A university is an institution of higher education and of research, which grants academic degrees. A university provides both tertiary and quaternary education. University is derived from the Latin universitas, meaning corporation (since the first medieval European universities were often groups of scholars-for-hire).



Because of the above definition, the oldest universities in the world were all European, as the awarding of academic degrees was not a custom of older institutions of learning in Asia and Africa. However, institutions of higher learning considerably older than the most ancient European universities existed in countries such as China, Egypt and India. Some of them are still in operation today.

The Academy, founded in 387 BC by the Greek philosopher Plato in the grove of Academos near Athens, taught its students philosophy, mathematics, and gymnastics, and is sometimes considered a forerunner of modern European universities. Other Greek cities with notable educational institutions include Kos (Hippocrates' home), which had a medical school, and Rhodes, which had philosophical schools. The most famous Ancient Greek "university" was the Museum and Library of Alexandria.

About a thousand years after Plato, institutions bearing a resemblance to the modern university existed in Persia and the Islamic world, notably the Academy of Gundishapur and later also Al Azhar university in Cairo. One of the most important Asian institutions resembling a university, next to the Persian Academy of Gundishapur, was Nalanda, in Bihar, India, where the second century Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna was based.

In the Carolingian period, a famous academy was created by Charlemagne for the purpose of educating the children of aristocrats to help train the professionals needed to run an empire. It was a foreshadow of the rise of the University in the 11th century.

The first European medieval universities were established in Bologna (Italy) and Paris (France) in the Middle Ages for the study of law, medicine, and theology.

In Europe young men proceeded to the university when they had completed the study of the trivium: the preparatory arts of grammar, rhetoric, and logic; and the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. See Degrees of Oxford University, 1 for the history of how the trivium and quadrivium developed in relation to degrees, especially in anglophone universities.

Universities are generally established by statute or charter. In the United Kingdom, for instance, a university is instituted by Act of Parliament or Royal Charter; in either case generally with the approval of Privy Council, and only such recognised bodies can award degrees of any kind.

In France, students can also attend Grandes coles, which are very prestigious and elitist schools, with small promotions—usually a couple hundred students—and very selective competitive exams at the entrance. There are Grandes coles for literature, business, and engineering. Formation provided in these schools is usually of a better level than the corresponding one in French universities. The system of the Grandes coles is particular to the French education system.

In the United States, universities are usually treated by the law as a corporation like any other, although many states impose special responsibilities to safeguard the welfare of a university's students. Because the American federal government does not directly organize or regulate universities, informal systems of accreditation have been developed by regional networks of academic institutions. The vast majority of private and public American universities are non-profit (meaning that excess tuition is plowed into providing higher quality of service), but starting in the 1970s, many for-profit colleges and universities were founded to take advantage of certain changes in the federal student assistance programs.

In the late 19th century, the U.S. Congress encouraged the creation of many land-grant universities.

In the last decades of the 20th century, a number of mega universities have been created, teaching with distance learning techniques.

Selective admissions

Unlike community colleges, enrollment at a university is generally not available to all. However, systems of selecting admitted vary strongly across the world.

In English-speaking countries, prospective university students typically apply for admission through a selective (and frequently arduous) process during their last year of high school or community college. Universities have formed non-profit organizations (or arranged for the formation of government agencies) to centralize the administration of standardized admission exams and the processing of applications.

Such organizations include:

See also: college admissions

By contrast, admission is administered differently elsewhere. For example, in Germany, prospective students who have passed the Abitur may decide freely what subjects to enroll in. However, in some popular subject fields such as medicine or business administration, students have to pass a certain numerus clausus, i.e. they need a minimum grade point average on their Abitur. Austria probably has the most liberal system of university admission anywhere in the world, as anyone who has passed the Matura may enroll in any subject field (or even several at no additional cost) at a public university. This has led to overcrowding and high dropout rates in the more popular fields of study, and high failure rates at exams which are inofficially used to filter out the less able among students.

Colloquial usage

Colloquially, the term university is used around the world for a phase in one's life: "when I was at university…"; in the United States, college is often used: "when I was in college…". See college, 3, for further discussion.

The usual practice in the United States today is to call an institution made up of several faculties and granting a range of higher degrees a "university" while a smaller institution only granting bachelor's or associate's degrees is called a "college". (See liberal arts colleges, community college). Nevertheless, a few of America's oldest and most prestigious universities, such as Boston College, Dartmouth College and the College of William and Mary, have retained the term "college" in their names for historical reasons though they offer a wide range of higher degrees.

See also

Related terms

academia - academic rank - academy - admission - alumnus - aula - Bologna process - business schools - Grandes coles - campus - college - college and university rankings - dean - degree - diploma - discipline - dissertation ( - faculty - fraternities and sororities - graduate student - graduation - lecturer - medieval university - mega university - perpetual student - professor - provost - rector - research - scholar - senioritis - student - tenure - tuition - universal access - university administration

External links

cs:Universita da:Universitet de:Universitt el:Πανεπιστήμιο es:Universidad eo:Universitato fr:Universit ga:Ollscoil gl:Universidade id:Universitas it:Universit he:אוניברסיטה la:Universitas hu:Egyetem nl:Universiteit ja:大学 no:Universitet pl:Uniwersytet pt:Universidade ru:Университет simple:University sk:Univerzita sl:Univerza fi:Yliopisto sv:Universitet tl:Unibersidad zh:大学 (教育)


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