Some words on the history: universities’ development


It is a good question to ask ourselves “How did we get there?” and reflect on our professional and personal growth and development. Objective analysis and reflection on what we are doing in order to evaluate our progress and weaknesses as well can be quite helpful. In my opinion, it can work for universities too because they established many centuries ago and we are going there to obtain knowledge without considering another side of the coin as a history of the universities development.

First thing which should be said is the unchangeable goal of the Higher Education Institutions (HEI) over the centuries to be conveyor of knowledge, to provide education (Rothman, 2010; Dobbins, 2011). Undeniably, in accordance with the needs of the world and society there are always changes and transformations of the missions, visions and objectives of the HEI, however the primary goal is to provide knowledge.

The education system of ancient times and civilizations such as China, Islam and Roman Empire were familiar with the teaching/learning techniques throughout centuries. However, “the medieval universities of Europe were the sole source of the model which gradually spread throughout the world” (Dobbins, 2011, p. 14). Altbach also supports this view saying that before that time (emergence of the first European universities) educational institutions existed in India, China, Islamic madrassas (p.1306).

The universities of today’s model emerged in Europe in the XI century with the foundation of well-known universities Bologna and Paris. The Bologna University was established in 1088 at the time when every school was perceived according to the initiative of Frederick Barbarossa as “society of scholars”. Dobbins (2011) points out that other European countries were inspired by these most popular institutions and in the XIV century there was a great expansion of the universities.

And the thing which can be perceived as surprising is the so-called “classical internationalization”. This means, students of that time could easily move from one university to another across the Europe: students could study at Bologna, continue to study at an Italian University and later work and teach in the third university.

The development of HEI went along with the development of society. Great changes of that time such as the periods of pre-nation states, nation-state (emergence of nation-states, national languages, etc.), industrial development, shift of the control to the national entities, integration of research with teaching, globalization etc. demanded and demand changes in the HEI. All of these periods have their own features and peculiarities which undoubtedly reflected in the universities’ life and continue to influence the development of the HEI.


Altbach, Ph. G. (2014). The Emergence of a Field: Research and Training in Higher Education. Studies in Higher Education, 39 (8), 1306-1320.

Dobbins, M. (2011). Historical Developments and Current Challenges. Higher Education Policies in Central and Eastern Europe. Transformations of the State series. (pp.13-29).

Rothman, S. (2010).   Visions of the university. Still divided academy: How competing visions of power, politics, and diversity complicate the mission of higher education (pp. 15-39). USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.


One thought on “Some words on the history: universities’ development

  1. Thanks a lot kusselita, it’s always interesting to know some background info and history of any phenomenon related to education. And here your topic about the origin of University, the history of how education has changed throughout the time just made a great point to address and issue the value of education. You mentioned that the main goal of education has been and will be “to provide knowledge”. And I absolutely agree with it. However due to globalization and internationalization process, the aim of education notoriously has changed nowadays. With the influence of internationalization, education is transformed into “tradable commodity” (Witt & Brandenberg, 2011), the former concept “educational aid”, providing students from developing countries with scholarships and giving them high quality education, shifted to “educational trade” by obtaining as much money as they can and increasing tuition fees even more (Rizvi, 2011). So where has gone the value of education? Students strive to elite universities paying pocketful money, just because it’s fashionable, but they don’t even consider the knowledge as a paramount goal.
    Brandenburg, U., & de Witt, H. (2011). The end of Internationalization. In de Witt (Ed.), The Trends, Issues and Challenges in Internationalization of Higher Eductaion (pp. 27-28). Amsterdam: Centre for Applied Research on Economics and Management, School of Economics and Managemnet of the Hogeschool van Amsterdam.
    Rizvi, F. (2011). Theorizing student mobility in an era of globalization. Teachers and Teaching, 17(6), 693-701.

    Liked by 1 person

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