A history of the world in 101/2 inches

18 Universities

No-one can say when university education began. Indeed, they cannot even give a definite date for the inauguration of Oxford or Cambridge as seats of learning. Universities in general, and Oxford and Cambridge in particular, simply evolved into formal institutions from very informal beginnings.

The Greeks, of course, knew all about further education. Plato opened his Academy around 387 BC and the orator, Isocrates, founded a rival school at about the same tiem. Both set their sights firmly on the study of philosophy and the acquisition of wisdom, but while Plato concentrated on abstract thought, Isocrates took a more practical point of view and even accepted fee-paying customers.

The modern universities have their origins in medieval European schools known as studia generalia. As scholars began to travel more widely, a need was felt for institutions of learning whose prestige would have more than purely local significance. The studia generalia were meant to satisfy that need, opening their doors to students from all parts of Europe and providing teaching qualifications that would be accepted anywhere. The guild of students and teachers within a studium was known as universitas which, in due course, became the word for the entire institution.

The first university was, according to which authority you consult, established either at Salerno in the 9th century or, more reputably, at Bologna in the 11th. Dante, Petrarch and Copernicus went there, and the institution received a charter from the emperor Frederick I Barbarossa.

While Bologna began as a guild of students in pursuit of learning, the University of Paris adopted a different fashion. Founded some time between 1150 and 1170, it began as a guild of teachers in pursuit of students and that became the model for later Universities, beginning with those at Oxford and Cambridge.

In the 12th century, scholarship was becoming trendy in England, and scholars naturally gathered at Oxford simply because roads from all over the country met there - it was a good place to cross the Thames by ford. In 1167, Henry II, during a squabble with archbishop Becket, forbade English scholars and students to go to Paris, so they all went to Oxford instead. In 1209, a crisis was provoked by murderous quarrels between townsfolk and students, which was finally resolved by a papal settlement in 1214 - which could be considered the first charter for the university. The first formal college to be opened there was University College in 1249, which is often given as the date of the founding of Oxford University, though teaching had been going on there already for more than a century.

Meanwhile, at another river crossing, the University of Cambridge was growing and was boosted by an influx of disaffected Ox-ford students in 1209. Their first college was Peterhouse, founded in 1284. Already in 1231, however, Henry III had sent letters to the sheriffs and mayors of both Oxford and Cambridge, urging them to cooperate with university officials in suppressing "rebellious and incorrigible" students.

In late medieval and Tudor times, Oxford and Cambridge argued about who had come first, with supporters of Cambridge claiming that it had been founded by an ancient Spanish prince called Cantaber, with a later charter from King Arthur, and Oxford countering that it had been founded by the legendary first Briton, the Trojan exile Brutus. In more recent years of peaceful co-existence, Oxford has produced most of our prime ministers, while Cambridge has given us more Nobel prize winners and spies.

While Scotland (St Andrews in 1411) and Ireland (Dublin in 1591) were quick to open new universities, no more appeared in England until the 19th century. With the recent elevation of polytechnics to university status, the UK now has 86 universities.

There are, however 7,301 universities in India, 3,559 in the United States and 1,832 in Mexico.

WILLIAM HARTSTON (MA CANTAB)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links