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The 10 Oldest Universities in the UK

1. The University of Oxford

City: Oxford, England

Established: 1096

Motto : The Lord is my Light

The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university located in Oxford, England. It is the second oldest university in the world in continuous operation and one of the oldest University in the UK  with teaching evidence as early as 1096. The University of Oxford is a private university, it is made up of 38 constituent colleges and has a full range of academic departments.

With  over 24,000 students at Oxford, including 11,930 undergraduates and 11,813 postgraduates, In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, Oxford was Ranked  first in the world  for 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Over 10,000 students are from the International community which  makes up almost 43% of the total students at Oxford.  Oxford has students from over  150 countries and territories.

Notable Alumni: Many British prime ministers and other global leaders; Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist; Adam Smith; Margaret Thatcher; J.R.R. Tolkien; Bill Clinton; Oscar Wilde; Hugh Grant; Amal Clooney; Stephen Hawkings; David Cameron, Former Prime Minister UK;  Rowan Sebastian Atkinson is an English actor, comedian, and writer, he is best known for his work on the sitcoms Blackadder and Mr. Bean.

2. The University of Cambridge

City: Cambridge, England

Established: 1096

Motto : Literal: From here, light and sacred draughts

Non-literal: From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge

The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209. It is a collegiate research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

The University of Cambridge is the  fourth-oldest university in the world and the second oldest in the United Kingdom. It’s history and influence on the world has resulted in it being one of most reputed and prestigious Universities in the world.

The University of Cambridge houses the world’s oldest known publishing house and also the second-largest university press in the world called the ‘Cambridge University Press’. The University also operates many cultural and scientific museums, it provides its students with access to more than 15 million books. In the year 1209, groups of scholars congregated in Cambridge for study, and the Bishop of Ely then founded the very first college at Cambridge, called ‘Peterhouse’. Since then, the university has formed 31 constituent colleges, and these  have over 100 academic departments that are organised into 6 schools. The University of Cambridge incredibly has over 100 libraries. It is interesting to note that it wasn’t until 1948 that women were considered to be full members of the University.

There are currently over 22,000 students in total at the University.  With 9000 international students from over 140 different countries and a total of more than 22,000. Over 50% of Graduate students and 25% of undergraduate students come from outside U.K.

Notable Alumni: Charles Darwin; Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist; HRH Charles, Prince of Wales; Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian;

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, he was a British polymath, philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist as well as Nobel laureate.

3. The University of St Andrews

City: St. Andrews, Scotland

Established: 1410

Motto : Ever to excel

The University of St Andrews was founded in 1413. It is a public university located in St Andrews, Scotland. It  is the oldest among the four universities of Scotland and also it is the third oldest University in the UK.

The university was founded by a group of Augustinian clergy who had then formed a society of higher learning in this town. They offered lectures in divinity, logic, philosophy, and even law. Despite the poverty situation of Scotland during the 17th and 18th centuries, it has progressed to become increasingly popular especially among the Scottish upper classes, who wish to send their students to attend one of the oldest higher learning institutions.

The most famous golf course in the world, known as the Old Course located in St. Andrews, dates back to the medieval times. It is still in use today and hosts the prestigious Open Championships. The University of St. Andrews is an ancient public research university, it comprises three colleges: United College, St. Mary’s College, and St. Leonard’s College. The campus is spread throughout the picturesque town, occupying historic and modern buildings.

St Andrews is a great and unique place to study and live. It is  a  University with a world class reputation with 9000 over students and 80% of these in the undergraduate program. Students from 145 Nationalities are on campus and 45 % of students are from outside the UK.

Notable Alumni: Prince William; Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge; Rudyard Kipling, author; Andrew Lang FBA was a Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic, he contributed to the field of anthropology; John Knox was a Scottish minister, theologian, and writer who was a leader of the country’s Reformation, he was also the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

4. The University of Glasgow

City: Glasgow, Scotland

Established: 1451

Motto: The Way, The Truth, The Life

The University of Glasgow was founded in 1451. It is a  public research university located in Glasgow, Scotland. In the UK it is the fourth oldest University and one among Scotland’s ancient Universities. The institution was added to the city’s Cathedral in the year 1451 by a charter from the then Pope Nicholas V.  The original records of the foundation of the University of Glasgow haven’t been found, and were assumed lost during the Scottish Reformation, this was when the then chancellor Archbishop James Beaton fled to France, taking with him archives and valuables.

With more than 8000 staff of which 3,400 plus constitute the research and teaching staff, the University is a major employer in Glasgow.  With students from over 140 countries worldwide and 29,000 students in undergraduate and postgraduate programs.

Notable Alumni: Adam Smith, economist, he laid the foundations of classical free market economic theory; Gerard Butler, actor who played King Leonidas in the war film 300; John Logie Baird, inventor of the first publicly demonstrated colour television and the first purely electronic colour television picture tube; Sir William Ramsay, nobel laureate in Chemistry for discovery of inert gases, this had helped establish a new group in the Periodic Table of Elements; James Watt, he gave power to the industrial revolution; Ian Donald, he showed the world the first ultrasound of a foetus.

5. The University of Aberdeen

City: Aberdeen, Scotland

Established: 1495

Motto :  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

The University of Aberdeen was founded in 1495 as  a public research university in Aberdeen, Scotland. In the United Kingdom it is the fifth oldest University and third oldest University in Scotland. The University of Aberdeen was originally established as King’s College and it was William Elphinstone, the then Bishop of Aberdeen, who petitioned Pope Alexander VI to form this facility. It was formed as a reason to cure the ‘ignorance’ that the Bishop had witnessed. The current modern University of Aberdeen is actually the result of a merger between the original King’s College and the new Marischal College in 1860, until that point the colleges had been  rival institutions. It opened up classes to female students in the year 1892.

The University of Aberdeen is one of two universities located in the city of Aberdeen, the university’s iconic buildings have a symbolic meaning to the wider Aberdeen, especially the Marischal College and the spire of King’s College. The main campus of the Aberdeen University is now at King’s College and covers an area of nearly 35 hectares, its historic beautiful buildings are known to form a quadrangle with an interior court.

Aberdeen has been ranked consistently among the Top 200 universities of the world and in the UK within the Top 30 universities. The University of Aberdeen has more than 14,000 students studying in the undergraduate, postgraduate and doctorate-level programs which includes the international students also. The students come from 130 countries.

Notable Alumni: Iain Glen, Game of Thrones actor; George Paget Thomson, Nobel laureate;

James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, was a Scottish judge, he was a scholar of linguistic evolution, philosopher and deist, most famous today as a founder of modern comparative historical linguistics.

6. The University of Edinburgh

City: Edinburgh, Scotland

Established: 1582

Motto: Neither rashly, nor timidly.

The University of Edinburgh was founded in 1582. In the UK it is the sixth oldest University and one among Scotland’s ancient Universities. The Edinburgh Town Council founded the University of Edinburgh initially as a college of law. It was formally established as a college by a Royal Charter in the year 1582 and it first opened its doors in 1583, and was renamed King James’s College in 1617.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s commemorative plaque has been placed at the main entrance of the Medical School Building. As timeless as the character Sherlock is, the University of Edinburgh portrays itself as an ancient university, in fact a number of buildings in the historic Old Town of Edinburgh belong to the University. The institution gave the city of Edinburgh its nickname ‘Athens of the North’, keeping in mind its reputation as a chief intellectual centre at the time of the Age of Enlightenment. Alumni from University of Edinburgh include some of the major figures of modern history. Centered in the cosmopolitan capital city of Scotland, annual festivals like The Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe Festival make Edinburgh a cultural hub and a largely sought after popular study destination.

The University of Edinburgh is ranked 20th in the world by the 2021 QS World University Rankings. As of  March 2019, Edinburgh’s alumni, researchers and faculty members,  include 19 Nobel laureates and recipients of various prestigious global Awards and Honours including several  Olympic gold medallists. In 2018/19 there were 43380 students in different programs at the University.

Notable Alumni: Charles Darwin; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Charles G. Barkla, he discovered characteristic X-ray elements in 1917; Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer, he was most noted for Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and A Child’s Garden of Verses.

7. University of Manchester

City: Manchester, England

Established: 1824

Motto : Knowledge, Wisdom, Humanity

The roots of the University of Manchester can be traced back to the Manchester Mechanics Institute formed in 1824, later UMIST.

The modern University of Manchester was officially launched in the year 2004. The institution traditionally had a strong student and staff faculty in the sciences. In the year 1883 the institute allowed the admission of women into its programs.

The University’s origins can be traced back to England’s first civic university, it is closely linked to Manchester’s development as the world’s first ever industrial city. One can trace its roots to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), this was established to ensure that employees could study the basic principles of science. In 1880 the university became England’s first civic university. The University of Manchester has a non-traditional campus in which university buildings are dispersed throughout the city of Manchester.

It is one of the largest single site Universities in the UK with 25 Nobel Prize winners having worked or studied here. That puts it in fourth position for Nobel laureate count.

With 40,000 over students in undergraduate and post-graduate studies of which 28% are from the International community, the University of Manchester has the largest international student community in the United Kingdom.

Notable Alumni: Benedict Cumberbatch, he stars in the crime TV series Sherlock; Anthony Burgess, author of the book ‘A Clockwork Orange’, Ernest Rutherford, Nobel laureate for experiments in atomic physics, Sir James Chadwick, he was a British physicist, he was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovery of the neutron.

8. University College London

City: London, England

Established: 1826

Motto: Let all come who by merit deserve the most reward

The roots of the University College London can be traced back to the London University in 1826. It is a  public research university located in London, United Kingdom.

The institution was founded with the name London University, it was intended to be an alternative to the Anglican universities of Oxford and Cambridge. During the Second World War the university sustained immense bomb damage, especially to the Great Hall and the Carey Foster Physics Laboratory.  Under a new charter in the year 1976, the university established its independence and was formally named as University College London. Alumni from the University College London include multiple ‘Fathers of the Nation’ from nations such as India, Kenya, Nigeria, and Mauritius.

It is said that the film Inception may have used the University’s library and lecture halls for its various scenes. The University is known for its impressive campus. University College London is the first higher degree institution ever established in London city with the third largest university in the UK by as per total enrollment. In the year 1878, the University became the first British institution to admit women into its programs. The university has 11 faculties and operates a number of museums and has huge collections in fields such as the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy.

By postgraduate enrolment it is the largest and by total enrolment it is the third largest university in the UK. In the year 2018 there were about 41,500 students at UCL and 15,000 plus staff.

Notable Alumni: Mahatma Gandhi; Alexander G. Bell, who patented the first practical telephone, he also founded the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T); Chris Martin from Coldplay, Professor John O’Keefe, he discovered cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain

9. Durham University

City: Durham, England

Established: 1832

Motto: Her foundations are upon the holy hills (Psalm 87:1)

Durham University was founded in 1832. It is a collegiate public research university in Durham, England. The University was founded by an Act of Parliament in the year 1832 and was granted a Royal Charter in the year 1837. The University includes 63 listed buildings ranging right from 11th century Durham Castle to even a 1930s Art Deco chapel. Initially, Durham University degrees were available to members of the Church of England, but that lasted until the year 1865. Presently, there are 16 colleges affiliated with the university, 14 of these are located at the main campus in Durham and two of these are situated at the Queen’s Campus in Stockton. In the year 1880 the College of Science first admitted women to its classrooms for study.

Durham University’s estate spans around 227 hectares, it has a main campus in Durham and a second campus located in Stockton-on-Tees. The University has three faculties: arts and humanities, science and social science, and health. It is interesting to note that Durham University became the first English university to ever establish a relationship with overseas institutions, first in the year 1875 with Codrington College in Barbados and then in the year 1876 with Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone.

As per the Times Higher Education (THE) World Reputation Rankings, Durham University is ranked among the Top 100 universities of the world.

The staff and students represent over 130 countries. With a total student population of 18,000 plus, in graduation and post graduation programs, 30% of these students are from the international community.

Notable Alumni: Andrew Buchan, actor in BBC’s 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre; Sir Roger George Moore, he was an English actor, he played British secret agent James Bond in seven feature films

10. The Aberystwyth University

City: Aberystwyth, Wales

Established: 1872

Motto : A world without knowledge is no world at all

The roots of Aberystwyth University can be traced back to University College Wales, Aberystwyth founded in 1872. Aberystwyth University is a public research university in Aberystwyth, Wales. Sometime in the middle of the 19th century, certain Welsh people advocated for the establishment of a university and Aberystwyth University opened up in October 1872 with only 26 students. The University first admitted female students in the year1884. The University is well known for upholding tradition and is known as ‘the people’s university.’

A simple way to tackle pronunciation of this University is to say the following four English words: ab-a-wrist-with. It stems from two Welsh words: aber, means “mouth,” and Ystwyth is the river that flows into Cardigan Bay at Aberystwyth. The university is colloquially known as “Aber.” The Aberystwyth University contains six academic institutes and it houses Wales’ award-winning Students’ Union.

The University has over 8000 students covering  3 academic faculties /17 departments. As per the main National ranking Aberystwyth University stands in the UK’s Top 50 universities. In 2021 it  has been named the Welsh University of the year and in 2018/2019 University of the Year for Teaching Quality by The Times / The Sunday Times Good University Guide. Aberystwyth University is the world’s first university to be awarded Plastic Free University status (single use plastic).

Notable Alumni: HRH Charles, Prince of Wales; Frederick Soddy, Nobel laureate who proved the existence of isotopes of certain radioactive elements; Waldo Goronwy Williams, he was one of the leading Welsh-language poets of the 20th century; Sir Hugh Owen, he was a pioneer of higher education in Wales; Rachel Roberts was a Welsh actress.

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