The 10 Oldest Universities in Africa

al-azhar university, oldest universities in Africa

Africa is home to several ancient and prestigious universities with a rich academic excellence history. We highlight the 10 oldest universities in Africa, their year of establishment, and some of their notable alumni.

1. University of Al-Karaouine

university of al-karaouineLocation: Fes, Morocco

Established in: 859 AD

The University of Al-Karaouine or Al-Qarawiyyin was founded by Fatima al-Fihri (the daughter of a wealthy merchant named Mohammed Al-Fihri) in 859 with an associated madrasa. It is the first university in Africa.

It is one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world and is considered the oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning in the world.

The University of Al-Karaouine is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest continuously operating, degree-granting university.

The university can boast of notable alumni such as Leo Africanus, Muhammad al-Idrisi (a geographer), and the Jewish philosopher, Maimonides.

2. Al-Azhar University

al-azhar universityLocation: Cairo, Egypt

Established in: 972 AD

The University of Al-Azhar” is a university associated with Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo, it is Egypt’s oldest degree-granting university and is renowned as “Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university”.

Studies began in Al-Azhar in Ramadan by October 975 AD, when Chief Justice Abul Hasan Ali ibn Al-No’man started teaching the book “Al-Ikhtisar”, on the Shiite jurisprudence.

See Also: Top 10 Universities in Africa

Founded in 970 or 972 by the Fatimids as a center of Islamic learning, its students studied the Qur’an and Islamic law in detail, along with logic, grammar, rhetoric, and how to calculate the phases of the moon.

It was one of the first universities in the world, and the only one in the Arabic world to survive as a modern university including secular subjects in the curriculum.

Today it is the chief center of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world. In 1961 additional non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum. As a result, it is considered that it became a modern university in that year (1961).

Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa studied Business at Al-Azhar.

3. Fourah Bay College – University of Sierra Leone

Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone

Location: Freetown, Sierra Leone

Established in: 1827

Fourah Bay College is a public university in the neighborhood of Mount Aureol in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Founded on 18 February 1827, it is the oldest university in West Africa and the first western-style university built in West Africa. It is a constituent college of the University of Sierra Leone.

The university can boast of several important Sierra Leone politicians and some Ghanaians who played important roles in Ghana’s independence (Kojo Botsio, Casely Hayford).

4. University of Cape Town

university of cape town

Location: Cape Town, South Africa

Established in: 1829

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a public research university located in Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

UCT was founded in 1829 as the South African College making it the oldest higher education institute in South Africa.

It is jointly the oldest university in South Africa and the oldest extant university in Sub-Saharan Africa alongside Stellenbosch University which received full university status on the same day in 1918.

UCT is the highest-ranked African university in the QS World University Rankings, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities, and its Law and Commerce Faculties are consistently placed among the hundred best internationally.

UCT was also recently ranked as the best university in Africa when it comes to graduate employability.

Notable alumni are Ralph Bunche, Max Theiler, Allan McLeod Cormack, Aaron Klug, and Professor Emeritus J. M. Coetzee…all are Nobel Prize winners for amazing works in their various fields.

5. Cairo University

cairo universityLocation: Giza, Egypt

Established in: 1908

Cairo University in Egypt was founded on Dec. 21, 1908. It was previously “Egyptian University” and later ”Fuad University”.

Cairo University was founded as a European-inspired civil university, in contrast to the religious university of Al Azhar, and became the prime indigenous model for other state universities.

Cairo University is usually ranked among the top universities in Egypt, and one of the top universities in Africa.

Cairo University notable alumni include Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Saddam Hussein, Mohamed Morsi, Naguib Mahfouz (Nobel prize winner), Yasser Arafat (Nobel Peace Prize winner), Mohamed ElBaradei (Nobel Peace Prize winner), and Taher Elgamal, designer of the ElGamal encryption system and considered “Father of SSL“.

6. University of Algiers

University of Algiers

Location: Algiers, Algeria

Established in: 1909

The University of Algiers stemmed from various higher-education institutions created in the 19th century under the French colonial rule in Algeria’s 1st University.

It is called Mother university and is situated in the capital of Algeria, Algiers.

Some notable alumni of the University of Algiers include Albert Camus, Elias Zerhouni, and Lakhdar Brahimi.

7. Makerere University

Makerere University

Location: Kampala, Uganda

Established in: 1922

Makerere University, Kampala is Uganda’s largest institution of higher learning, first established as a technical school in 1922.

In 1963, it became the University of East Africa, offering courses leading to general degrees from the University of London.

It became an independent national university in 1970 when the University of East Africa was split into three independent universities: the University of Nairobi (Kenya), the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), and Makerere University.

Today, Makerere University is composed of nine colleges and one school offering programs for about 36,000 undergraduates and 4,000 postgraduates.

Makerere University boasts of several political figures who served their country, Uganda, and other African leaders such as Mwai Kibaki, Joseph Kabila, Benjamin Mkapa, and Julius Nyerere.

8. University of Ghana

university of ghana campusLocation: Legon – Accra, Ghana

Established in: 1948

The University of Ghana is the oldest and largest of the many Ghanaian public universities and gained full university status in 1961, and now has nearly 40,000 students.

It was founded in 1948 in the British colony of the Gold Coast, as the University College of the Gold Coast, and was originally an affiliate of the college of the University of London, which supervised its academic programs and awarded degrees.

The original emphasis was on the liberal arts, social sciences, law, basic science, agriculture, and medicine.

However, as part of a national educational reform program, the university’s curriculum was expanded to provide more technology-based and vocational courses as well as postgraduate training.

It also has a graduate school of nuclear and Allied Sciences at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, making it one of the few universities on the Africa continent offering programs in nuclear physics and nuclear engineering.

Notable alumni include 3 presidents of Ghana, Akua Kuenyehia, Komla Dumor, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, etc.

See also: 10 of the Most Successful University of Ghana Alumni

9. University of Ibadan

University of IbadanLocation: Ibadan, Nigeria

Established in: 1948

The University of Ibadan (UI) is the oldest Nigerian university and is located five miles (8 kilometers) from the center of the major city of Ibadan in Western Nigeria. It is popularly known as Unibadan or UI.

The university has residential and sports facilities for staff and students on campus, as well as separate botanical and zoological gardens.

One most popular Unibadan alumni are Wole Soyinka, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature.

10. University of Zimbabwe

university of Zimbabwe

Location: Harare, Zimbabwe

Established in: 1952

The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in Harare, is the oldest and top-ranked university in Zimbabwe. It was founded through a special relationship with the University of London and it opened its doors to its first students in 1952.

The main campus of the University of Zimbabwe is located in the Mount Pleasant suburb in northern Harare.

The major satellite campus is the Medical School campus at Parirenyatwa Hospital in central Harare. It houses the College of Health Sciences.

Additional university properties within Harare include blocks of flats for staff and student housing in Avondale, the Avenues, and Mount Pleasant.

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  1. This list is not correct.

    It omits several universities in South Africa that were founded well before the University of Zimbabwe – eg the Universities of Pretoria, the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch and Natal, and I’m sure there were many older universities in other countries that were founded before 1952.

  2. The University of the Witwatersrand, was established in 1922 and is currently in its Centenary year.
    “It is more commonly known as Wits University or Wits. The university has its roots in the mining industry, as do Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand in general. Founded in 1896 as the South African School of Mines in Kimberley, it is the third oldest South African university in continuous operation.

    The university has an enrolment of 40,259 students as of 2018, of which approximately 20 percent live on campus in the university’s 17 residences.”

    Nobel Prize winning Alumni are Aaron Klug, Nelson Mandela, Sydney Klug and Sydney Brenner. Other Notable alumni are Patrick Soon-Shiong, Dikgang Moseneke, Patrice Motsepe, Adrian Gore and Maria Ramos.


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