Top 25 universities over 400 years old

Times Higher Education World University Rankings data reveal the best ancient institutions 

February 10, 2016
Plays of Shakespeare

Doubts continue to linger that William Shakespeare didn’t really write all of “his” plays, without the benefit of a university education. So which historical  institutions should the real Bard of Avon have attended?

The Times Higher Education 25 Over 400 ranking lists the best ancient institutions, to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

The UK tops the list, with the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh claiming the first three places. In terms of national representatives, the UK is also joint leader in the table: both it and Germany have six universities each.

Just one university outside Europe makes the list, South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), in 19th place.

Italy is absent from the table despite being home to the oldest institution in the world, the University of Bologna, which was founded in 1088.

Overall, 11 countries feature in the table.

The University of Oxford, which traces its history back to 1096, is the oldest institution to make the 25 Over 400 ranking, while the Netherlands’ University of Groningen (eighth) is the youngest, having been established in 1614.

Duncan Ross, data and analytics director at THE, said that the list shows “the origin of our modern university systems as they move away from the religious training institutions they were, into something that was starting to become more recognisable”.

“Despite all the evidence that points to Shakespeare’s being from the English Midlands, the conspiracy theories around who he might have been refuse to die away. So we thought it would be fun to look at the universities that a more educated Shakespeare might have attended,” he said.  

“Admittedly our data are the modern data from those institutions (accurate information from the 17th century is methodologically challenging), and reflect only the institutions in our current top 800 [of the THE World University Rankings 2015-16].

“Could Shakespeare really have been educated in Korea? Is Macbeth really a dramatisation of the founding of the Joseon dynasty? Or is it about Scotland after all?”

The ranking was compiled using the data collected for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-16, but filtered to only include those institutions that are more than 400 years old. The 25 institutions with the highest scores are included in the table below. The average age of the top 200 institutions in the 2015-16 rankings is 213 years old.

The THE Young Universities Summit will take place at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona from 5 to 7 April to discuss how disruptive young innovators in higher education can challenge the traditional elites, such as the ones listed below.

World’s 25 best universities over 400 years old

Rank Institution Country WUR 2015-2016 rank Foundation year
1 University of Oxford United Kingdom 2 1096
2 University of Cambridge United Kingdom 4 1209
3 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom 24 1583
4 LMU Munich Germany 29 1472
5 KU Leuven Belgium 35 1425
6 Heidelberg University Germany 37 1386
7 Leiden University Netherlands 67 1575
8 University of Groningen Netherlands 74 1614
9 University of Glasgow United Kingdom 76 1451
10 University of Tübingen Germany 78 1477
11 Uppsala University Sweden 81 1477
12 University of Copenhagen Denmark 82 1479
13 University of Freiburg Germany 84 1457
14 University of St Andrews United Kingdom 86 1413
15 University of Basel Switzerland 101 1460
16 University of Geneva Switzerland 131 1559
17 University of Vienna Austria 142 1365
18 University of Lausanne Switzerland 144 1537
19 Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) South Korea 153 1398
20 University of Cologne Germany 156 1388
21 Trinity College Dublin Ireland 160 1592
22 Université Catholique de Louvain Belgium 167 1425
23 University of Aberdeen United Kingdom 172 1495
24 University of Barcelona Spain 174 1450
25 University of Würzburg Germany 185 1402

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Reader's comments (6)

evidentemente i compilatori sono incorsi in una trascurabile dimenticanza riguardo alle universitá italiane ( bologna,pisa,pavia,ecc.ecc.....significativo!
...e non nomino l'universitá di salerno che ha avuto origine dalla scuola dell'ottavo secolo....e scusate se é poco.
Although Italy has many ancient universities that feature in our World University Rankings, none of them ranked high enough to be included in this top 25 list.
"The Top 25 (implicitly European) Universities Founded Before Shakespeare Died"? I thought that I'd already seen the most meaningless university rankings possible, but the Times Higher has topped them all.
What if Shakespeare wanted to read medicine at Barts? Surely QMUL is ranked higher than many of these; and if you say that Barts hadn't then merged with QMUL, then Aberdeen should be in twice for King's and Marischal.
Glad to see all four of Scotland's ancient universities included :) (St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh)


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