The oldest universities in India that are still in operation have remained so, mainly because of their prestige that has made such educational institutions so much popular. Several universities were established prior to and during the period of British rule in India in the 19th century.
Did You Know?
The oldest university in the world was built in India in the fifth to the twelfth century CE. The former Nalanda University, primarily a Buddhist monastery that functioned as a university, was set up at the then Maghada (now Bihar). The old university of Nalanda site still lies in ruins located about 95 km (55 miles) southeast of Patna, the capital city of Bihar. In 2016, the ruins were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Likewise, several other educational institutes were established across the Indian sub-continent before any other country did. Some of the universities, which are more than 100 years old, still stand in glory and operate as prestigious educational institutes in the country.
Education in India – Then and Now
Long before the Islamic and the Western-style of education systems were introduced in India a few centuries ago, the country’s rich history in education can be dated back several thousand years. In ancient times, education in India was carried out in a manner by the priests and sages (called ‘Guru’), and they were acknowledged for their wisdom and teachings.
Back then, traditional learning included logic, duties, culture, religion, scriptures, Moksha (or enlightenment), training one’s body and mind through Yoga, and many other things that were of the essence. The well-acclaimed ‘gurus’ of that time taught subjects like philosophy, grammar, arts, crafts, medicine (Ayurveda), physics, and mathematics to the students.
In modern times, the education system in India follows the western learning approach, and on a broader scope. Languages and grammar to medicine, science and mathematics to technology, are taught at various universities in India. Today, many such universities also welcome foreign students from around the globe to take admissions to learn subjects and curriculums as per their aspirations. On the other hand, students from Indian universities after completing their education, go on to fulfil their careers and dreams in different parts of the world.
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Here, we’re going to share with you a list of some of the oldest universities in India that still remain in function, and where hundreds and thousands of students come to learn for their aspiring future in these educational institutions.
List of 20 Oldest Public & Private Universities in India
Below is the list (sorted in alphabetical order) of the twenty oldest universities in India. Many of these universities were established during the pre-independence era and today, are either government-owned or run by privately-held entities.
1. Aligarh Muslim University
Affiliations: UGC, NAAC, and AIU
Situated at Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was founded in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. AMU is one of the few institutions in India that was conferred with the prestigious Institute of National Importance (INI) provided under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution at its commencement. INI universities are considered to be at the forefront of developing highly skilled and creative thinkers.
In the beginning, AMU was under the affiliation of the University of Calcutta for the matriculation examination but became an affiliate of Allahabad University in the year 1885. In 1877, the school was upgraded to a college level and the foundation stone of the college building was laid by Lord Lytton.
This university has one of the biggest campuses in India. The institute offers more than 300 courses in various subjects.
2. Andhra University
Andhra University is situated in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. The then Maharajah of Jeypore (a town in Odisha state) Sri Vikram Dev Varma Bahadur, was the founding father of Andhra University and constituted by the Madras Act, of 1926. The university is also accredited by NAAC with ‘A’ Grade.
Andhra University is not only one of the oldest educational institutions in the country but also the first one that was conceived as a residential and co-educational university, mainly dedicated to postgraduate teaching and research. The first courses were Telugu language and literature, history, economics and politics. A year later, the College of Science and Technology appeared with honours courses in physics and chemistry. The University was the first to introduce many new courses for students in the fields of science, art, management and engineering.
The university currently has seven faculties in departments which include the Andhra University College of Arts and Commerce, Engineering, Engineering for Women, Law, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Science and Technology, and the Andhra University School of Distance Education, respectively.
3. Annamalai University
Affiliations: UGC, ACU, NBA, AIU, NAAC, AICTE, ICAR, NCTE, PCI, MCI, DCI, MOE, WES, and PCI
Annamalai University is situated in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. It is a public residential university and one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in India. It is also recognised for its participation in the Centre with Potential for Excellence in Particular Area (CPEPA) with a focus on drug development and climate change.
The university offers undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programmes to students. These degree and research programmes are available in various fields, such as Arts, Science, Engineering, Medical, Management, Humanities, Agriculture, and Physical Education. Additionally, the university also provides more than 500 courses through distance education.
Annamalai University is a member of the Association of Management Development Institutions in South Asia (AMDISA), an organisation that provides the South Asian Quality System (SAQS) Accreditation to Institutions.
4. Banaras Hindu University
Affiliations: ACU, UGC, NAAC, and AIU
The Banaras Hindu University (BHU) was established in the year 1916 in Banaras (now called Varanasi), Uttar Pradesh. The university was established by Madan Mohan Malaviya and today, it is honoured with the title of the largest residential university in Asia as it has over 30,000 students residing on its campus.
Many students from all over India come here for higher studies. In fact, it is the biggest when it comes to resident students. More than 20,000 students live and study here. Banaras, or Varanasi, itself is an important place politically as well as spiritually.
5. Delhi University
Affiliations: UGC, AIU, ACU, and Universitas 21
Delhi University (DU) is a Central Government-owned university in India that is accredited by NAAC and recognised as an Institute of Eminence (IoE) by the University Grants Commission (UGC). It is among the largest and most popular educational institutions in the city. The institute was renamed from the University of Delhi.
The university currently consists of 16 faculties, 86 academic departments and 91 constituent colleges offering multi-disciplinary degree programmes to undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral students.
6. Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith
Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith is a government-owned State University and is located in Varanasi (formerly Banaras), Uttar Pradesh. Prior to being converted into a university, the institute was called Kashi Vidyapith.In 1995, the institution was renamed Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith University, named after Mahatma Gandhi, who is known as the “Father of the Country” in India and the world, nicknamed “Bapuji”.
Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith university offers various professional and academic courses in the field of Arts, Science, Commerce, Agriculture Science, Law, Computing and Management.
The university currently has more than 400 affiliated colleges which are established throughout the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
7. Nalanda University
Affiliations: UGC, NAAC, and AIU
Technically, the university of Nalanda is considered the world’s oldest university in Indian history. The university was resurrected and is now known as Nalanda University. However, the age-old institute’s original site has now become a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. Therefore, we wanted to include the educational institute on this list.
Nalanda University located in Rajgir, Bihar, was established, or rather resurrected in the year 2010, following support from the participating member countries of the East Asia Summit (ASEAN countries) and by an Act of the Indian Parliament. The university is currently operating out of a temporary campus in Rajgir. The administrative office is located on the temporary campus of Rajgir. A group of outstanding intellectuals and scholars are at the helm of Nalanda University.
Nalanda is exclusively a graduate school, while also offering post-graduate (master’s) courses, and doctor of philosophy (PhD) programmes. Nalanda University has five functional Schools at present, which include the Schools for Historical Studies, Ecology and Environmental Studies, Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religion, Languages and Literature/Humanities, and Management Studies, respectively.
8. Osmania University
Affiliations: UGC, AIU, AICTE, and BCI
Osmania University (OU) located in Hyderabad in the present-day state of Telangana, is one of the oldest universities in India. The university is named after the then-last ruling Nizam (ruler) of the Princely state of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan.
It is one of the largest university systems in the world with affiliated colleges. Also, students from around the world take admitted to the university. The university consists of ten colleges offering courses in Arts and Social Sciences, Commerce and Business Management, Technology, Information Technology, Engineering, Law, Science, Medicine, Oriental Languages, Advanced Study in Education, and Physical Education, respectively.
Osmania University is accredited by NAAC with an ‘A’ Grade status. The university offers undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programmes in multi-disciplinary departments to the students.
9. Panjab University, Chandigarh
Affiliations: UGC, IAU, ACU, and AIU
Note: It is not a spelling mistake and is spelt “Panjab” rather than “Punjab” which is the name of the Indian state.
Panjab University (PU) located in the capital city and Union Territory Chandigarh, is listed among the oldest universities in India. The university was established in the year 1882. The three regional centres are divided into colleges of art, science, language, law, education, design and fine arts, business management and commerce, engineering and technology, hotel management and tourism, medicine and pharmaceutical sciences. There are also departments for Evening Studies and Distance Learning. Most departments have their own libraries.
The university has more than 75 departments of teaching and research. Also, it has 3 regional centres located in Muktsar, Ludhiana and Hoshiarpur cities and about 190 colleges under its affiliation.
10. Patna University
Patna University is one of India’s oldest and the first state university established in the state of Bihar. When Patna University was incorporated, its function was that of an affiliating and examining body for other educational institutions. Later, in the year 1952, the establishment was converted into a teaching-cum-residential university, and thus, renamed Patna University.
The university offers multi-disciplinary courses to undergraduate and postgraduate students. At present, Patna University has 30 departments consisting of eight faculties, namely Science, Humanities, Commerce, Social Sciences, Education, Law, Fine Arts and Medicine, respectively.
There is also a postal stamp issued in 2017 in the university’s honour with a picture of its building.
11. Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University
Affiliations: ACU, AIU, NAAC, NBA, and UGC
Formerly known as Nagpur University, the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University (RTMNU) is one of the oldest universities in India. The State University was named after Tukadoji Maharaj, a spiritual saint and social reformer in the state of Maharashtra. The name “Rashtrasant” is a nickname that was given to him.
RTMNU Faculties consist of multi-disciplinary departments which include Arts and Humanities, Science, Social Sciences, Home Science, Medicine, Commerce, Education, Engineering and Technology, Law, and Ayurveda (medicine). The university also consists of 39 Postgraduate Teaching Departments (PGTD), and three constituent colleges i.e., the Law College, College of Education, and the Laxminarayan Institute of Technology, respectively.
This university is also a member of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) and the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).
12. Senate of Serampore College (University)
Affiliations: Religious (Christianity)
The Senate of Serampore College (University) is among the oldest universities in India. The university was started in 1818 by Christian missionaries in Serampore, West Bengal, but was given the status of a university a few years later in 1829.
The university is currently limited only to offering a Theology degree programme to undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral students.
The Senate of Serampore College (University) is in charge of the academic management of all theological colleges affiliated with it. The Council of Serampore College holds a Danish charter and has the right to award degrees in any discipline. At present, it only awards theological degrees in accordance with the recommendations of the Senate.
13. University of Allahabad
Affiliations: UGC, AIU, ACU, and NAAC
The University of Allahabad situated in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, is one of the oldest public universities in India. The educational institute was established in the year 1887 by an act of Parliament and is recognised as an Institute of National Importance (INI).
The institute is also called the “Oxford of the East” due to its scholarly alumni and vast potential. Such outstanding personalities as Motilal Nehru, Chandra Sekhar, Madan Lal Khurana and Sayyid Nurul Hassan graduated from this university.
This leading institute covers such fields as art, science, commerce, law and medicine in its courses.
14. University of Calcutta
Affiliations: UGC, NAAC, AIU, and AICTE
The University of Calcutta was established in the year 1857 in Calcutta (now Kolkata), West Bengal. The university has a total of fourteen campuses spread over the city of Kolkata and its suburbs with 151 colleges and 21 institutes and centres that are affiliated with this university.
The university is at the forefront when it comes to higher studies. It was Asia’s first institution to be established as a multi-disciplinary and secular Western-style university. It is recognised as a “Five-Star University” in India and has been accredited “A” Grade by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). It has also been declared a “University with Potential for Excellence” and a “Centre with Potential for Excellence In Particular Area” by the University Grants Commission (UGC) within India.
The University of Calcutta has been associated with a few Nobel laureates, such as Ronald Ross, Rabindra Nath Tagore, C. V. Raman, and Amartya Sen.
15. University of Lucknow
The University of Lucknow is situated in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. People in the region also called the university Lucknow University, or simply, LU. The state university is the only institution in the region to have been accredited by NAAC with an ‘A++’ Grade status. It is also an affiliating university.
The university offers multi-disciplinary degree programmes to undergraduate, post-graduate and doctoral students. These degree programmes are divided into Faculties (further consisting of departments) such as Arts, Commerce, Science, Law, Fine Arts, Engineering, Yoga and Alternate Medicine, Ayurveda, Unani, Research & Development, and Physical Education, respectively.
The University of Lucknow has plans for offering vocational and skill development courses to students in the near future.
16. University of Madras
Affiliations: UGC, NAAC, and AIU
The University of Madras was set up in the year 1857 in the then Madras (now Chennai), Tamil Nadu. The university was integrated by an act passed by the Legislative Council of India. The university has been given a ‘Five-Star’ accreditation from NAAC and therefore, is one of the major centres of learning in Southern India.
Today, the University of Madras offers more than 233 courses through its 87 academic departments that are categorised under 19 schools. These departments cover different diverse fields like Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities, Management, Medicine etc. The university also has around 109 colleges under its affiliation.
The institute has six campuses throughout the city. They are located in Chepauk, Marina, Guindy, Taramani, Maduravoyala and Chetpet respectively. With six campuses and more than 100 colleges, this is one of the major centres of learning in Southern India. Affiliated colleges include Loyola College, Presidency College, and Queen Mary’s College are notable.
17. University of Mumbai
Affiliations: UGC, NAAC, and AIU
Being one of the major universities in India, the University of Mumbai (then Bombay) provides affiliation to more than 700 colleges across the country. It is also one of the largest educational institutes when it comes to the number of students studying here.
It is the oldest university in the state of Maharashtra and also one of the earliest state universities established in India. The courses offered by the University of Mumbai include Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral courses, as well as diplomas and certificates in many disciplines such as Arts, Commerce, Science, Medicine and Engineering.
The main campus of the University of Mumbai is situated at Kalina, Santa Cruz in Mumbai. However, its first campus was set up in South Mumbai, known as the Fort Campus. It is one of the first state universities in India and still caters to thousands of students.
18. University of Mysore
Affiliations: UGC, NAAC, and AIU
The University of Mysore was established in the year 1916 in Mysore (now called Mysuru), Karnataka. The University of Mysore was accredited “Grade A” by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).
The Maharaja of the former princely state of Mysore played an important role in the establishment of this university. Mysore University is famous for its library all over India. The Mysore University Library has more than 8,00,000 books, 2,400 journal titles, and over 1,00,000 volumes of journals.
19. University of Roorkee
Affiliations: UGC, NAAC, and AIU
The Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, formerly known as the University of Roorkee and the Thomason College of Civil Engineering, one of the oldest Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) was set up at Roorkee in the present-day state of Uttarakhand. It was not an IIT from the beginning, of course. But, the institute’s rich history contributes to its heritage and fame.
Post-independence, the university was renamed the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee (IIT-Roorkee) in 1949, as we know it today. This premier engineering college was given the status of an IIT to re-brand itself as a sought-after destination for engineering. Most applicants for engineering education are fighting for a place here. All IITs are managed centrally by the IIT Council, the highest body established by the Government of India.
20. Visva-Bharati University
Affiliations: UGC, AIU, and ACU
Visva-Bharati University is situated in Santiniketan town in the state of West Bengal. The university was founded by Rabindranath Tagore’s father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore in the year 1921. Rabindranath Tagore was an iconic poet, artist songwriter, social reformer, and Nobel prize winner in Literature, and had many more distinguishing attributes. He wrote the National Anthem Song of India, “Jana Gana Mana” which is held in high respect.
When it was founded in 1921, it was only a college at that time and was converted into a university in the year 1951, three years after India gained independence. The Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan is today, recognised as an Institution of National Importance (INI) and accredited by the NAAC. The university offers undergraduate (UG), postgraduate (PG), and doctoral (PhD) programmes in various disciplines to students.
There is also a postal stamp dated 1971 with a picture of Rabindranath Tagore alongside the university building (marking the celebration of its golden jubilee). The Visva-Bharati University is also open to visitors for sightseeing, where many come to pay their respects to the Tagore family, and the site still holds great historical value, even to this day.
The oldest universities of India listed above are among the prestigious educational institutes in the country.