AskDefine | Define university

Dictionary Definition



1 the body of faculty and students at a university
2 establishment where a seat of higher learning is housed, including administrative and living quarters as well as facilities for research and teaching
3 a large and diverse institution of higher learning created to educate for life and for a profession and to grant degrees

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin universitas, from universus, "all turned into one", from uni-, one, + versus, turned, perfect passive participle of vertere, turn.


  • /juːnɪˈvɜːsətiː/


  1. Institution of higher education (typically accepting students from the age of about 17 or 18, depending on country, but in some cases able to take younger students in exceptional cases) where subjects are studied and researched in depth and degrees are offered.


institution of higher education

See also

Extensive Definition

A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees at all levels (associate, bachelor, master, and doctorate) in a variety of subjects. A university provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education. The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars".


Early history

The original Latin word "universitas", first used in time of renewed interest in Classical Greek and Roman tradition, tried to reflect this feature of the Academy of Plato (established 385 BC). The term "academia" is sometimes extended to a number of educational institutions of non-Western antiquity, including China, India and Persia:
The University of Constantinople, founded as an institution of higher learning in 425 and reorganized as a corporation of students in 849 by the regent Bardas of emperor Michael III, is considered by some to be the earliest institution of higher learning with some of the characteristics we associate today with a university (research and teaching, auto-administration, academic independence, et cetera). If a university is defined as "an institution of higher learning" then it is preceded by several others, including the Academy that it was founded to compete with and eventually replaced. If the original meaning of the word is considered "a corporation of students" then this could be the first example of such an institution.
If the definition of a university is assumed to mean an institution of higher education and research which issues academic degrees at all levels (bachelor, master and doctorate) like in the modern sense of the word, then the medieval Madrasahs known as Jami'ah ("university" in Arabic) founded in the 9th century would be the first examples of such an institution. Also in the 9th century, Bimaristan medical schools were founded in the medieval Islamic world, where medical degrees and diplomas were issued to students of Islamic medicine who were qualified to be a practicing Doctor of Medicine. Al-Azhar University, founded in Cairo, Egypt in 975, was a Jami'ah university which offered a variety of post-graduate degrees (Ijazah), for a theological seminary, Islamic law and jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, Islamic astronomy, early Islamic philosophy, and logic in Islamic philosophy.

Medieval universities

The first higher education institution in medieval Europe was the University of Constantinople, followed by the University of Salerno (9th century), the Preslav Literary School and Ohrid Literary School in the Bulgarian Empire (9th century). The first degree-granting universities in Europe were the University of Bologna (1088), the University of Paris (c. 1150, later associated with the Sorbonne), the University of Oxford (1167), the University of Cambridge (1209), the University of Salamanca (1218), the University of Montpellier (1220), the University of Padua (1222), the University of Naples Federico II (1224), and the University of Toulouse (1229). Some scholars such as George Makdisi, and Hugh Goddard argue that these medieval universities were influenced in many ways by the medieval Madrasah institutions in Islamic Spain, the Emirate of Sicily, and the Middle East (during the Crusades).
The earliest universities in Western Europe were developed under the aegis of the Catholic Church, usually as cathedral schools or by papal bull as Studia Generali (NB: The development of cathedral schools into Universities actually appears to be quite rare, with the University of Paris being an exception - see Leff, Paris and Oxford Universities), later they were also founded by Kings (Charles University in Prague, Jagiellonian University in Krakow) or municipal administrations (University of Cologne, University of Erfurt). In the early medieval period, most new universities were founded from pre-existing schools, usually when these schools were deemed to have become primarily sites of higher education. Many historians state that universities and cathedral schools were a continuation of the interest in learning promoted by monasteries.
In Europe, young men proceeded to university when they had completed their study of the trivium–the preparatory arts of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic or logic–and the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. (See Degrees of the University of Oxford for the history of how the trivium and quadrivium developed in relation to degrees, especially in anglophone universities).
Outside of Europe, there were many notable institutions of learning throughout history. In China, there was the famous Hanlin Academy, established during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), and was once headed by the Chancellor Shen Kuo (1031-1095), a famous Chinese scientist, inventor, mathematician, and statesman.

Modern universities

The end of the medieval period marked the beginning of the transformation of universities that would eventually result in the modern research university. Many external influences, such as eras of humanism, Enlightenment, Reformation, and revolution, shaped research universities during their development.
By the 18th century, universities published their own research journals, and by the 19th century, the German and the French university models had arisen. The German, or Humboldtian model, was conceived by Wilhelm von Humboldt and based on Friedrich Schleiermacher’s liberal ideas pertaining to the importance of freedom, seminars, and laboratories in universities. The French university model involved strict discipline and control over every aspect of the university.
Universities concentrated on science in the 19th and 20th centuries, and they started to become accessible to the masses after 1914. Until the 19th century, religion played a significant role in university curriculum; however, the role of religion in research universities decreased in the 19th century, and by the end of the 19th century, the German university model had spread around the world. The British also established universities worldwide, and higher education became available to the masses not only in Europe. In a general sense, the basic structure and aims of universities have remained constant over the years.


Although each institution is differently organized, nearly all universities have a board of trustees; a president, chancellor, or rector; at least one vice president, vice-chancellor, or vice-rector; and deans of various divisions. Universities are generally divided into a number of academic departments, schools or faculties. Public university systems are ruled over by government-run higher education boards. They review financial requests and budget proposals and then allocate funds for each university in the system. They also approve new programs of instruction and cancel or make changes in existing programs. In addition, they plan for the further coordinated growth and development of the various institutions of higher education in the state or country. However, many public universities in the world have a considerable degree of financial, research and pedagogical autonomy. Private universities are privately funded and generally have a broader independence from state policies.
Despite the variable policies, or cultural and economic standards available in different geographical locations create a tremendous disparity between universities around the world and even inside a country, the universities are usually among the foremost research and advanced training providers in every society. Most universities not only offer courses in subjects ranging from the natural sciences, engineering, architecture or medicine, to sports sciences, social sciences, law or humanities, they also offer many amenities to their student population including a variety of places to eat, banks, bookshops, print shops, job centres, and bars. In addition, universities have a range of facilities like libraries, sports centers, students' unions, computer labs, and research laboratories. In a number of countries, major classic universities usually have their own botanical gardens, astronomical observatories, business incubators and university hospitals.

Universities around the world

The funding and organisation of universities varies widely between different countries around the world. In some countries universities are predominantly funded by the state, while in others funding may come from donors or from fees which students attending the university must pay. In some countries the vast majority of students attend university in their local town, while in other countries universities attract students from all over the world, and may provide university accommodation for their students.


Across the world there are very differing standards of legal definition of the term "university" and formal accreditation of institutions. For example at one end of the scale there is no legal definition of the term in the United States. At the other, in the United Kingdom an institution can only use the term if it has been granted by the Privy Council, under the terms of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.
In many regions of the world, a university is any institution of higher education and research which grants autonomously a range of academic degrees in several fields, from bachelor's degrees to doctorate degrees, including masters' degrees, as well as honoris causa degrees and agrégation/habilitation diplomas in the places where these are used. Independently performed research conducted by universities includes both fundamental research and applied research.

Colloquial usage

Colloquially, the term university may be used to describe a phase in one's life: "when I was at university…" (in the United States and Ireland, college is used instead: "when I was in college..."). See the college article for further discussion. In Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the German speaking countries "university" is often contracted to "uni". In New Zealand and in South Africa it is sometimes called "varsity", which was also common usage in the UK in the 19th century.


globalize section
In his study of the American university since World War II, The Knowledge Factory, Stanley Aronowitz argues that the American university has been besieged by growing unemployment issues, the pressures of big business on the land grant university, as well as the political passivity and ivory tower naivety of American academics.
In a somewhat more theoretical vein, the late Bill Readings contends in his 1995 study The University in Ruins that the university around the world has been hopelessly commodified by globalization and the bureaucratic non-value of "excellence." His view is that the university will continue to linger on as an increasingly consumerist, ruined institution until or unless society is able to conceive of advanced education in transnational ways that can move beyond both the national subject and the corporate enterprise.
Moreover, the social sciences, while studied by approximately 30% of the population, were previously pursued by only 3% or less. This means the bulk of arts and humanities degrees do not necessarily lead to improved access to employment opportunities. David Graeber in his 2004 study Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology claimed that the university functions as a hierarchical disciplining device that places graduates in state and corporate bureaucracies.
Richard Vedder, an Ohio University professor and member of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, has been a vocal critic of how institutions of higher education, including the universities, are financed. In his 2004 book, "Going Broke by Degree," Vedder says that tuition increases have rapidly outpaced inflation; that productivity in higher education has fallen or remained stagnant; and that third-party tuition payments from government or private sources have insulated students from bearing the full cost of their education, allowing costs to rise more rapidly.


See also: Tuition
Although not a factor in the early sense of a university, a typical modern higher education institution is fee-charging. The amount it takes to attend a university varies from country to country. Often, a student must find some form of financial aid to afford the costs of attending a university.

Under pressure

In some countries, in some political systems, universities are controlled by political and/or religious authorities, who forbid certain fields and/or impose certain other fields. Sometimes national or racial limitations exist - for students, staff, research.

Nazi universities

Books from university libraries, written by anti-Nazi or Jewish authors, were burned in places (e.g., in Berlin) in 1933, and the curricula were subsequently modified. Jewish professors and students were expelled according to the racial policy of Nazi Germany, see also the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. Martin Heidegger became the rector of Freiburg University, where he delivered a number of Nazi speeches. On August 21, 1933 Heidegger established the Führer-principle at the university, later he was appointed Führer of Freiburg University. University of Poznań was closed by the Nazi Occupation in 1939. 1941–1944 a German university worked there. University of Strasbourg was transferred to Clermont-Ferrand and Reichsuniversität Straßburg existed 1941–1944
Nazi universities ended in 1945.

Soviet universities

Soviet type universities existed in the Soviet Union and in other countries of the Eastern Bloc. Medical, technical, economical, technological and arts faculties were frequently separated from universities (compare the List of institutions of higher learning in Russia). Soviet ideology was taught divided into three disciplines: Scientific Communism, Marxism-Leninism and Communist Political Economy, and was introduced as part of many courses, eg. teaching Karl Marx' or Vladimir Lenin's views on energy or history. Sciences were generally tolerated, but the humanities curbed. In 1922, the Bolshevik government expelled some 160 prominent intellectuals on the Philosophers' ship, later some professors and students were killed or worked in Gulag camps. Communist economy was preferred, liberal ideas criticized or ignored. Genetics was degradated to Lysenkoism from the middle of the 1930s to the middle of the 1960s. Communist parties controlled or influenced universities. The leading university was the Moscow State University. After Joseph Stalin's death, universities in some Communist countries obtained more freedom. The Patrice Lumumba Peoples' Friendship University provided higher education as well as a training ground for young communists from developing countries.




  • Stanley Aronowitz, The Knowledge Factory. Boston: Beacon, 2000. ISBN 0807031224
  • Clyde W. Barrow, Universities and the Capitalist State: Corporate Liberalism and the Reconstruction of American Higher Education, 1894–1928, University of Wisconsin Press 1990 ISBN 0-299-12400-2
  • Sigmund Diamond, Compromised Campus: The Collaboration of Universities with the Intelligence Community, 1945–1955, Oxford University Press 1992 ISBN 0-195-05382-6
  • Olaf Pedersen, The First Universities : Studium Generale and the Origins of University Education in Europe, Cambridge University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-521-59431-6
  • Bill Readings, University in Ruins. Harvard University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-674-92953-5.
  • Thomas F. Richards, The Cold War Within American Higher Education: Rutgers University As a Case Study,Pentland Press 1998 ISBN 1-571-97108-4
  • Walter Ruegg (ed), A History of the University in Europe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (3 vols) ISBN 0-521-36107-9 (vol 3 reviewed by Laurence Brockliss in the Times Literary Supplement, no 5332, 10 June 2005, pages 3–4)

See also

university in Afrikaans: Universiteit
university in Arabic: جامعة
university in Aragonese: Unibersidat
university in Azerbaijani: Universitet
university in Bengali: বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়
university in Bavarian: Uni
university in Bosnian: Univerzitet
university in Bulgarian: Университет
university in Catalan: Universitat
university in Chuvash: Университет
university in Czech: Univerzita
university in Corsican: Università
university in Welsh: Prifysgol
university in Danish: Universitet
university in German: Universität
university in Estonian: Ülikool
university in Modern Greek (1453-): Πανεπιστήμιο
university in Spanish: Universidad
university in Esperanto: Universitato
university in Basque: Unibertsitate
university in Persian: دانشگاه
university in French: Université
university in Western Frisian: Universiteit
university in Friulian: Universitât
university in Irish: Ollscoil
university in Galician: Universidade
university in Korean: 대학
university in Hindi: विश्वविद्यालय
university in Croatian: Sveučilište
university in Ido: Universitato
university in Indonesian: Universitas
university in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Universitate
university in Icelandic: Háskóli
university in Italian: Università
university in Hebrew: אוניברסיטה
university in Georgian: უნივერსიტეტი
university in Latin: Universitas
university in Luxembourgish: Universitéit
university in Lithuanian: Universitetas
university in Hungarian: Egyetem
university in Malay (macrolanguage): Universiti
university in Dutch: Universiteit
university in Japanese: 大学
university in Neapolitan: Univerzità
university in Norwegian: Universitet
university in Norwegian Nynorsk: Universitet
university in Narom: Euniversitaé
university in Occitan (post 1500): Universitat
university in Uzbek: Universitet
university in Piemontese: Università
university in Polish: Uniwersytet
university in Portuguese: Universidade
university in Romanian: Universitate
university in Quechua: Yachay suntur
university in Russian: Университет
university in Samoan: Iunivesitē
university in Albanian: Universiteti
university in Sicilian: Università
university in Sinhala: විශ්ව විද්‍යාලය
university in Simple English: University
university in Slovak: Univerzita
university in Slovenian: Univerza
university in Serbo-Croatian: Univerzitet
university in Finnish: Yliopisto
university in Swedish: Universitet
university in Tagalog: Pamantasan
university in Telugu: విశ్వవిద్యాలయం
university in Thai: มหาวิทยาลัย
university in Tajik: Донишгоҳ
university in Turkish: Üniversite
university in Turkmen: Uniwersitet
university in Ukrainian: Університет
university in Venetian: Università
university in Vlaams: Universiteit
university in Yiddish: אוניווערסיטעט
university in Yoruba: Yunifasiti
university in Contenese: 大學
university in Chinese: 大學

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

academe, academia, academic, alma mater, classroom, college, college of engineering, collegiate, community college, degree-granting institution, extramural, four-year college, graduate school, institute of technology, interscholastic, intramural, ivied halls, journalism school, junior college, law school, medical school, multiversity, normal, normal school, postgraduate school, preschool, scholastic, school, school of communications, school of education, two-year college, university college, varsity
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