The 10 Oldest Universities in Africa

When you think of what Africans were doing in the 1700s, one might picture the continent as a patchwork of huts, and uncivilized people living in caves. After all, this was a period when European nations have almost complete control over the continent, but even before this period, several universities have existed on the continent.

Here are some of the oldest universities in Africa with some of them dating back centuries before the middle ages in Europe.

10. University of Algiers (1909)

Located in Algiers, Algeria, the University of Algiers was established in 1909. It stemmed out of different higher education institutions created in the 19th century under French colonial rule. Today it is organized into seven faculties. There were some 30 indigenous Algerian students back in 1914. The university currently tutors more than 100,000 students in law, medicine, and Islamic sciences.

9. Cairo University (1908)

Located in Giza, Egypt, the University of Cairo was established in 1908. Its student population is about 280,000 students and has 18 faculties.

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8. University of Khartoum (1902)

University of Khartoum (UofK) was founded as Gordon Memorial College in 1902 and established in 1956 when Sudan gained independence. It is the largest and oldest university in Sudan.

7. Stellenbosch University (1866)

The university’s origin can be taken back to the Stellenbosch Gymnasium, which opened in 1866.  It became the Stellenbosch College in 1881. In April 1918, it was awarded university status and became Stellenbosch University. Its student population stands at 30,000. Located in Stellenbosch, South Africa this university was the first African university to sign the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities.

6. University of Liberia (1862)

Authorized by the national government in 1851, the University of Liberia opened in 1863 as Liberia College and became a university in 1951. The school is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in West Africa.

5. University of Cape Town (1829)

The University of Cape Town located in Cape Town, South Africa is without doubt one of Africa’s oldest universities. It currently admits about 27,000 students.

4. Fourah Bay College (1827)

Fourah Bay College, also referred to as the University of Sierra Leone, was established by the Church Missionary Society in 1827.  It started as an Anglican missionary school to train Africans as schoolmasters, clergymen, and catechists.

3. Sankore University, Timbuktu (1300)

Sankore University was founded by Mansa Musa, and unlike most modern universities there were no organized courses of study. Instead, the university primarily focused on the study of the Quran and other Islamic subjects. Other academic subjects such as medicine and surgery, anatomy, botany, evolution, physiology and zoology, astronomy, anthropology, cartography, geodesy, geology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, philosophy, language and linguistics, geography, history, as well as art were also thought.

At its peak, the university of Sankore boasted up to 25,000 students out of a total city population of 100,000.

2. Al-Azhar University (970 AD)

Al-Azhar University is Egypt’s oldest university and is located in Cairo, Egypt. Currently, more than 90,000 students are enrolled there.

1. University of Al Quaraouiyine (856 AD)

Located in Fes. Morocco, the University of Al-Karaouine or Al-Qarawiyyin is said to be the oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning not just in Africa but also in the world. It was founded in 856 AD and is one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world.


A writer! Columnist and an academic researcher
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