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Which Are the Oldest Universities in Europe in 2024?

Europe is home to some of the world’s oldest and most esteemed universities. These institutions have shaped history, influencing intellectual thought, scientific discovery, and cultural exchange for centuries. Here is the list of the 12 oldest universities in Europe.

List of 12 Oldest Universities in Europe

  1. University of Bologna
  2. University of Oxford
  3. University of Cambridge
  4. University of Salamanca
  5. University of Padua
  6. University of Naples Federico II
  7. University of Coimbra
  8. University of Valladolid
  9. University of Sapienza
  10. University of Perugia
  11. Charles University
  12. University of Siena

1) University of Bologna

The institution of Bologna is the oldest continuously operating institution in Europe, having been established in 1088. This esteemed university, which is based in Bologna, Italy, has influenced higher education for almost a millennium. Since its founding, the university has been a shining example of scholarship and intellectual inquiry.

The University of Bologna was once a hub for the study of civil and canon law. It soon established a stellar reputation that drew students from throughout Europe. It was already a preeminent center for legal studies by the 12th century, influencing subsequent colleges in the process.

With more than 87,000 students, the University of Bologna has a diversified student community today that is heavily represented abroad. It provides a broad range of studies in the humanities, sciences, medicine, and engineering, among other fields. The university’s multiple research centers and partnerships with other top universities across the globe demonstrate its dedication to innovation and research.

The university’s illustrious past, which includes Dante Alighieri and Nicolaus Copernicus, serves as a testament to its historical relevance. The University of Bologna is still an important player in the field of international education, upholding its tradition of quality.

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2) University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is the oldest institution in the English-speaking world and among the most famous in the world, having been founded in or around 1096. This historic university, which is situated in Oxford, England, has a long tradition of academic innovation and excellence. It all started as unofficial academic get-togethers, which by the 12th century had developed into a formal organization.

Oxford’s 39 independent colleges make up its collegiate system, which offers a distinctive learning atmosphere. Within the greater institution, each college fosters close-knit communities by providing housing, eating options, and academic assistance. One of the main features of Oxford education is the tutorial system, where students receive individualized teaching from professionals in their field.

With over 24,000 students enrolled now, Oxford University has a sizable international student population from more than 140 nations. The institution provides a wide range of programs in the social sciences, humanities, and professional domains. It is well known for its selective admissions process, which draws the most brilliant minds from all over the world.

Prominent individuals who attended Oxford included 28 British Prime Ministers, T.S. Eliot, and Indira Gandhi. The university’s faculty and alumni also include a large number of Nobel laureates. The University of Oxford is still a premier worldwide institution because it is at the forefront of study and research.
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3) University of Cambridge

Founded in 1209, the University of Cambridge is among the world’s most prestigious and historically significant academic institutions. It originated from a disagreement amongst researchers at the University of Oxford, which caused some of them to go to Cambridge, England. It has since developed into a world leader in research and teaching.

The 31 independent colleges that makeup Cambridge’s collegiate system each have their own distinct traditions and administrative structures. This system gives kids individualized academic support while fostering a strong feeling of community. The university’s strict tutorial program guarantees individualized instruction, allowing students to get thoroughly involved in their studies.

There are currently about 20,000 students enrolled at the University of Cambridge, many of whom are international. It provides a large selection of undergraduate and graduate courses in the arts, sciences, engineering, and medical fields, among other fields. More than 100 Nobel laureates are associated with the university, making it the most renowned research output institution in the world.

Prominent graduates of Cambridge University include Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Stephen Hawking, demonstrating the university’s long-standing reputation for academic distinction. The university has made unmatched contributions to science, literature, and public life, solidifying its standing as a top institution in the world of higher education.

4) University of Salamanca

The University of Salamanca is the oldest university in Spain and the fourth oldest in Europe. It was established in 1218. Situated in Salamanca’s historic center, it has been essential to the academic and cultural advancement of the area. After receiving official recognition from King Alfonso IX in 1218, the university rose to prominence as a major hub of learning in medieval Europe.

Scholars from all over the continent came to the University of Salamanca in its early years because of its prestigious faculties of law and humanities. Pope Alexander IV bestowed the title of “university” upon it in 1254. The university reached its zenith in the 15th and 16th centuries when it emerged as a major center of scholarship for the Age of Discovery and the Spanish Renaissance.

Currently, the University of Salamanca has more than 30,000 different students, many of whom are from outside the country. It provides a broad range of courses in the social sciences, humanities, sciences, and professional domains. The university is also well-known for its study of languages, especially Spanish, which draws students from all over the world to its prestigious language programs.

Beautiful architecture can be found throughout the ancient site, particularly the main structure, the Escuelas Mayores, with its iconic Plateresque façade. Maintaining its historic legacy while encouraging innovation and academic achievement, the University of Salamanca is still a preeminent center of learning.

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5) University of Padua

One of the oldest universities in Europe, the University of Padua was founded in 1222 and is renowned for its innovative and high-caliber academic programs. A group of academics and students who left the institution of Bologna in search of more academic freedom created the institution, which is situated in Padua, Italy.

The University of Padua has led the way in several academic disciplines since its founding. The world’s oldest academic botanical garden was established in 1545 as a result of the university being the first to offer a course on botanical gardens and plant studies. Notable individuals like Andreas Vesalius, the father of modern anatomy, who taught at the institution, are also well-known for their contributions to medicine and anatomy.

The University of Padua has a thriving student body of over 60,000 now, as well as a significant global footprint. It provides a broad range of programs in several fields, including engineering, medicine, science, and the humanities. The university’s large network of research institutes and collaborations with other top universities across the globe demonstrate its dedication to innovation and research.

Notable alumni include Galileo Galilei, who made significant contributions to physics and astronomy while teaching at Padua, and Nicolaus Copernicus, who developed the heliocentric theory of the solar system. The University of Padua upholds its reputation as one of the top universities in Europe by carrying on its tradition of encouraging intellectual development, critical thinking, and scientific discovery.

6) University of Naples Federico II

One of the oldest public universities in the world is the University of Naples Federico II, which was established in 1224. It was founded by Emperor Frederick II of Naples, Italy, to serve as a hub for higher education open to students from all backgrounds. 

The University of Naples Federico II has made a name for itself in several disciplines, most notably law and medicine, since its founding. It was among the first colleges in Europe to provide civil law training to the general public, establishing a standard for legal education. The medical school soon became well-known and drew academics and students from all across the continent.

With approximately 80,000 students enrolled in a variety of programs covering the humanities, sciences, engineering, and medical fields, the university is a prominent academic institution today. Its many research facilities and partnerships with other top universities and research centers across the globe demonstrate its dedication to innovation and research.

Among the many illustrious graduates of the university is the philosopher Thomas Aquinas, who made important contributions to Christian philosophy and theology. As it continues to fulfill the aim of its founder by offering accessible education, stimulating intellectual development, and promoting scientific advances, the University of Naples Federico II is a thriving center of academic achievement.

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7) University of Coimbra

The University of Coimbra is the oldest university in Portugal and among the oldest in Europe, having been founded in 1290. The university was first established in Lisbon and moved permanently to Coimbra in 1537, where it developed into one of the Iberian Peninsula’s most important hubs for education and culture.

With faculties of arts, law, medicine, and theology, the university’s early curriculum was heavily weighted toward the liberal arts. It increased the scope of its academic programs over the years and gained recognition for its esteemed professors and exacting standards. The university’s Biblioteca Joanina, an 18th-century baroque library with a sizable collection of rare books and manuscripts, is one of its most important educational accomplishments.

Over 25,000 students are enrolled at the University of Coimbra today, many of whom are international students from all over the world. It provides a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degrees in the humanities, sciences, engineering, law, and medicine, among other fields. Numerous research centers and the university’s interaction with the European higher education sector enhance its dedication to research and innovation.

The University Tower, the Chapel of São Miguel, and the Royal Palace of Alcacova are just a few of the magnificent architectural structures on the ancient campus, which is included as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Among the notable alumni are many well-known politicians and the Portuguese poet Luís de Camões.

8) University of Valladolid

Among the oldest universities in Spain and Europe is the University of Valladolid, which was established in 1293. This institution has been a prominent hub for culture and education for almost eight centuries. Its founding represented a significant advancement in the scholastic scene of medieval Spain.

The University of Valladolid’s early emphasis on teaching the arts and religious studies was a reflection of the era’s educational aspirations. It became a renowned college for these fields by adding law and medicine to its curriculum in the 14th and 15th centuries. The university made significant contributions to Spain’s Renaissance and Enlightenment eras through its intellectual and cultural activities.

With more than 30,000 students enrolled today, the University of Valladolid provides a broad range of undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate programs in the social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, humanities, and health sciences, among other subjects. Its many research institutes and active involvement in global academic networks demonstrate its dedication to innovation and research.

Notable architectural structures can be found on the university’s historic campus, including the Colegio de Santa Cruz, which dates back to the 15th century and houses the major library and administrative offices. The University of Valladolid has produced numerous notable alumni over the ages, including the well-known author Miguel de Cervantes and several significant Spanish academics and politicians.

9) University of Sapienza

Founded in 1303, the University of Sapienza is among the world’s most esteemed and ancient academic institutions. Pope Boniface VIII established this Rome, Italy-based university intending to create a higher learning establishment directly under his direct supervision. With this project, education standards in medieval Europe were elevated and centralized, which was a major step forward.

For more than seven centuries, Sapienza has been essential to the intellectual, artistic, and political life of Italy and Europe. Its alumni list a long list of distinguished scientists, prominent writers, powerful politicians, and Nobel laureates, demonstrating its lasting influence on the annals of intellectual history worldwide. The institution attracts students from all over the world with its wide choice of academic programs, creating a dynamic and diverse learning environment.

The campus itself features structures that combine ancient and modern design, such as the Palazzo della Sapienza, which has been used for centuries as a center for academia. Numerous research centers and collaborations with global institutions demonstrate Sapienza’s dedication to innovation and research. The University of Sapienza is still a thriving, elite university today, making major contributions to numerous area advances and upholding its standing as a lighthouse of brilliance and knowledge.

10) University of Perugia

Among the oldest universities in Europe and Italy is the University of Perugia, which was established in 1308. Situated in the charming city of Perugia, it was founded by Pope Clement V, who issued a papal bull giving the establishment the right to award degrees in many subjects. This established the institution as a prominent medieval hub for higher learning.

Early on, the University of Perugia concentrated on law and medicine, drawing academics and students from all across Italy as well as other countries. The institution soon became known for its top-notch academic programs, and the humanities, sciences, and theology were added to its faculty. Known originally as the Studium Generale, it developed into a hive of intellectual activity.

With almost 25,000 varied students, the University of Perugia provides a broad range of undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate programs today. The university’s numerous research centers and global partnerships demonstrate its dedication to innovation and research. It is still at the forefront of disciplines like engineering, medicine, law, and agricultural sciences.

Beautiful examples of Renaissance and medieval architecture can be found on the historic campus, including the Church of San Francesco al Prato and the Palazzo dei Priori. 

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11) Charles University

Charles University was the first university in Central Europe and one of the oldest in Europe when it was established in 1347. Founded by King Charles IV, after whom it was named, it is located in Prague, Czech Republic. Throughout the Middle Ages and onward, the university was essential to the intellectual and cultural advancement of the area.

Theology, law, medicine, and the arts were the four faculties that made up Charles University at first. Its founding was a critical turning point in Central Europe’s history for the advancement of academic freedom and knowledge sharing. Over the years, the university has developed into one of the area’s preeminent centers of study by broadening its curriculum.

Presently, Charles University is a flourishing establishment, housing more than 50,000 students enrolled in various undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate programs. It has 17 faculties that encompass a wide range of disciplines, including the social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, medicine, and humanities. The university has an excellent reputation for doing high-quality research and working with foreign partners.

Architectural treasures can be found on Charles University’s ancient campus, such as the baroque-style Saint Clement’s Cathedral and the Carolinum, the university’s oldest remaining structure. These sites provide witness to the university’s illustrious past and lasting influence.

12) University of Siena

Located in the historic city of Siena, Tuscany, the University of Siena is one of the oldest and most prominent institutions in Italy, having been founded in 1357. The Republic of Siena established the university, which was soon known for its contributions to medieval scholarship and culture.

Law, medicine, and theology were the University of Siena’s primary areas of study when it was first founded as a Studium Generale. It has broadened the scope of its academic offerings over the ages to encompass several fields, including the social sciences, engineering, natural sciences, and humanities. Due to its dedication to both academic innovation and brilliance, the university is now regarded as one of the best in both Italy and Europe.

Thousands of students from Italy and other countries register in the University of Siena’s undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate programs, which cover a wide range of subject areas. The departments and faculties of the university are renowned for their research endeavors, which have advanced several academic fields.

The stunning architecture of the University of Siena’s medieval campus, which includes the Palazzo San Galgano and the Palazzo del Rettorato, is what makes it so unique. The university’s rich history and heritage of distinction are reflected in these buildings, which serve as landmarks for both academic and cultural purposes.


The oldest universities in Europe stand as enduring symbols of knowledge, innovation, and academic excellence. From the venerable halls of the University of Bologna, founded in 1088, to the historic campuses of institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of Paris, these esteemed establishments have shaped the course of intellectual history for centuries. This blog listed the 12 oldest universities in Europe.

No.University Year of Establishment
1University of Bologna1088
2University of Oxford1096
3University of Cambridge1209
4University of Salamanca 1218
5University of Padua1222
6University of Naples Federico II1224
7University of Coimbra1290
8University of Valladolid1293
9University of Sapienza1303
10University of Perugia1308
11Charles University1347
12University of Siena1357


Which Is Europe’s Oldest University?

The University of Bologna in Italy is the oldest in Europe. It was established in 1088.

What Is the Largest University in Europe?

The largest university in Europe is Sapienza, Rome. It was founded in 1303. It is home to more than 115,000 students, 3,300 professors, and 2,200 officials.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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