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The ancient universities are British and Irish medieval universities and early modern universities founded before the year 1600. Four of these are located in Scotland, two in England, and one in Ireland. The ancient universities in Britain and Ireland are amongst the oldest extant universities in the world.


Foundation

The surviving ancient universities in England, Scotland and Ireland are, in order of formation: These universities are often governed in a quite different fashion to more recent foundations. The ancient universities of Scotland also share several distinctive features and are governed by arrangements laid down by the ''Universities (Scotland) Acts''. In addition to these universities, some now-defunct institutions were founded during this period, including the University of Northampton (1261–1265), the university or college at Stamford, Lincolnshire (1331?–1335), the university or college at Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire (1592–1605), and the college in Durham (1657–1660) founded under
Oliver Cromwell Oliver Cromwell (25 April 15993 September 1658) was an English politician and military officer who is widely regarded as one of the most important statesmen in History of England, English history. He came to prominence during the 1639 to 1651 ...

Oliver Cromwell
, for which a charter as a university was drawn up under Richard Cromwell but never sealed. There was also the medieval University of Dublin which was an early but largely unsuccessful attempt to establish a university in Dublin, the capital city of the
Lordship of Ireland
Lordship of Ireland
. Founded in 1320, it maintained an intermittent existence for the next two centuries, but it never flourished, and disappeared for good at the Reformation in Ireland (1534–41). It was located in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. It had no connection with the present University of Dublin, better known as Trinity College Dublin, which was founded in 1592 File:Clarendon Building, Oxford, England - May 2010.jpg,
University of Oxford The University of Oxford is a collegiate university, collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the List of oldest universit ...
File:20130808 Kings Back Court 02.jpg,
University of Cambridge The University of Cambridge is a Public university, public collegiate university, collegiate research university in Cambridge, England. Founded in 1209 and granted a royal charter by Henry III of England, Henry III in 1231, Cambridge is the world' ...
File:StAndrewsWedding 2013-08.jpg, University of St Andrews File:University of Glasgow Quadrangle.jpg, File:King's College Chapel, University of Aberdeen.jpg, University of Aberdeen File:Old College, University of Edinburgh (24923171570).jpg, File:Dublin - Trinity College Dublin - 20180925051055 (cropped).jpg, University of Dublin


Undergraduate Master of Arts degree

The ancient universities are distinctive in awarding the Magister Artium/Master of Arts (MA) as an undergraduate academic degree. This is commonly known as the Oxbridge MA, Trinity MA (Dublin), or the Scottish MA. The ancient universities in Scotland confer the MA degree at graduation with honours and a final mark; in contrast, the ancient universities in England and Ireland award the MA purely after a period of good standing following graduation as
Bachelor of Arts Bachelor of arts (BA or AB; from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known ...
, usually around three years. Because they award the MA as an undergraduate Arts degree, the ancient universities award differing titles for their postgraduate master's degrees in the Arts and Humanities, such as the taught Master of Letters ("MLitt (T)"). Some confusion can arise as to whether such degrees are taught degrees or the most established (and advanced) two-year research degrees, although this is often specified.


Acts of Parliament related to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge

While both universities received grants of liberties and privileges by royal charter, the charters granted to Cambridge in 1231 and to Oxford in 1248 being the earliest recorded on the Privy Councils list of chartered bodies, neither university was created or incorporated by royal charter. After existing for the first few centuries of their existence as common law corporations, they were formally incorporated by the Oxford and Cambridge Act 1571, under
Elizabeth I Elizabeth I (7 September 153324 March 1603) was List of English monarchs, Queen of England and List of Irish monarchs, Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death in 1603. Elizabeth was the last of the five House of Tudor monarchs and is ...
. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act 1859 repealed the parts of the 1571 act that required the mayor, aldermen, citizens or municipal officer of the City of Oxford to take any oath for the conservation of the liberties and privileges of the University of Oxford. In the 19th century a series of acts and commissions reduced the powers of the universities to make their own statutes. A Royal Commission in 1850 looked into both universities and proposed major reforms to their constitutions. These were enacted by the
Oxford University Act 1854 The Oxford University Act 185417 & 18 Vict c 81, sometimes called the Oxford University Reform Act 1854 or the University Reform Act 1854,Sabine Chaouche. Student Consumer Culture in Nineteenth-Century Oxford. Palgrave Macmillan. 2020p 231 Assoc ...
and the Cambridge University Act 1856. The Universities Tests Act 1871 removed almost all religious tests from both universities (and from Durham University). The Oxford and Cambridge Universities Act 1877 set up commissioners to look into further reform of the statutes of both universities and of their constituent colleges. Further Royal Commissions into both universities were established in 1919, resulting in the Oxford and Cambridge Universities Act 1923, setting up a commission to again make statutes and regulations for the universities and their colleges. This has resulted in there being two kind of statutes at these universities – those made by the universities themselves, which may be changed by them, and the "Queen-in-Council" statutes made under the 1923 act or the
Education Reform Act 1988 The Education Reform Act 1988 is widely regarded as the most important single piece of education legislation in England and Wales since the 'Butler' Education Act 1944. Provisions The main provisions of the Education Reform Act are as follows: ...
that can only be changed with permission from the Privy Council.


Universities (Scotland) Acts

As mentioned above, the Universities (Scotland) Acts created a distinctive system of governance for the ancient universities in Scotland, the process beginning with the 1858 Act and ending with the 1966 Act. Despite not being founded until after the first in these series of Acts, the
University of Dundee The University of Dundee; . Abbreviated as ''Dund.'' for post-nominals. is a public university, public research university based in Dundee, Scotland. It was founded as a University college#United Kingdom, university college in 1881 with a donation ...
shares all the features contained therein. As a result of these Acts, each of these universities is governed by a tripartite system of General Council, University Court, and Academic Senate. The
chief executive A chief executive officer (CEO), also known as a central executive officer (CEO), chief administrator officer (CAO) or just chief executive (CE), is one of a number of Corporate Executive, corporate executives charged with the management of an or ...
and chief academic is the University Principal who also holds the title of
Vice-Chancellor A chancellor is a leader of a college or university, usually either the executive or ceremonial head of the university or of a university campus within a university system. In most Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth and former Commonwealth n ...
as an
honorific An honorific is a title that conveys esteem, courtesy, or respect for position or rank when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term "honorific" is used in a more specific sense to refer to an honorary academic title. It ...
. The
Chancellor Chancellor ( la, cancellarius) is a title of various official positions in the governments of many nations. The original chancellors were the of Roman courts of justice—ushers, who sat at the or lattice work screens of a basilica or law cou ...
is a
titular Titular may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media * Title character in a narrative work, the character referred to in its title Religion * Titular (Catholicism), a cardinal who holds a titulus, one of the main churches of Rome ** Titular bisho ...
non-resident head to each university and is elected for life by the respective General Council, although in actuality a good number of Chancellors resign before the end of their 'term of office'. Each also has a
students' representative council {{Unreferenced, date=July 2014A students' representative council, also known as a students' administrative council, represents student interests in the government of a university A university () is an educational institution, institution of hig ...
as required by
statute A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislature, legislative authority that governs the legal entities of a city, State (polity), state, or country by way of consent. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare Public p ...
, although at the University of Aberdeen this has recently been renamed the ''Students' Association Council''.


Later universities

Following the creation of the ancient universities, no more universities were created in Britain and Ireland until the 19th century, when a number of universities and colleges were established. Which of these 19th-century institutions should be considered the earliest post-ancient university is a matter of debate. The main university-level foundations up to the mid 19th century were: * St David's College, Lampeter by the
Bishop of St David's The Bishop of St Davids is the Ordinary (officer), ordinary of the Church in Wales Diocese of St Davids. The succession of bishops stretches back to Saint David who in the 6th century established his seat in what is today the St Davids, city of ...
in 1822 (royal charter 1828), *
University College London University College London, which Trade name, operates as UCL, is a Public university, public research university in London, United Kingdom. It is a Member institutions of the University of London, member institution of the Federal university, fe ...
as a
joint stock company A joint-stock company is a business entity in which shares of the company's capital stock, stock can be bought and sold by shareholders. Each shareholder owns company stock in proportion, evidenced by their share (finance), shares (certificates ...
in 1826 under the name "London University" (royal charter as University College, London 1836) *
King's College London King's College London (informally King's or KCL) is a public university, public research university located in London, England. King's was established by royal charter in 1829 under the patronage of George IV of the United Kingdom, King G ...
by royal charter in 1829 *
Durham University Durham University (legally the University of Durham) is a collegiate university, collegiate public university, public research university in Durham, England, Durham, England, founded by an Act of Parliament in 1832 and incorporated by royal charte ...
by
act of parliament Acts of Parliament, sometimes referred to as primary legislation, are texts of law passed by the legislative body of a jurisdiction (often a parliament or council). In most countries with a parliamentary system of government, acts of parliame ...
in 1832 (royal charter 1837) *
University of London The University of London (UoL; abbreviated as Lond or more rarely Londin in post-nominals) is a federal public research university located in London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city o ...
by royal charter in 1836 *Queen's College Belfast (now,
Queen's University Belfast Queen's University Belfast, officially The Queen's University of Belfast (commonly referred to as Queen's and QUB), is a Public university, public research university in Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. The university received its charter ...
), Queen's College Cork (now
University College Cork University College Cork – National University of Ireland, Cork (UCC) ( ga, Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh) is a constituent university of the National University of Ireland, and located in Cork (city), Cork. The university was founded in 1 ...
) and Queen's College Galway (now NUI Galway) by royal charters in 1845 *
Bedford College, London file:Bedford College in York place - photographer is unknown but guess 1908.png, Bedford College was in York Place after 1874 Bedford College was founded in London in 1849 as the first higher education college for education of women, women in th ...
founded by Elizabeth Jesser Reid in 1849 and the first institution of higher learning for women in the British Isles; now part of
Royal Holloway, University of London Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), formally incorporated as Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, is a public university, public research university and a constituent college of the federal University of London. It has six schools, ...
*
Queen's University of Ireland The Queen's University of Ireland was established formally by Royal Charter on 3 September 1850, as the degree-awarding university of the ''Queen's Colleges'' of Queen's College, Belfast, Belfast, Queen's College, Cork, Cork, and Queen's Colle ...
by royal charter in 1850, with the above Queen's Colleges as constituent institutions * Catholic University of Ireland in 1851 (royal charter as
University College Dublin University College Dublin (commonly referred to as UCD) ( ga, Coláiste na hOllscoile, Baile Átha Cliath) is a public research university in Dublin, Ireland, and a collegiate university, member institution of the National University of Ireland ...
1908) *Owens College Manchester in 1851, now the
University of Manchester The University of Manchester is a public university, public research university in Manchester, England. The main campus is south of Manchester city centre, Manchester City Centre on Wilmslow Road, Oxford Road. The university owns and operates majo ...
(via the
Victoria University of Manchester The Victoria University of Manchester, usually referred to as simply the University of Manchester, was a university A university () is an educational institution, institution of higher education, higher (or Tertiary education, tertiary) educat ...
) Only Durham, London and the Queen's University of Ireland were recognised as universities at the time of their foundation, granting their first degrees in 1837, 1839 and 1851 respectively. Durham was a collegiate university, London was an examining board, and the Queen's University was a federal university. The other institutions, while teaching at university level, were colleges, some becoming universities later. In addition, many other universities trace their roots to institutions founded in this period, including the
University of Strathclyde The University of Strathclyde ( gd, Oilthigh Shrath Chluaidh) is a public university, public research university located in Glasgow, Scotland. Founded in 1796 as the Andersonian Institute, it is Glasgow's second-oldest university, having recei ...
to the Andersonian Institute (1796),
Heriot-Watt University Heriot-Watt University ( gd, Oilthigh Heriot-Watt) is a Public university, public research university based in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was established in 1821 as the School of Arts of Edinburgh, the world's first mechanics' institute, and subsequ ...
to the School of Arts of Edinburgh (1821),
Birkbeck, University of London Birkbeck, University of London (formally Birkbeck College, University of London), is a public university, public research university, located in Bloomsbury, London, England, and a constituent college, member institution of the federal Universit ...
to the London Mechanics' Institute (1823), and the
University of Manchester The University of Manchester is a public university, public research university in Manchester, England. The main campus is south of Manchester city centre, Manchester City Centre on Wilmslow Road, Oxford Road. The university owns and operates majo ...
(via
UMIST The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) was a university based in the centre of the city of Manchester in England. It specialised in technical and scientific subjects and was a major centre for research. On 1 Oct ...
) to the Manchester Mechanics Institute (1824). Many medical schools also date from the 18th century or earlier, including
St Thomas's Hospital Medical School St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in London was one of the oldest and most prestigious medical schools in the UK. The school was absorbed to form part of King's College London. History It was part of one of the oldest hospitals in London, St ...
(now part of
King's College London King's College London (informally King's or KCL) is a public university, public research university located in London, England. King's was established by royal charter in 1829 under the patronage of George IV of the United Kingdom, King G ...
) between 1693 and 1709,
St George's, University of London St George's, University of London (legally St George's Hospital Medical School, informally St George's or SGUL), is a University located in Tooting in South London and is a constituent college of the University of London. St George's has its o ...
in 1733,
Middlesex Hospital Medical School Middlesex Hospital was a teaching hospital located in the Fitzrovia area of London, England. First opened as the Middlesex Infirmary in 1745 on Windmill Street, it was moved in 1757 to Mortimer Street where it remained until it was finally clos ...
(now part of University College London) in 1746, London Hospital Medical College (now part of
Queen Mary, University of London , mottoeng = With united powers , established = 1785 – The London Hospital Medical College1843 – St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College1882 – Westfield College1887 – East London College/Queen Mary College , type = Public resea ...
) in 1786. The redbrick universities were established as university colleges in the latter half of the 19th century and mostly became universities in the early 20th century. The
Royal University of Ireland The Royal University of Ireland was founded in accordance with the ''University Education (Ireland) Act 1879'' as an examining and degree-awarding university based on the model of the University of London. A Royal Charter was issued on 27 Apri ...
(1881, as the successor of the Queen's University of Ireland), the Victoria University (1881), the
University of Wales The University of Wales (Welsh language, Welsh: ''Prifysgol Cymru'') is a confederal university based in Cardiff, Wales. Founded by royal charter in 1893 as a federal university with three constituent colleges – Aberystwyth, Bangor and Cardiff ...
(1893) were the only other universities established in the 1800s, all as federal or examining universities. The first unitary university in the British Isles outside of Scotland was the
University of Birmingham The University of Birmingham (informally Birmingham University) is a Public university, public research university located in Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom. It received its royal charter in 1900 as a successor to Queen's College, Birmingha ...
(1900).


References

{{authority control Ancient history * Universities and colleges in the United Kingdom