On 22 April 2009 I posted "Readin', Writin' and Absolute Multitude. Lyceum 2009", about the whole idea of higher education since ancient Greece. So where is it now?
This time of year, a lot of school rankings come out, and I got interested to check them out. A very often used one is published by US News and World Report. There's two actually, one worldwide, and the other for the US. The latter is broken down into various categories, making it hard to just flat out rate them -- of course, flat out rating them is hard too, and some say impossible -- so I'll stick to the worldwide one, dated 18 June 2009, which is in turn based on the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings. This would be then a list of the top universities in the world, 400 in all.
I guess we like top ten lists, so here's the first ten, in order: Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, Cal Tech, Imperial College London, University College London, U Chicago, MIT and Columbia.
The highest ranking institution in continental Europe is ETH Zurich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, founded 1854, at #24. However, the highest ranking institution outside of the present or former British Empire or Commonwealth is the University of Tokyo, founded 1877, at #19.
The original universities in the modern sense, mentioned in the earlier post, are still hanging right in there. The oldest university, from which we even get the word university, University of Bologna, founded 1088, is still hanging in there, ranked among the finest in the world at #192. Good show, old girl!
It's a little hard tellin' from there. The University of Paris may be next oldest, founded 1160 or maybe a little before, but then again it doesn't matter as the University effectively ceased to exist with the French Revolution. Some time later it was revived, sort of, now supposedly is an association of thirteen universities, but that only dates from after student strikes in the late 1960s, and is reorganising again, so while several of the current thirteen are ranked, it's not exactly the old University of Paris.
Oxford may be the second oldest anyway, depending on what you take as its founding date. 1167 is often given, but there was teaching before that at least since 1096, however it really took off in 1167 when King Henry II banned English students from going to University of Paris. It's holding up pretty well though, #4 in the world. Cambridge rounds out the list, being founded in 1209, though there was teaching there before that, by Oxford scholars upset that the town actually hung scholars for murder -- "Academic freedom" was supposed to cover that -- and is still hanging in at #3.
So, of the current top ten, two (Oxford and Cambridge) are among the very first six universities, and of those six three still directly survive, and not only survive, two of them (Oxford and Cambridge) are in the top ten now, and the third, the oldest and first (Bologna), is STILL among the ranked, and of the other three, one (University of Paris) has several ranked later institutions with historical links to it, and the other two have historical links to the unranked University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.
Well, what the hell. All these resulted from applying structural elements from the trade guilds to models from Islamic schools anyway, the madrasahs, which like their later Christian counterparts grew out of schools attached to houses of worship. The oldest of those Islamic schools, and arguably then the oldest degree granting institution in the world, is the University of Al-Karaouine, in Morocco, dating from 859, when Europe was a bloody mess barely held to-gether educationally by the grand and glorious hard working and uproarious Benedictines.
The madrasahs did not grant degrees from the institution itself, but rather licences granted by each specific teacher, and if one looks away from the institutional degree that characterises the modern university, the line goes back much further to Nanjing University, now a modern university but founded in China in 258 and after a ton of bumps along the way you know what, STILL hanging in ranked #143 in the world!
I'm happy to say my alma mater, the University of Iowa, from which I got my MA and PhD degrees, ranks #219 worldwide, not too shabby for a relative newcomer only organised in 1847 in what had just become a state only the year before!
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