Present day institutions of higher learning trace their roots back to ancient times, when quite a number of educational institutions were formed in various parts of the world to boost intellectual activities. The main motive of these ancient educational institutions were to provide the right framework to intellectual activities and were mainly sponsored by religious institutions, courts, scientific institutions and individual scholars as well. Today, we talk about ancient learning institutions which gave birth to academic freedom and educational values that defines our education today. A complete examination of the ancient institutions will throw light on how the concept of modern day universities have emerged.
1. Taxila University, 5th Century B.C: Ancient India’s power-house of knowledge
Location: Modern day Pakistan
Located some 20 miles to the northwestern part of modern day Rawalpindi lies the remains of the ancient seat for higher learning, Taxila or Takshashila University. A very important Hindu and Buddhist centre in ancient India, Taxila University existed sometime in 5th century and attracted students from all corners of Greater India
, to get trained under renowned scholars. Students were imparted specialized knowledge in various subjects like agriculture, vedas, grammar, commerce, archery, politics, ayurveda, music and dance among others. A very prominent flagbearer of this ancient learning centre includes Chanakya or Kautilya, the master creator of the finest work ever on spacecraft, political duties, state intelligence systems, economic policies, military strategies and administrative skills, named the Artha Shastra
. A series of 15 books, Artha Shastra became the guiding star for Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Great Mauryan Empire, of which Chanakya served as the Prime Minister. Another very famous face from the university was Panini, an expert in language and grammar, who have authored the famous work on grammar called Ashtadhyayi.
Among the famous faces the university had produced includes, Charaka, the ancient Indian ayurvedic physician and author of Charaka Samhita which along with Ashtanga Sangraha, Sushrutha Samhita and Ashtanga Hrudayam forms the main seed that gave rise to modern Ayurveda. Vishnu Sharma, author of Pancha Tantra and the expert in pulse reading, Jivak are also the products of Taxila University.
2. Cifte Minareli Medrese, 1265:The ‘Twin Minaret Madrasa’
Location: Seljuk, Turkey
The Cifte Minareli Medrese, a Muslim theological school, was built in the second half of 13th century in Seljuk, Turkey.
One of the most famous architecture of Turkey, the madrassa served as the place of learning for Muslim scholars.
3. Nalanda University, 5th C, A.D: First residential university of the world
Location: Bihar, India
Lying in the northeastern part of India, in Bihar, Nalanda University served as one of the greatest house of learning that was established in 427. It is through the information laid down by the famous Chinese pilgrim, Hieun-Tsang who first stayed in the university for seven years as a student during the first half of 7th century and then as a professor, that the glory of Nalanda University is known to the world.
This great centre of learning of ancient India housed some 10, 000 students and 2000 teachers from all over the world. Even, it has been said that this institution for higher education had also been blessed by the presence of Buddha, thus making it one of the main centres for the development of Buddhism in India. Various excavations of Buddhist establishments like temples, stupas, chaityas and monasteries had been made that speaks of the grandeur and glory of Buddhism. Several Jain texts also hints out the presence of Vardhamana Mahavira, who spent some fourteen years in the historical Nalanda. To get admitted to Nalanda University was always a matter of pride and students were never granted any particular degree after their completion of studies.
The world famous libraries of Nalanda were huge; but unfortunately, a fire destroyed all the treasure stored in the library. It was during an invasion by Mohammed Bakhtiar Khilji in 1198 that the great university met with its extinction, thus bringing an end to an era of intellectual activities in India.
4. The Imperial College of Beijing or Guozijian, 1306: The highest educational centre of Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties
Location: Guozijian Street, Dongcheng district, Beijing
One of the premier educational institutions of China during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, the Imperial College of Beijing or Guozijian came into existence as a replacement for Taixue, a popular higher learning centre that existed for many centuries.
The imperial period of China witnessed many eminent scholars and emperors delivering lectures in this prestigious academy. Students had to cover a period of three to four years to complete their graduation.Presently, the Imperial College is a seat for higher education in Beijing.
5. Al-Azhar university, 10th century A.D: Prime centre for Islamic learning and Arabic literature
Location: Cairo, Egypt
Founded by the Fatimid caliphate members, the Al-Azhar University is perhaps the oldest university in Egypt that grants degrees. Originally, an important centre for Arabic literature and Islamic learning, the university also included non-religious subjects from the year 1961.The university is often credited for playing an active role in the development of natural sciences, amidst immense political turmoil and intellectual stagnancy.
It is said that even Napoleon recognised the grandeur of the university when he attacked Egypt in 1789 and looked highly upon the scholars of the institution. Believed to be played a vital role in Muhammad Ali’s effort to create a modern state, Al-Azhar produced some of the pioneers from an era of modern renaissance in Egypt like the leader of Orabi revolution, the leader of 1919 revolution and other prominent figures including Mohamed Abdu and Saad Zaghloul.
6. Sankore University, 16th century: A symbol for academic par excellence
Location: Timbuktu, Mali, West Africa
Also known as Sankore Masjid, the Sankore University was one of the three very popular centre of learning in Timbuktu, a hot seat for most foreign students. Consisting of various independent colleges and schools, the university never had student registers, central administration and even no prescribed courses.
The university mainly ran on the financial aid received from the Askia Dynasty, mainly a generous female figure from Mandika and Mansa Musa and became an elite institution in the field of religious and secular education. Renowned scholars from the university includes the notable historian Ahmed Baba
, Modibo Mohammed al-Kaburi, Mohammad Bagayogo as-Sudane and Ag Mohammed ibn Utman among others.
The magnificence of the university is best described in the words of Runoko Rashidi, a distinguished historian, “The collection of ancient manuscripts at the University of Sankore at Timbuktu leaves us in no doubt about the magnificence of the institution and permits us to reconstruct this side of her past in fairly intimate details.” It was the Moroccon invasion during 1950s that affected the glory of the university to a good extent.
7. University of Al-Karaouine, 9th century: The oldest continuously running higher learning centre in the world
Location: Fes, Morocco
University of Al-Karaouine was originally created by Fatime-Al-Fihri, a woman from Tunisia who used all her immense wealth to establish a mosque named Masjid Al-Karaouine which later became a respected centre for wide variety of studies like theology, mathematics, music and mathematics.
These 7 ancient higher-learning wonders have given birth to the idea of modern day universities; if you feel the list is incomplete and needs to be updated with many more that we are unaware of, please do mention and help us upgrade our knowledge!