Early institutions

In ancient China, there were a number of institutions of higher learning that vaguely resembled universities in the Western sense of the word. It is reputed that an education system had been established before 21st century BC in China and a higher learning institution named Shangyang (Shang means high and Yang means school) had been established by Shun (about 2255 BCÐ2205 BC) during the Youyu period. The higher learning institution may be the origination of the central imperial school, which was called Dongxu in Xia Dynasty (2205 BCÐ1766 BC), Youxue in Shang Dynasty (1766 BC - 1046 BC), Dongjiao and later Piyong in Zhou Dynasty (1046 BCÐ249 BC), Taixue in Han Dynasty (202 BCÐ220 AD), and Guozijian from Sui dynasty to Qing dynasty. Nanjing University traces its history back to the imperial central school at Nanjing founded in 258 and the Imperial Nanjing University became the first comprehensive institution as a combination of education and research consisted of five faculties in 470. Generally in a single dynasty there was only one imperial central school which was always located in the capital city and was the highest institution of learning of the nation. There were regional schools since 2nd BC in Han dynasty and later in every county-level and above district there was a prefecture school. Shuyuan emerged in 8th century in Tang Dynasty was another kind of institutions of learning. They were generally privately owned, and some were partly aided by governments. There were thousands of Shuyuan recorded in history, and the degree of them varied from one to another. The advanced Shuyuan such as Yuelu Shuyuan and Bailudong Shuyuan can be taken as higher institutions of learning. Other countries in East Asia such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam shared the same educational system and Shuyuan were also established in these countries. The early Chinese state depended upon literate, educated officials for operation of the empire, and an imperial examination was established in the Sui Dynasty (581Ð618) for evaluating and selecting officials from the general populace.

The ancient cities of Takshashila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, and Kanchipuram in ancient India were greatly reputed centres of learning in the east, with students from all over Asia. In particular, Nalanda was a famous center of Buddhist scholarship, and as such it attracted thousands of Buddhist scholars from China, East Asia, Central Asia and South-East Asia, while also attracting many students from Persia and the Middle East.

The awarding of aic titles was not a custom of other educational institutions at the time but ancient institutions of higher learning also existed in China (Academies (Shuyuan)), Greece (the Academy), and Persia (Academy of Gundishapur)

The School, founded in 387 BC by the Greek philosopher Plato in the grove of Academos near Athens, taught its students philosophy, mathematics, and gymnastics, and is sometimes considered to resemble a university. Other Greek cities with notable educational institutions include Kos (the home of Hippocrates), which had a medical school, and Rhodes, which had philosophical schools. Another famous classical institution was the Museum and Library of Alexandria.



Raphael's School of Athens

Institutions bearing a resemblance to the modern university also existed in Persia and the Islamic world prior to Al-Azhar University, most notably the Academy of Gundishapur.

In the Carolingian period, Charlemagne created a type of academy, called the palace or court school (schola palatina), in Aachen, a city in present-day Germany. Another school, nowadays embodied by the Brexgata University Academy, was founded in the year 798 by Carolingian leaders. It was situated near Noyon, a city in present-day France. From a broader perspective it was the scholars, the aristocrats, the clergymen, and Charlemagne himself, who shared a vision of educating the population in general, and of training the children of aristocrats in how to manage their lands and protect their states against invasion or squandering. These initiatives were a foreshadowing of the rise, from the 11th century onward, of universities in Western Europe.

In Mali, West Africa, the celebrated Islamic University of Sankore (established 989 C.E.) had no central administration; rather, it was composed of several entirely independent schools or colleges, each run by a single master (scholar or professor). The courses took place in the open courtyards of mosque complexes or private residences. The primary subjects were the QurÕan, Islamic studies, law and literature. Other subjects included medicine and surgery, astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, philosophy, language and linguistics, geography, history and art. The students also spent time in learning a trade and business code and ethics. The university trade shops offered classes in business, carpentry, farming, fishing, construction, shoe making, tailoring and navigation. It was claimed that the intellectual freedom enjoyed in Western Universities was inspired from universities like Sankore and Qurtuba (Muslim Spain) universities.

Memorizing the QurÕan and mastering Arabic language were compulsory to students. Arabic was a lingua franca of the university as well as the language of trade and commerce in Timbuktu. Except for a few manuscripts, which are in Songhay and other aÕjami language, all the remaining 70,000 manuscripts are in Arabic. (Al-Furqan Heritage Foundation-London publishes a list of the manuscripts just in Ahmed Baba library in 5 volumes.)

Like all other Islamic universities, its students came from all over the world. Around the 12th century it had an attendance of 25,000 students, in a city of 100,000 people. The university was known for its high standards and admission requirements