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. The UK is also the most-represented nation in the table, along with Germany; both countries have six universities each.

Just one university outside of Europe makes the list, Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) in South Korea, 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 university 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 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 being for 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 is the modern data from those institutions (accurate data from the 17th century is methodologically challenging), and reflects 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 were 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

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Library Systems Manager YORK ST JOHN UNIVERSITY
User Acceptance Testing Technician CAMBRIDGE ASSESSMENT

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented


Times Higher Education World University Rankings data reveal the top 200 most outward-looking institutions

Common cactus finch (Geospiza scandens)

Tiffany Taylor on a thought-provoking view of the forces acting to ensure survival

Stressed businessman answering four telephones

Some surveys show faculty putting in at least 60 hours a week, but research casts doubt on whether this is a productive routine

Student asking question during class

University of Reading research finds link between undergraduate satisfaction and ethnicity of lecturers

Level of quality compass

Authors argue this means universities should spend less on senior academics and give promising younger scholars more of a chance

--> 'use strict';