Legacy means a lot in the academic world, and the UK is blessed with some of the finest – and oldest – universities in the world.

For centuries, these centres of higher education have been churning out some of the most influential figures in British history, from the great minds of Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, to literary geniuses such as Oscar Wilde and J. R. R. Tolkien.

With such incredible pedigree, it’s little wonder that 2.4 million students flock to the UK every year to study at its universities. We’ve taken a look at the mind-boggling history behind 10 of the oldest universities in the UK.


1. University of Oxford (1096)

Out in front by a country mile is the University of Oxford – and it’s not even close. In fact, it’s so old that we aren’t even sure exactly when it was founded. All we know is that teaching has been taking place on the site of the university since at least 1096, which makes it the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Explore many of its iconic colleges on our fantastic tour of Oxford & Cambridge universities.

2. University of Cambridge (1209)

The University of Cambridge; Oxford’s age-old adversary and the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world. The intense rivalry between the two stretches back centuries, and legend has it that this world-famous university was founded by a group of rebel Oxford scholars – the rest, as they say, is history.

3. University of St Andrews (1413)

St Andrew’s University is the oldest in Scotland and was founded way back in 1410 by an Augustian community who wanted to study advanced topics. It has three colleges and a beautiful historic campus that makes students feel like they’re studying at Hogwarts. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful institutions on our list.

4. University of Glasgow (1451)

The University of Glasgow was opened in 1451 by papal charter as an addition to the city’s cathedral. It played a key role during the Scottish Enlightenment during the 18th century and is one of the few universities still offering undergraduate Masters degrees. Glasgow has always catered to a variety of uncommon subjects making it one of the best Universities in the UK. 

5. University of Aberdeen (1495)

Another oldie but goodie is Aberdeen in Scotland. It was founded as a law school in 1495 but under a different name – The University and King’s College of Aberdeen. The campus was modelled after Parisian universities and has a gorgeous crown building in the King’s College area. This ancient institution later merged with Marischal College to become the University of Aberdeen as we know it today.

6. University of Edinburgh (1583)

Since it’s opening in 1582, Edinburgh University has gone from strength to strength, becoming one of the best institutions in the country.  With many main buildings in the central old town of the city, it’s architecture offers a nice mix of old and new. The city and University have a long-standing reputation for literature, with many prizes and awards being founded at Edinburgh. Edinburgh is the perfect launching point if you’re looking to explore the rest of Scotland, so this is an easy one to visit.

7. University of Manchester (1824)

As a member of the famed Russell Group of universities, Manchester has always been an institution of high regard. However, it hasn’t always been a single university. Before 2014, it was the Victoria University of Manchester and had existed since 1851. A merger with the Royal School of Medicine and Surgery made Manchester one of the most successful institutions in the North of England. With 25 Nobel prize winners, the University has become a popular place to study. 

8. University College London ‘UCL’ (1826)

Consistently ranked as one of the best universities in the world, UCL was originally founded in 1826 under the name of London University as a secular alternative to the intensely religious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Resistance from the Church of England and uppity existing universities meant it had to wait until 1836 until it could legally submit students for degree exams.

9. Durham University (1832)

Durham University is consistently ranked as one of the best universities in the UK, and more than holds its ground on the world stage. Upon opening, it was the first recognised university to open in England for more than 600 years and its campus sits on and around a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unsurprisingly, it’s History Department is one of the best in the country.

10. Aberystwyth University (1872)

Affectionately known as the ‘People’s University’, Aberystwyth is – incredibly – built on the site of an incomplete hotel, which was purchased from the local railway contractor and converted into a university. Upon opening in 1872, it welcomed 26 students and today is home to more than 8,000 students from around the world.