Who invented the First University? (Invention Timeline Explained)

University life is something that most people have gotten used to as a part of modern culture. That said, have you ever wondered about the origins of universities and education as a whole? It’s an interesting little rabbit hole to dive into, especially if you’re a fan of history.

Like every other invention of the modern world, the concept of universities has a point of origin. It’s always a good idea to brush up on your history, and the evolution of universities over the years is undoubtedly interesting. Let’s peek into the invention and evolution of the university together!

Who invented the first university?

Fatima al-Fihri founded the very first university. It’s considered the oldest university on earth, and it’s called the University of al-Qarawiyyin. Amazingly, the very first institute for higher learning was founded by a woman, especially considering the lack of education available to women at that time!

The university’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Fatima al-Fihri
    The founder of the very first university in the world.

    The University of al-Qarawiyyin was founded by Fatima al-Fihri, which started the proverbial quest for higher learning. It’s amazing how something so simple became so ingrained into modern society.

  • Irnerius
    One of the potential founders of the University of Bologna

    The oldest university in Europe had quite a list of stories about its founding. It was said to have been founded by Irnerius, who was also the founder of the School of Glossators, the primary tradition of Medieval Roman Law. 

  • University of Oxford
    Perhaps the oldest university in the English-speaking side of the world,

    The University of Oxford is the second oldest university still in operation. Similar to the University of Bologna, there’s currently no concrete information on its founding, with one source citing Alfred the Great as a founder.

  • King Alfonso IX of León
    Founder of the University of Salamanca

    Spain’s oldest institution of higher learning, with a focus on the Spanish language. These days, it offers the courses you can expect from a modern university.

When was the first university invented?

One of the most amazing things about the first university was that it was founded in 859 AD. That’s a surprisingly early point in history, especially when it took many more years before the next university was founded.

A brief history of the university

One of the most head-scratching questions is: did the man who came up with college actually go to college? When you think about it logically, there’s no way the man who invented college went to college, as he would have had to create the concept first. However, the surprising thing is that it’s wrong in more ways than one.

The very first person to found the concept of a modern university wasn’t even a man — her name was Fatima al-Fihri, and she founded the University of al-Qarawiyyin in 859 AD. It’s amazing that the concept of the university was formulated in such an early period of history. It’s the oldest institution of higher learning in the world, and it stands the test of time beyond the shadow of a doubt.

After the University of al-Qarawiyyin, came the University of Bologna, considered to be the oldest educational institution and university in all of Europe as it was founded in 1088. Surprisingly enough, many of these universities are shrouded in mystery, at least more so than the oldest university to exist.

For example, the University of Oxford was founded under mysterious circumstances. It’s unsure precisely when it was founded, though some say it was founded as early as 1096. The University of Salamanca is next as the oldest educational institution in Spain, established in 1134.

Universities and educational institutions have been around for a long time, and their importance can’t be stressed enough. If someone from 859 AD knew this enough to found such a university, what more in this modern era?

The university timeline

  1. 859
    The University of al-Qarawiyyin

    Fatima al-Fihri founded the University of al-Qarawiyyin in 859 AD, making it the very first university to exist. The fact that it was started by a woman further adds to the impact of the event, especially given the time frame.

  2. 1088
    The University of Bologna

    The University of Bologna was founded in 1088. It’s the oldest educational institution in Europe.

  3. 1096
    The University of Oxford

    The University of Oxford was purported to have been founded as early as 1096. The fact that its founding is shrouded in mystery means it has plenty of stories to tell, though it’s challenging to lend credence to such stories.

  4. 1134
    The University of Salamanca

    King Alfonso IX of León founded the University of Salamanca in 1134. Its focus was to spread the Spanish language all over the world, though it has grown significantly since.

Where was the first university invented?

The very first university was founded in Morocco. As the very first institution of higher learning, it must’ve been an incredible experience for those who walked its halls.

The importance of the university

  • The university experience

    The thing about education and universities is that it’s an invaluable experience for everyone. While it might be challenging to appreciate when you’re young, the university experience pits you against life in a controlled environment. It allows you to appreciate everything that comes with life, while still being lenient enough that you can have fun.

  • A boon for financial gain

    The primary reason most people attend university is to graduate and find a meaningful career. You’re much more likely to find a career suitable to your talents, and it’s a boon for financial gain.

  • Higher learning is a long-term goal in life

    While there’s no denying that there are many paths to walk through life, it would be a shame not to take advantage of a university if the path is open to you. It’s not just a place where you can learn academics, as it also improves your social skills. It’s a long-term goal in life.

  • A true sense of pride and accomplishment

    To be satisfied with your career and life is something that everyone should strive for, and university life is one way through that.

Universities by the numbers

  • 1908Did you know that a Stanford student won a medal in the Olympics since 1908? Naturally, not the same student. However, it’s still a pretty mind-boggling fact.
  • 1987The University of Chicago is known to hold a scavenger hunt yearly. It started in 1987 and is also known to be the biggest scavenger hunt in the world.
  • 1969The year when Princeton graduate Charles Conrad became the third person to walk in the moon. He also took the university’s flag and planted it on the moon.
  • 1920The year when Harvard University started accepting female students. It’s strange when you consider a woman founded the very first university.

Five facts about the university

  • A Nobel situation

    The Nobel Prize is undoubtedly one of the finest achievements one can receive, and the University of Chicago has 89 students with that distinction! 

  • John Harvard’s statue

    The University of Harvard features John Harvard’s statue, but the likeness isn’t of the real John Harvard. The matter is that no one knows what John looked like, so the sculptor went with a friend’s likeness.

  • Michigan mayo

    When 1,250 gallons of mayonnaise went bad at Michigan State University, the sustainability officer managed to turn it into energy to power the campus!

  • Twinkie diet

    A Kansas State University professor claimed that calorie counting was crucial for losing weight, not nutritional value. He went on to prove it by going on the sugary twinkie diet and losing 27 pounds in 2 months!

  • Female to male ratio

    Surprisingly enough, Iran has the highest female to male ratio in universities. A whopping 70% of the pure sciences and engineering students are women.

FAQ about the university

  • What’s so important about the university experience?

    To put it simply, there is nothing quite like the university experience. It’s a way to experience life in a nutshell, as you’ll have to socialize, study and multitask to get the job done. It’s invaluable as it can help you take care of yourself when you graduate.

  • Know of a few unusual courses in universities?

    Sure. Did you know you could get a bachelor’s or master’s degree in game design? What about spacecraft design? You could also get a degree in ecotechnology and a degree in open e-government.

  • Is going to the university mandatory?

    The simple and plain answer is no. There are many more directions you can take in life. However, if you’re given the opportunity to attend, wouldn’t it be a shame to waste it? Universities can offer so much to bright-eyed students, and you might even meet the love of your life there. While it isn’t necessary, it’s undoubtedly fulfilling and can open many doors for you.

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