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     Volume 2 Issue 60 | March 16 , 2008|


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The Oldest Universities of the World

Shoaib M. Siddiqui

When we think deeply of a university, the idea that comes into our mind is that of a storehouse of intellect where the highest level of knowledge is practiced. University is not just a place where people come, complete courses, and gets a certificate; rather it has a different significance. University is a universe of visions, aspirations and dreams. Many of us may have a curiosity about the oldest universities of the world. Which are those universities? When was the idea of university first introduced? In which countries were they situated? This article intends to answer these questions.

To know about the world's oldest universities, we need to know, what a university is all about and what the criterias of a university are. In general, a university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees at all levels (associate, bachelor, master, and doctorate) in a variety of subjects. A university provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education. The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars"

The modern definition of university may suggest that, university has to give degree and certificates. If we take that into consideration, European universities will be regarded as the oldest universities of the world but university is not just an institution to provide certificate. In light of this idea, universities came into operation long ago, before 1500 and obviously they were in operation ever since. In the following paragraphs, we will introduce some universities which are treated the oldest in the history of human civilization.

1.The University of Al-Karaouine: According to guiness book of world records, the university of Al-Karouine is the first university in the world which was founded in 859 and located in Fes, Morocco. It was one of the leading spiritual and educational centres of muslim world. The
university played a leading role in cultural and academic relations between the Islamic world and Europe in the middle ages. This university was actually a part of a mosque which later turned into an educational centre. Daughter of a rich muslim merchant, Mohammad
Al-Fihri, Fatima Al-Fihri founded the mosque. The mosque soon developed into a place for religious instruction and political discussion, gradually extending its education to a broad range of subjects, particularly the natural sciences. In 1957, King Mohammed V introduced math, physics, chemistry and foreign languages. The university was run by the donations and patronage of powerful muslim sultans. It was a bridge of knowledge among the European world and the muslims.

2.Al-Azhar University: The second oldest university of the world is very famous and reputed even today which is Al-Azhar University. This university was founded by shia muslims but later turned into a sunni school in middle ages. Founded in 975, it was one of the most celebrated centres of knowledge.

The university is situated in Cairo, Egypt. In Arabic, Al-Azhar means most shining or most flourishing. Like The University of Al Karaounine, Al-Azhar University was also connected to a mosque which was founded in 969 AD. The studies begin in Al-Azhar University in the October of 975 when Chief Justice Abul Hasan Ali ibn Al-No'man started teaching the book "Al-Ikhtisar". The university is run by a Supreme Council forming general policy, headed by a Grand Imam, known as "Sheikh Al-Azhar." It is still a renowned university of the world and famous for various faculties of higher education.

3.Hunan University: Established in 976, Hunan University is one of the largest and most reputed universities of China. It has a total of 4600 faculty members and 46000 students. The history of this university traces back to Yuelu Academy founded in Song Dynasty. Some people claims it the first university of the world due to some features. It was a place for Chinese scholars to meet and study different issues. In its transformation into Hunan University from Yuelu Academy, it provided uninterrupted and quality education.

4.The University of Bologna: Situated in Bologna, Italy, The University of Bologna was founded in 1088. It was the first university of the world which started giving certificates and degrees. It is the second largest university of Italy and accommodates a huge number of students.

5.The University of Oxford: One of the most famous universities of the world, The University of Oxford is the first university of English speaking world. Though the exact time of the foundation of this university is still unclear, teaching existed in the university since 1096. Academically, Oxford University was ranked as one of the top ten universities of the world for more than a century. Currently, 18431 students study in this university.

There are some other universities which are regarded as very old like: University of Cambridge (founded in 1209), University of Salamanca, Spain (founded in 1218), University of Padua, Italy (founded in 1222), University of Naples Federico, Italy (founded in 1224), University of
Toulouse, France (founded in 1229) and so on. These universities have
paved the way for the modern universities, the higher level research
and practice of intellect.

(BBA,15th Batch Institute of Business Administration(IBA) University of Dhaka)

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