What are the UK's ancient universities?

Which are the ancient universities?

The ancient universities of the UK are universities founded before the year 1600. Two of these universities are located in England and four in Scotland. They have traditionally had a strong focus on highly academic, often theoretical, subjects such as: pure sciences, philosophy, and theology. Also, the universities feature some iconic buildings from medieval times, e.g, the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library features a building from the 15th century which houses over 12m printed items and the University of Cambridge’s King’s College Building contains some of the earliest patterned brickwork in the country.

All the ancient universities have excellent academic reputations and rank highly in university league tables. Four of the universities are members of the Russell Group and two are not (the University of Aberdeen and University of St Andrews), however, they too have strong academic reputations. Furthermore, except the University of Aberdeen which is ranked 158th in the world according to the Times Higher Education World University rankings 2022, all the ancient universities rank within the top 100 universities in the world.

Oxford and Cambridge universities have what is called a ‘collegiate system’. This basically means that each university is divided into a number of colleges where students live. They can be likened to halls of residence as they have bedrooms, bars, common rooms and libraries. However, teaching is often done at the respective departments, not at the colleges. You can learn more about the collegiate system by having a look at our blog on the University of Cambridge colleges.

Here’s a list of the UK’s ancient universities by order of formation:

University of Oxford (Founded 1096)

The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. The university has ranked 1st in the world according to the Times Higher Education World University rankings for the fifth year running.

University of Cambridge (Founded 1209)

The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 and is the 4th oldest university in the world and the second oldest in the English-speaking world.

University of St Andrews (Founded 1413)

It is located in the small town of St Andrews off the east coast of Scotland. It is the oldest university in Scotland, the third oldest in the UK and also the third oldest in the English-speaking world.

University of Glasgow (1451)

It was founded in 1451 and is the 4th oldest in the English-speaking world. It is amongst the world's top 100 universities according to the Times Higher Education World University rankings 2022.

University of Aberdeen (Founded 1495)

The University of Aberdeen was founded in 1495 and is the 3rd oldest university in Scotland and the 5th oldest in the English-speaking world.

University of Edinburgh (Founded 1583)

The University of Edinburgh, which was founded in 1583, is one of the top Russel Group universities in Scotland.

Are the ancient universities better than the others?

There is no doubt that the six ancient universities of the UK are some of the world’s most renowned (including Oxford and Cambridge, as well as other prestigious Russell Group universities including the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow). However, it is also important to recognise that some much newer universities often rank more highly than some of the ancient universities. Whilst Oxford and Cambridge always tend to rank top in the UK and globally, universities such as Imperial College London, University College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science (which are not ancient universities) are often ranked in the top five.

If you are considering applying to one of the UK’s ancient universities, get in touch with our team who will be able to assist you!

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Haider Shah
Haider is a graduate in business management and has a strong interest in written content creation
Published on 3 February 2022
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