The list of the oldest universities in Africa is quite a long one. Due to the continent’s history and culture, Africa is home to many ancient universities that have stood the test of time.
With Africa being a hub for education, there’s no shortage of opportunities to study. The oldest universities in Africa are some of the continent’s best-known institutions of higher education.
With over a century of tradition and experience, these schools have come to dominate their regions by offering top-class education, research opportunities, and learning facilities.
If you’re looking for a place to start, these 10 oldest universities in Africa should be on your radar.
- University of Al-Karaouine, 859AD
- Al-Azhar University, 859AD
- Fourah Bay College – University of Sierra Leone, 1827
- University of Cape Town, 1829
- University of Liberia, 1862
- Cairo University, 1908
- University of Algiers, 1909
- Makerere University, 1922
- University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1948
- University of Ghana, 1948
1. University of Al-Karaouine, 859AD
Fatima al-Fihri (the daughter of a wealthy merchant named Mohammed Al-Fihri) established the University of Al-Karaouine or Al-Qarawiyyin in 859AD, along with a madrasa.
This university is Africa’s first university and it is one of the Muslim world’s most important spiritual and educational hubs.
University of Al-Karaouine is not only one of the oldest universities in Africa but also the world’s oldest continually operating institution of higher learning and it is the world’s oldest continually operational degree-granting university, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Leo Africanus, Muhammad al-Idrisi (a geographer), and Maimonides, a Jewish philosopher, are just a few of the university’s prominent alumni.
2. Al-Azhar University, 972AD
The University of Al-Azhar” is Egypt’s oldest degree-granting university and also ranks second on the list of the oldest universities in Africa. The university is known as “Sunni Islam’s most distinguished university.” It is affiliated with the Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo.
Studies at Al-Azhar began during Ramadan in October 975 AD Ramadan, when Chief Justice Abul Hasan Ali ibn Al-No’man began teaching the Shiite jurisprudence text “Al-Ikhtisar.”
The Fatimids established it as a center of Islamic learning in 970 or 972, and its pupils studied the Qur’an and Islamic law in-depth, as well as logic, grammar, rhetoric, and how to calculate lunar phases.
It was one of the world’s first institutions, and the only one in the Arabic world, to survive as a modern university with a secular curriculum.
3. Fourah Bay College – University of Sierra Leone, 1827
Fourah Bay College is a public university in Freetown, Sierra Leone, located in the Mount Aureol district.
The Church Missionary Society founded Fourah Bay College, popularly known as the University of Sierra Leone, in 1827, making it the oldest university in West Africa and also the first western-style institution to be erected in the region.
It began as an Anglican missionary school, with the goal of training Africans to become schoolmasters, clerics, and catechists.
It is one of the University of Sierra Leone’s constituent colleges and several significant Sierra Leone politicians have attended the university, as well as numerous Ghanaians who played key roles in the country’s independence (Kojo Botsio, Casely Hayford).
Related article: 10 Best Universities in Africa
4. University of Cape Town, 1829
The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a public research university in Cape Town, South Africa and is located in the Western Cape province.
Together with Stellenbosch University, which obtained full university status on the same day in 1918, it is the oldest university in South Africa and the oldest existent university in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In the QS World University Rankings, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities, UCT is the highest-ranked African university, and its Law and Commerce Faculties are consistently ranked among the top hundred in the world.
As well as being on the list of the oldest universities in Africa, UCT was also named the best university in Africa for graduate employability.
Ralph Bunche, Max Theiler, and Allan McLeod Cormack are among notable alumni.
5. University of Liberia, 1862
The University of Liberia was founded in 1863 as Liberia College and became a university in 1951, after being authorized by the national government in 1851.
The school is one of West Africa’s oldest higher education institutions.
6. Cairo University, 1908
Egypt’s Cairo University was established on December 21, 1908. Previously, it was known as “Egyptian University” and then “Fuad University.”
In contrast to the religious institution of Al Azhar, Cairo University was formed as a European-inspired civil university, and it became the primary indigenous model for other state universities.
Cairo University is consistently regarded as one of Egypt’s best universities, one of Africa’s best universities and also one of the oldest universities in Africa.
7. University of Algiers, 1909
The University of Algiers arose from a number of higher-education institutions established in Algeria’s first university during French colonial control in the nineteenth century.
It is known as Mother University and is located in Algiers, Algeria’s capital.
8. Makerere University, 1922
Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda’s largest higher education institution, was founded in 1922 as a technical school.
It was renamed the University of East Africa in 1963, and it began offering courses leading to University of London general degrees.
When the University of East Africa was separated into three autonomous universities in 1970, the University of Nairobi (Kenya), the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), and Makerere University, it became an independent national university.
Makerere University now has nine colleges and one school, with over 36,000 undergraduates and 4,000 postgraduates enrolled in its programs.
9. University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1948
The Institution of Ibadan (UI) is the oldest university in Nigeria.
On campus, the institution has distinct botanical and zoological gardens, as well as residential and sporting facilities for staff and students.
Wole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, is a well-known Unibadan alumnus.
10. University of Ghana, 1948
The Institution of Ghana is the country’s oldest and largest public university, with about 40,000 students. It was granted full university status in 1961.
It was formerly an affiliate of the University of London, which supervised its academic programs and conferred degrees, and was formed in 1948 in the British colony of the Gold Coast as the University College of the Gold Coast.
The liberal arts, social sciences, law, basic science, agriculture, and medicine were originally prioritized.
The university’s curriculum was enlarged as part of a national educational reform effort to include additional technology-based and vocational courses, as well as postgraduate study.