University education was invented some 1, 000 years ago in Africa. While this claim might appear outrageous, Africa, the birthplace of humanity and a cradle of human civilisation has substantially contributed to higher education.
Some of her institutions date back to 859 AD and are spread across the continent. Africa takes pride in having some of the world’s oldest educational institutions, not just on the continent.
Here are some of Africa’s oldest universities.
1. Al Quaraouiyine University, Morocco (859 AD)
Fatima al-Fihri, a Tunisian-born woman, founded the university in Fez, Morocco, in 859 A.D., making it the world’s oldest higher education institution and the first to be founded by a woman and a Muslim. Fatima founded the university with money she inherited from her wealthy merchant father.
It began as a natural science university, but in 1957 it expanded to include mathematics and foreign languages. The Guinness Book of World Records considers this university to be the world’s oldest continuously operating degree-granting university.
2. Al-Azhar University, Egypt (970 AD)
Al-Azhar Al-Sharif was founded in 970 AD in Cairo, Egypt, and despite not gaining university status until 1961; it is still considered one of the world’s oldest universities.
It has been a highly respected centre of Islamic learning for over a millennium and began as a “madrasa,” teaching students from primary to tertiary level. The Shi’ite Fatimid Dynasty founded the mosque in Cairo’s medieval quarter in 970 AD, and it was formally organized by 988 AD.
The university aspires to be the world leader in providing true Islamic philosophy based on tolerance, merit, and excellence in university education and scientific research.
3. Sankore University, Mali (989 AD)
The University of Timbuktu is also known as the ‘University of Sankore,’ as there are two other universities in Timbuktu, ‘Jingaray Ber’ and ‘Sidi Yahya’. The University of Sankore is housed within the Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu’s North East district.
The Sankore Mosque was built in 989 CE by Timbuktu’s learned chief judge, Al-Qadi Aqib ibn Mahmud ibn Umar. He built the mosque’s inner court to the exact dimensions of the Ka’abah in Makkah. A wealthy Mandinka lady endowed Sankore University, elevating it to the forefront of education. The Sankore University flourished and rose to prominence in the Muslim world, particularly during the reigns of Mansa Musa (1307-1332) and the Askia Dynasty (1493-1591).
4. Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone (1827)
Fourah Bay College is a public university in the Mount Aureol neighbourhood of Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was founded on February 18, 1827, and is the first western-style university in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The University of Sierra Leone is made up of three colleges, including Fourah Bay College. It is Sierra Leone’s first and oldest college, founded in 1827 by missionaries to train teachers and evangelists. It became affiliated with Durham University in the United Kingdom in 1867 and remained so until 1966 when it became an independent university.
5. University of Cape Town (1829)
The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a public research university in Cape Town, South Africa’s Western Cape province. UCT, which began as the South African College in 1829, is the oldest university in South Africa and the second oldest western-styled university in Africa.
6. University of Liberia (1862)
The University of Liberia began as Liberia College in 1862 and became a full university in 1951. It is a public institution primarily supported by the Liberian government. Capitol Hill, Fendall, Medical School Fendall, and the Starz-Sinji campus in Sinji, Grand Cape Mount County are now the University’s four campuses.
7. University of South Africa (1873)
The University of South Africa (or Unisa as it is commonly known) was founded in 1873 as the University of the Cape of Good Hope and spent most of its early history as an examining agency for Oxford and Cambridge universities as well as an incubator from which most other universities in South Africa descended.