During the colonization of the American continent by the European powers things totally unknown to the natives arrived. While it is true that some of them were harmful or negative, many were also positive, such as the technological and cultural advances that were brought from Europe. One of them was the founding of institutions of higher education. In this article we tell you the history of the oldest universities in America.
America’s first universities
Although there are other older universities in the world, today we will focus on those that were founded during the colonial era in America. In our list we are going to do a review starting with those educational institutions with more tradition in the New World. We will also see how they emerged in the different countries that make up the continent today, highlighting those that are currently in operation.
America’s first university
Let’s start by looking at the perennial dispute about America’s oldest universities: Which was the first? There are two candidates who are fighting for this distinguished title.
San Marcos University
Although there is some controversy about which is the first university in America, it is considered to be the Royal and Pontifical University of San Marcos. This university is located in Lima, the capital of Peru. It is the only one that has lasted to this day, being in operation without interruption since it was founded in 1551. It was Carlos I of Spain himself who gave the order to build it. Its current name, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, was acquired in 1946. You can see how it is today in the image that opens our article.
However, there has been another institution that has disputed the title of Dean University of America, as we explain below.
University of Santo Tomás de Aquino
However, there is another university in America that was founded some years before. It is the University of Santo Tomás de Aquino, established in 1538.
It was built in the City of Santo Domingo, which is located on the island of Hispaniola; what is now the Dominican Republic. It is true that it received the papal bull but it did not obtain the recognition of the King until the year 1558. In addition, due to war conflicts, it was closed for some years of the 19th century. For this reason it is not considered the oldest university in America.
Other Oldest Universities in America
During the colonial era, many other universities were established throughout the Spanish dominions. These are other of the oldest universities in America ranked by country.
First university in Mexico
Mexico also has a long university tradition, true that the viceroyalty of New Spain was instituted. In fact, the second oldest university in America is located on its territory. For only four months, the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico did not have the title of dean. It was constituted in the year 1551, like the University of San Marcos, but in the month of September. In 1910, the first university in Mexico was renamed UNAM.
Today it has a great reputation and recognition at an educational level. It has become one of the most prestigious institutions in Latin America. So, if you are one of the students of the oldest university in Mexico, you can be proud.
First university of Argentina
We now move to the south of the American continent to discover which is the oldest university in Argentina.
The University of Córdoba was founded in this region in 1613. As its name indicates, its headquarters are in the city of Córdoba. This university is characterized by providing free, free and secular education. Because for more than 200 years it was the only university in the country, it also receives the nickname of The learned. Besides, it has also managed, on its own merits, to become one of the most recognized institutions both in Argentina and outside its borders.
Oldest university in Colombia
Founded on June 13, 1580 in Bogotá by the Order of Preachers, the University of Santo Tomás, in addition to being the oldest university in Colombia, is also the sixth in America. This institution continues to be private and religious in nature. It currently has several locations throughout the country.
Oldest University in America
Here we come to another controversy. Although it is generally recognized that Harvad University is the premier university in the United States of America, there are two others that claim this title. Both the University of Pennsylvania, founded by Benjamin Franklin, and the College of William and Mary claim to be the deans of the country. It’s all because there is no unified criterion to define which of the oldest universities in the United States was the first, so each one uses the one that suits them best.
Oldest university in Chile
The history of the oldest university in Chile is a bit turbulent. On August 19, 1622, the Pontifical University of Santo Tomás de Aquino was created in the city of Santiago de Chile. Later, in 1738 it was re-founded with the name of Real Universidad de San Felipe, in honor of the king of the Spanish empire who ruled at that time. Today this institution is simply called the University of Chile.
The oldest universities in Latin America
Now that you know which were the first universities in America, we encourage you to continue researching and more about the oldest educational institutions in the world. If you haven’t already, take a look at our article on the oldest universities in Europe. It sure surprises you.
And to finish we leave a question open to controversy. In your opinion, which is the first University of America: the University of San Marcos in Lima or the University of Santo Tomás de Aquino in Santo Domingo? Let us know!