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History Of Universities

European universities have a history that goes back to the 11th century when University of Bologna was established. In the earlier 19th and 20th centuries, most of the European universities aggressively concentrated on science and research (Charle, 2004). In addition, the values and beliefs of these institutions are the driving force that ultimately shaped what we now discern among universities to this current date. The earliest medieval universities were known to have originated from schools that were run by churches.

These innovative teaching institutions then developed into what we now term as universities. The primary goals of early universities were to prepare and mold individuals into professionals, to perform scientific research, to develop the society and to teach students to investigate and think for themselves. These universities were shaped by concepts of humanism, reformation, revolution and enlightenment. In addition, the concept of human rights and international law was included in the teaching at universities in the 15th century.

Universities started publishing their research discoveries by the 18th century. A century later, model universities were created in Germany and France. The Humboldtian model in Germnay, was based upon the ideas of Wilhelm von Humboldt and Friedrich Schleiermacher. On the other hand, the French model universities involved strict discipline and organization. By 1914, these scientific universities were opened to the public. It is interesting to know that religion significantly influenced the curricula of universities in the 19th century.

By the late few decades of the 19th century, the Humboldtian university model had spread to the rest of the world. Since then, the basic organization and goals of universities have been maintained for many years. University of Bologna has been considered as the first European university to ever be established. It is considered as the mother of European Universities and symbolized the national unity of Italy (Rudy, 1984). The term university thus pertains to a single corporate body that is composed of students and educators that are specialized in their disciplines.

There is controversy regarding which university is the oldest, with the University of Paris, which was founded in 1208, standing as a rival for the position of first university. There is another university, University of Magnaura, which was established in the 9th century, which is also considered as one of the oldest educational institutions that has been created. The University of Magnaura has generated prominent scholars hence it has been identified as a focal point of medieval Greek science and culture.

European universities increased in number because these bodies wanted to promote their own ideas and concepts to the rest of the country and the world. For example, the University of Paris erected several universities in Northern Europe. Also, the University of Bologna created several universities in the South of Europe. Such efforts of establishing more universities around Europe were mechanisms aimed to make their group more powerful in politics, as well as in popularity (Rothblatt, 1997).

Eventually, these Europeans research universities were able to instill strong traditions for education and these later spread to the rest of the world. Right before the 20th century, the Humboldtian model university had reached to the United States and Japan. In addition, the Spanish, English and French also established universities in countries that they conquered. These efforts were also made in order to provide education to the colonists, as well as to promote their religion. Such education also facilitated teaching of administrative points to the colonists.


Charle, Christophe. “Patterns. ” A History of the University in Europe, Vol. III: Universities In the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. Ed. Walter Ruegg. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 35-80. Rothblatt, Sheldon. “The Writing of University History at the End of Another Century. ” Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 23, No. 2, “Writing University History. ” (Jun. 1997), pp. 151-167. Rudy, Willis. The Universities of Europe, 1100-1914. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, Inc. , 1984.

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