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List of oldest universities in continuous operation
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List of oldest universities in continuous operation

This is a list of the oldest Universities. It includes universities founded before 1500.

By contrast, the earliest university in the Western Hemisphere is the National Autonomous University in Mexico, founded in 1551; the oldest in the United States is the University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1749 (the oldest college is Harvard College, founded in 1636); the oldest in Canada, Université Laval, founded 1663; the oldest in Australia is University of Sydney, founded 1850.

See also: Medieval university


The actual date a University started to function is often rather hazy and differs a good deal from legend or from the date its ancestor-institution was founded. For example, it is generally admitted today that Oxford's foundation can't be precisely dated, but must lie somewhere in the mid-to-late 12th century.

Likewise, hair-splitting is pointless: the notion that a college could be empowered give the bachelor's degree is a modern American one; by European terms, Harvard had already adopted the powers (if not the style) of a University in 1642. No doubt it thought of itself as the germinal college of a New Cambridge University or such-like. Pennsylvania was simply the first American institution to call itself a university; but neither it nor Harvard nor any of the four other American colleges at the time was nearly big or diverse enough to be like a true European University. And despite its name, Harvard is in fact presently a university.