Centers of higher education have been around for hundreds of years, and even millennium in some cases. But not all withstand the test of time. Over the centuries, many of the world’s oldest universities have disbanded, split into autonomous colleges or become modernized beyond all recognition.
The word “university” itself is derived from the Latin “universitas magistrorum et scholarium“, roughly meaning “community of teachers and scholars”. The term was coined by the Italian University of Bologna, which, with a traditional founding date of 1088, is considered to be the first university. The following list presents the 5 oldest educational institutions of all times, some of them are still operating, while the others are remembered for their rich history:
1. University of Taxila or Takshashila: Ancient India (now Pakistan) – Pakistan
The world’s first University was established in Takshila in 700 BC, which is now the territory of Pakistan . The center of learning was located about 50 km west of Rawalpindi in Pakistan. It was an important Hindu and Buddhist center of learning at that time. 68 subjects were taught including Vedas, Grammar, Philosophy, astronomy, medicine, surgery, politics, archery warfare, music, commerce etc. Minimum entry age was 16.
2. University of Nalanda – India
Nalanda stands out as the most ancient university of the Indian Subcontinent. It engaged in the organized transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years. The historical development of the site testifies to the development of Buddhism into a religion and the flourishing of monastic and educational traditions. University used to function from 500 AD to 1300 AD until it was destroyed by foreign invaders. It had 300 lecture halls, laboratories, libraries and an observatory.
3. University of Al-Karaouine – Morocco
The University of Al-Karaouine, also written as al-Quaraouiyine and al-Qarawiyyin is considered by the Guinness World Records as well as UNESCO as the oldest continuously operating, degree-granting university in the world. In 1959, the university added subjects like physics, chemistry, mathematics and foreign languages.
4. Al Azhar University – Egypt
Al-Azhar is today the most important religious university in the Muslim world with as many as 90,000 students studying there at any one time. It is arguably one of the chief centres Islamic learning and the greatest and the most influential in the Sunni Islamic world. Now, its course includes modern sciences along with Islamic studies like Quran. Its library is a treasure of Islamic literature.
5. Al Nizamiyya : Baghdad – Iran
Founded in 1065 AD by Khwaja Nizam al-Mulk, it was the most successful branch of a series of universities established by al-Mulk. These universities together created the “Largest University of Medieval world”. Over the last 134 years the Jamia has preserved the understanding of Islam and its sciences by the means of unbroken chains of Islamic authorization, viz, the Ijazah and the Isnad ,which go back fourteen centuries to tie the institution and its scholars to Muhammad. It was mainly due to the scholarly works accomplished by the faculty of the Jamia Nizamia in the late 19th and 20th centuries that the Hyderabad served as a major hub of academic activities for the sub-continent. The Jamia constitutes a major part of Islamic history in the sub-continent, particularly, the Deccan.
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