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A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees 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."


Early history

Representation of a university class in the 1350s

The original Latin word "universitas" was used at the time of emergence of urban town life and medieval guilds, to describe specialized "associations of students and teachers with collective legal rights usually guaranteed by charters issued by princes, prelates, or the towns in which they were located." Although the original Latin word referred to degree-granting institutions of learning in Western Europe, where this form of legal organization was prevalent, it is sometimes extended to other educational institutions of antiquity:



  • Taehak was founded in 372 and Gukhak was established in 682.




The University of Constantinople, founded as an institution of higher learning in 425 and reorganized as a corporation of students in 849 by the regent Bardas of emperor Michael III, is considered by some to be the earliest institution of higher learning with some of the characteristics we associate today with a university (research and teaching, auto-administration, academic independence, et cetera). If a university is defined as "an institution of higher learning" then it is preceded by several others, including the Academy that it was founded to compete with and eventually replaced. If the original meaning of the word is considered "a corporation of students" then this could be the first example of such an institution.

If the definition of a university is assumed to mean an institution of higher education and research which issues academic degrees at all levels (bachelor, master and doctorate) like in the modern sense of the word, then the medieval Madrasahs, or more specifically the Jami'ah, founded in the 9th century would be the first examples of such an institution. The University of Al Karaouinemarker in Fez, Moroccomarker is thus recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest degree-granting university in the world with its founding in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri. Also in the 9th century, Bimaristan medical schools were founded in the medieval Islamic world, where medical degrees and diplomas were issued to students of Islamic medicine who were qualified to be a practicing Doctor of Medicine. Al-Azhar Universitymarker, founded in Cairomarker, Egyptmarker in 975, was a Jami'ah university which offered a variety of post-graduate degrees (Ijazah), and had individual faculties for a theological seminary, Islamic law and jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, Islamic astronomy, early Islamic philosophy, and logic in Islamic philosophy.

Medieval universities

The first higher education institution in medieval Europe was the University of Constantinople, followed by the University of Salernomarker (9th century), the Preslav Literary School and Ohrid Literary Schoolmarker in the Bulgarian Empire (9th century). The first degree-granting universities in Europe were the University of Bolognamarker (1088), the University of Parismarker (c. 1150, later associated with the Sorbonnemarker), the University of Oxfordmarker (1167), the University of Cambridgemarker (1209), the University of Salamancamarker (1218), the University of Montpelliermarker (1220), the University of Padua (1222), the University of Naples Federico II (1224),the University of Toulouse (1229). Some scholars such as George Makdisi, John Makdisi and Hugh Goddard argue that these medieval universities were influenced in many ways by the medieval Madrasah institutions in Islamic Spainmarker, the Emirate of Sicily, and the Middle East (during the Crusades).

The earliest universities in Western Europe were developed under the aegis of the Catholic Church, usually as cathedral schools or by papal bull as Studia Generali (NB: The development of cathedral schools into Universities actually appears to be quite rare, with the University of Paris being an exception — see Leff, Paris and Oxford Universities), later they were also founded by Kings (Charles University in Prague, Jagiellonian University in Krakow) or municipal administrations (University of Colognemarker, University of Erfurtmarker). In the early medieval period, most new universities were founded from pre-existing schools, usually when these schools were deemed to have become primarily sites of higher education. Many historians state that universities and cathedral schools were a continuation of the interest in learning promoted by monasteries.

In Europe, young men proceeded to university when they had completed their study of the trivium–the preparatory arts of grammar, rhetoric and dialectic or logic–and the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. (See Degrees of the University of Oxford for the history of how the trivium and quadrivium developed in relation to degrees, especially in anglophone universities).

Outside of Europe, there were many notable institutions of learning throughout history. In Chinamarker, there was the famous Hanlin Academy, established during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), and was once headed by the Chancellor Shen Kuo (1031-1095), a famous Chinese scientist, inventor, mathematician and statesman.

Modern universities

The end of the medieval period marked the beginning of the transformation of universities that would eventually result in the modern research university. Many external influences, such as eras of humanism, Enlightenment, Reformation and Revolution, shaped research universities during their development.

By the 18th century, universities published their own research journals and by the 19th century, the German and the French university models had arisen. The German, or Humboldtian model, was conceived by Wilhelm von Humboldt and based on Friedrich Schleiermacher’s liberal ideas pertaining to the importance of freedom, seminars, and laboratories in universities. The French university model involved strict discipline and control over every aspect of the university.

Until the 19th century, religion played a significant role in university curriculum; however, the role of religion in research universities decreased in the 19th century, and by the end of the 19th century, the German university model had spread around the world. Universities concentrated on science in the 19th and 20th centuries and became increasingly accessible to the masses. In Britain the move from industrial revolution to modernity saw the arrival of new civic universities with an emphasis on science and engineering. The British also established universities worldwide, and higher education became available to the masses not only in Europe. In a general sense, the basic structure and aims of universities have remained constant over the years.

National universities

A national university is generally an university created or run by a national state but at the same time represent a state autonomic institutions which functions as a completely independent body inside of the same state. Some national universities are closely associated with national cultural or political aspirations, for instance the National University of Ireland in the early days of Irish independence collected a large amount of information on the Irish language and Irish culture. In Argentina were the result of the university revolution of 1918 and its posteriors reforms by incorporating values that sought for a more equal and laic higher education system.


Although each institution is organized differently, nearly all universities have a board of trustees; a president, chancellor, or rector; at least one vice president, vice-chancellor, or vice-rector; and deans of various divisions. Universities are generally divided into a number of academic departments, schools or faculties. Public university systems are ruled over by government-run higher education boards. They review financial requests and budget proposals and then allocate funds for each university in the system. They also approve new programs of instruction and cancel or make changes in existing programs. In addition, they plan for the further coordinated growth and development of the various institutions of higher education in the state or country. However, many public universities in the world have a considerable degree of financial, research and pedagogical autonomy. Private universities are privately funded and generally have a broader independence from state policies.

Despite the variable policies, or cultural and economic standards available in different geographical locations create a tremendous disparity between universities around the world and even inside a country, the universities are usually among the foremost research and advanced training providers in every society. Most universities not only offer courses in subjects ranging from the natural sciences, engineering, architecture or medicine, to sports sciences, social sciences, law or humanities, they also offer many amenities to their student population including a variety of places to eat, banks, bookshops, print shops, job centers, and bars. In addition, universities have a range of facilities like libraries, sports centers, students' unions, computer labs, and research laboratories. In a number of countries, major classic universities usually have their own botanical gardens, astronomical observatories, business incubators and university hospitals.

Universities around the world

The funding and organization of universities varies widely between different countries around the world. In some countries universities are predominantly funded by the state, while in others funding may come from donors or from fees which students attending the university must pay. In some countries the vast majority of students attend university in their local town, while in other countries universities attract students from all over the world, and may provide university accommodation for their students.


The definition of a university varies widely even with some countries. For example, there is no nationally standardized definition of the term in the United States although the term has traditionally been used to designate research institutions and was once reserved for research doctorate-granting institutions. Many teaching institutions and primarily undergraduate-degree-granting institutions outside the Northeastern United States are called universities, while some states, such as Massachusettsmarker, will only grant a school "university status" if it grants at least two doctoral degrees. In the United Kingdom, an institution can only use the term if it has been granted by the Privy Council, under the terms of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

Colloquial usage

Colloquially, the term university may be used to describe a phase in one's life: "when I was at university..." (in the United States and Ireland, college is used instead: "when I was in college..."). See the college article for further discussion. In Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the German-speaking countries "university" is often contracted to "uni". In New Zealand and in South Africa it is sometimes called "varsity" (although this has become uncommon in New Zealandin recent years), which was also common usage in the UK in the 19th century.


Richard Vedder, an Ohio Universitymarker professor and member of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, has been a critic of how institutions of higher education, including the universities, are financed. In his 2004 book, "Going Broke by Degree," Vedder says that tuition increases have rapidly outpaced inflation; that productivity in higher education has fallen or remained stagnant; and that third-party tuition payments from government or private sources have insulated students from bearing the full cost of their education, allowing costs to rise more rapidly.

Discrimination By University Faculty

Concern over the political bias among university faculty has long been a criticism of the University setting. A study published in The Forum by university professor Robert Lichter and colleagues Stanley Rothman and Neil Nevitte has shown the vast majority of American university faculties to be politically liberal and non-religious. The study raises questions over whether the political leaning of University academics affect school policies, curricula, admission and evaluation procedures. The results of the study include preliminary findings of discrimination against conservative faculty. In addition, the study finds that liberals, men and the non-religious are overrepresented at top schools, with conservatives, women and religious faculty relegated to lower-tier colleges and universities.

Recent developments on college campuses, such as the University of Delawaremarker's Ideological Reeducation plan, and the persecution of Emily Brooker by faculty at Missouri State Universitymarker have drawn the attention of the public and the media to incidents of liberal bias against conservative faculty and students. Victims note the difficulty of going up against tenured faculty and the risk of negative repercussions on their reputation and academic goals. Advocacy groups such as FIRE, NAS and the ACLU have come to the aid of students and faculty who have become victim of such groups, and with the help of legal counsel have often succeeded in defending the rights of the victims they represent.


Religious and political control of universities

In some countries, in some political systems, universities are controlled by political or religious authorities who forbid certain fields of study or impose certain other fields. Sometimes national or racial limitations exist in the students that can be admitted, the faculty and staff that can be employed, and the research that can be conducted.

Nazi universities

Books from university libraries, written by anti-Nazi or Jewish authors, were burned in places (example: in Berlin) in 1933, and the curricula were subsequently modified. Jewish professors and students were expelled according to the racial policy of Nazi Germany, see also the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. Martin Heidegger became the rector of University of Freiburg, where he delivered a number of Nazi speeches. On August 21, 1933 Heidegger established the Führer-principle at the university, later he was appointed Führer of Freiburg University. University of Poznańmarker was closed by the Nazi Occupation in 1939. 1941–1944 a German university worked there. University of Strasbourg was transferred to Clermont-Ferrandmarker and Reichsuniversität Straßburg existed 1941–1944.

Nazi universities ended in 1945.


Image:Buenos Aires - UBA - FIUBA Paseo Colón 2.jpg|Faculty of Engineering, University of Buenos Airesmarker Paseo Colón Branch, ArgentinamarkerImage:KUCampanileDec2007.jpg| The Memorial Campanile, the University of Kansasmarker, Lawrence, Kansasmarker, USAmarker.Image:BirminghamUniversityChancellorsCourt.jpg| The Aston Webb building, at the University of Birminghammarker, UK.Image:
Universidade Federal do Parana 4 Curitiba Parana.jpg|Universidade Federal do Paranámarker, Curitibamarker, Brazil
Image:University of Edinburgh, Old College.jpg|Old Collegemarker, a building of the University of Edinburgh, one of the oldest universities in the United Kingdom.Image:CIAP Building ITESM.jpg|CIAP building, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Educationmarker, Monterreymarker, MexicoImage:UST_Main_Bldg_Facade.jpg|UST main building Façade, University of Santo Tomasmarker, Manila PhilippinesImage:Itu_ydy.jpg|Istanbul Technical Universitymarker, Istanbulmarker, Turkey.Image:FlTechMillerBldgCLOSE.jpg|The Miller Building, Florida Institute of Technologymarker, Melbourne, Floridamarker, USImage:Sherman Hall.jpg|Sherman Hall, Western Illinois Universitymarker, Macomb, Illinoismarker, US.Image:Mandeville.jpg|Mandeville Hall, Saint Joseph's Universitymarker, Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker, US.Image:Ponte dell'Unical (cubi 21-0).jpg|View from upper bridge of the University of Calabria (Università della Calabria), Rendemarker, Italy.Image:Unlp.jpg|National University of La Platamarker, Office of the President, La Plata, ArgentinaImage:Schloss Münster.jpg|The University of Münstermarker is a public university located in the city of Münstermarker, Germany.Image:Queenstheologicalhall.jpg| Theological Hall at Queens Universitymarker in Ontariomarker, Canadamarker.Image:Facultad de Medicina Rosario 1.jpg|National University of Rosario, Faculty of Medicine, Argentina.Image:Tuks1.jpg|Old Arts Building at the University of Pretoriamarker in Pretoriamarker, South Africa.File:Canberra school of art.JPG|Australian National Universitymarker, School of Art, Australia.

See also


  1. Google eBook of Encyclopedia Britannica
  2. Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400-1400, (New Haven: Yale Univ. Pr., 1997), p. 267.
  3. Cubberley, E.P. 2004. The History of Education. Kessinger Publishing. p. 40. [1]
  4. Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 9 [2]
  5. Professor Jerome Bump, The Origin of Universities, University of Texas at Austin
  6. The Guinness Book Of Records, 1998, p. 242, ISBN 0-5535-7895-2
  7. John Bagot Glubb: (cf. Quotations on Islamic Civilization)
  9. and University of Coimbra founded in Lisbon and was based there in 1290-1308, 1338-54, and 1377-1537. Medieval Universities And the Origin of the College
  10. US Department of State: Types of Graduate schools
  11. Massachusetts Board of Education: Degree-granting regulations for independent institutions of higher education
  14. Rothman, Stanley; Lichter, S. Robert; and Nevitte, Neil (2005) "Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty," The Forum: Vol. 3 : Iss. 1, Article 2.


  • Stanley Aronowitz, The Knowledge Factory. Boston: Beacon, 2000. ISBN 0807031224
  • Clyde W. Barrow, Universities and the Capitalist State: Corporate Liberalism and the Reconstruction of American Higher Education, 1894–1928, University of Wisconsin Press 1990 ISBN 0-299-12400-2
  • Sigmund Diamond, Compromised Campus: The Collaboration of Universities with the Intelligence Community, 1945–1955, Oxford University Press 1992 ISBN 0-195-05382-6
  • Olaf Pedersen, The First Universities : Studium Generale and the Origins of University Education in Europe, Cambridge University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-521-59431-6
  • Bill Readings, University in Ruins. Harvard University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-674-92953-5.
  • Thomas F. Richards, The Cold War Within American Higher Education: Rutgers University As a Case Study,Pentland Press 1998 ISBN 1-571-97108-4
  • Walter Rüegg, general editor, A History of the University in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Hilde de Ridder-Symoens, ed., vol. 1, Universities in the Middle Ages, 1992. ISBN 0-521-36105-2
    • Hilde de Ridder-Symoens, ed, vol. 2, Universities in Early Modern Europe (1500–1800), 1996. ISBN 0-521-36106-0
    • Walter Rüegg, ed., vol. 3, Universities in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (1800–1945), 2004. ISBN 0-521-36107-9 (vol 3 reviewed by Laurence Brockliss in the Times Literary Supplement, no 5332, 10 June 2005, pages 3–4)

Related terms

academia - academic rank - academy - admission - alumnus - aula - Brain farm - Bologna process - business schools - Grandes écoles - campus - college - college and university rankings - dean - degree - diploma - discipline - dissertation -doctorate - faculty - fraternities and sororities - graduate student - graduation - Ivory Tower - lecturer - medieval university - medieval university - mega university - perpetual student - professor - provost - rector - research - scholar - senioritis - student - tenure - Town and Gown - tuition - undergraduate - universal access - university administration

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