: Varban Boev

What is the oldest university in the world? Probably the first answer that comes to most people's minds is the University of Oxford or Bologna. However, according to UNESCO and the Guinness Book of World Records, Al-Qarawiyyin University is "the oldest existing and continuously operating educational institution in the world."

Al-Qarawiyyin University, Morocco (the oldest existing educational institution)

This is the oldest university in the world that hasn’t interrupted its educational activities until today. Al-Qarawiyyin University itself is named after the Qarawiyyin Mosque in Morocco, the oldest mosque in the Maghreb.

In particular, it was founded by the Muslim woman Fatima al-Fihri in 859, and in the following centuries, it was one of the most authoritative in the Islamic world. Afterward, in 1963, it was transformed into a state university. Teaching is mainly concentrated in the fields of Islamic theology, law, comparative jurisprudence, and classical philologies.

Al-Qarawiyyin University, Morocco is one of the oldest universities in the world

Al-Azhar University, Egypt

The university was established in 970. In fact, it was originally a madrasah known as the center of the Sunni Muslim movement, opened in 972 by the Fatimids as a center of Islamic learning. His students studied Islamic law, along with other disciplines. What’s more, it is one of the first universities in the world and the only surviving modern university with secular subjects in the curriculum. Nowadays, it is the main center of Arabic literature and the Islamic world.

University of Bologna, Italy

Located in the Italian city of Bologna and founded in 1088, the university is considered the oldest university in Europe. In a sense, it is considered the Alma Mater of all modern universities. In addition, it’s the leader in all European and global university networks and rankings - Europaeum and Utrecht network, etc. So, it’s the Alma Mater of several popes and some of the most famous Italian and world scientists.

University of Bologna is one of the oldest universities in the world

University of Oxford, UK

It was founded in 1096 in Oxford. The Graduate School has the oldest university museum in the world.

Today it is among the most respected and best British higher education institutions, especially in the fields of history and political science. Due to the quality of British universities, it is at the top of Europe. It is a member of the university association Europaeum.

University of Salamanca, Spain

The oldest university in Spain, founded in 1134. It is the first European institution to receive the status of "university". Gradually, the university grew and became one of the most prestigious in the world. In the 15th century, colleges were established for poor students and a student dormitory named Saint Bartholomew was built. The university became papal until May 21, 1852, when the theological specialties were closed during the Spanish Revolution. On September 25, 1940, Pope Pius XII restored the study of theological sciences in a separate Pontifical University in Salamanca.

University of Salamanca, Spain is one of the oldest universities in the world

University of Cambridge, UK

The higher school was founded in 1209. This happens after some scientists leave the University of Oxford after a dispute. In particular, it boasts the strictest requirements for applicants to study in Great Britain. Also, it is located in the city of the same name, Cambridge, about 80 km north-northeast of London.


The world's oldest universities carry a rich history with them and have played a significant role in shaping education across different civilizations. From Al-Qarawiyyin University to the University of Cambridge in the UK, these venerable institutions continue to inspire and educate generations.


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