The Oldest Universities in the World Still Operating


University of Montpellier 

Founded in 1289 

Located in Montpellier, France 

Founded in 1289, Pope Nicholas IV issued a papal decree that combined three schools into one to form the University of Montpellier. So technically it’s older than it’s actual starting date. The school is famous for saying that people should not bath during the times of the Black Death. They thought the disease got into your body through your pores and bathing would make your pores bigger making you more susceptible to the disease. The infamous Nostradamus attended the university in 1529 but was expelled because he knew a manual trade, which was forbidden by the school. The school was shut down in 1793 during the French Revolution. In 1810 it reopened, but it wasn’t until 1969 it was officially organized back into the University of Montpellier again. 


University of Padua 

Founded in 1222

Located in Padua, Italy 

The University of Padua started because students and professors felt ideologically restricted in what they could study at the University of Bologna, so they left and started their own school. Hence it is the second oldest university in Italy. Famous Alumni and faculty include Copernicus and Galileo. 


University of Salamanca 

Founded in 1218 

Located in Salamanca, Spain 

Teaching was going on at the University of Salamanca for almost one hundred years before King Alfonso IX declared an official University in 1218. It is the oldest University in the Hispanic world. Columbus made his case for exploring new routes to the Indies to a council of geographers at the university and is was discussed there if it was moral to colonize the Indies. In 2018 the school celebrated the school’s eighth centennial. 


University of Cambridge 

Founded in 1209 

Located in Cambridge, England

The University of Cambridge was founded because students at Oxford University left to form their own school when they had a dispute with the townspeople of Oxford. However the two old universities share many common features and they are often referred as Oxbridge. The history and influence of the school has made it to be considered one of the greatest universities in the world. It is the second oldest english speaking university in the world. As of 2019, Cambridge is the top ranked college in the UK. 


University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

Founded in 1175 

Located in Modena, Italy 

It was founded in 1175, but faded out by 1338 when the medieval university was replaced by three Public Lectureships. No degrees were awarded during that time until the early 1680’s, when the university was reestablished. Today it has more than 20,000 students. 


University of Oxford 

Founded: unknown (evidence of teaching there as early as 1096 but not an actual institution) The University was in full swing by 1167 

Located in Oxford, England

There was teaching going on at Oxford as early as 1096. In 1167 the university got an influx on English students because Henry II banned them from studying at the University of Paris. It is the oldest English speaking university in the world, though many of the classes would have been taught in Latin when it started. It has the world’s oldest university museum and the largest university press in the world.  Oxford has tons of notable alumni, including 27 Prime Ministers of the UK as well as many other leaders in the world. Its alumni have also won over 160 Olympic Medals. 


The University of Paris 

Founded around 1150

Located in Paris, France 

Founded around 1150, it was officially chartered by Phillip II of France in 1200 and Pope Innocent III recognized it in 1215. Pope Innocent III studied there himself and graduated in 1182, when it was an annex of a cathedral school of Notre Dame. The university is internationally known for its studies in the humanities, especially theology and philosophy.  It was the first university to give out doctoral degrees. Many scientists, royalty and even popes were educated here. In 1793, the school was shut down during the French Revolution. A new University of France replaced it in 1806. 


University of Bologna 

Founded in 1088

Located in Bologna, Italy 

Known as the oldest university in the western world, the University of Bologna was the first institution of learning to use the term “universitas.” In 1158, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa chartered the university. It is comprised of 11 schools and 33 departments. Since it’s so old there have been hundreds, if not thousands of notable alumni and faculty that went on to have great influence on the world intellectually. Four Popes have studied there, as well as many scientists who discovered new science disciplines, like Paracelsus, the founder of toxicology. It is the top ranked University in Italy with over 86,000 students. 


Al-azhar University 

Founded in 975

Located in Cairo, Egypt

Al-azhar University was founded in 975 by the Fatimid Caliphate to be a center of Islamic learning. Students were taught the teachings of The Quran, Islamic Law, grammar and logic. Today it is a important center of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the whole world. In 1961, secular subjects were added to it’s curriculum, such as business, economics, science, engineering and agriculture. It has one of the oldest Arabic libraries in the world. 


The University of Al-Karaouine

Founded in 859

Located in Fes, Morocco

Opening in 859, it holds the Guinness Book of World Record for the oldest, continuously operating, degree granting university. It was originally founded as a mosque with an associated school apart of it called a “madrasa”. It is considered one of the leading spiritual centers of the historical Muslim world. In 1963, it was incorporated into Morocco’s state university system. Today it has more than 8,000 students.