Random Trivia About Universities

Happy World Trivia Day! In honour of the day celebrating random bits of information and fun facts, we’ve gathered some interesting bits of trivia about universities around the world. Check it out!

Universities and higher education are a huge global phenomenon. Even with a conservative estimate, there are at least around 25,000 universities around the world. The oldest ones of these institutions have been around for nearly a thousand years. With numbers like this, it’s no wonder there are a lot of interesting facts and tidbits about universities. Read on for some of the best ones!

The Stanford University campus
Stanford University has one of the largest campuses in the world – but not quite the largest. Read on to find out which university has the world’s largest campus.

The oldest university

The oldest university in the world is the University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy. It was founded in 1088, making the university almost a thousand years old. Opened eight years before the First Crusade and over 400 years before Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World, it’s hard to imagine how much the world has changed during existence of the University of Bologna. Studying here, you can really feel being a part of history.

The cityscape of Bologna, Italy
The oldest university in the world can be found in the central Italian town of Bologna.

The best university

Unlike the oldest university in the world, this one is a bit harder to determine. There are several highly respected companies that do university rankings though. Probably two of the most famous ones are QS and Times Higher Education. According to the QS World University Rankings 2024, the best university in the world is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) near Boston in the United States. In the Times Higher Education rankings for the year 2024, the top spot was claimed by the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom (which by the way, is also the second-oldest university after Bologna).

The University of Oxford campus from the air
The University of Oxford is the world’s second-oldest and (possibly) the best university.

The largest university

It may be a surprise, but this one isn’t super straightforward either. Do part-time students count? How about distance students? What about university systems like the University of California system with its 10 campuses, do they count as one or ten individual universities? With many of the largest universities, the numbers of students can also vary quite a lot depending on the source you’re using. However, we have the answer for you. Or to be exact, two answers: the largest university in the world including online and other distance students is the Indira Gandhi National Open University in India with about four million students. Yes, you read that right. If you only count in-person students, the largest university is the National University of Bangladesh with about two million students.

The Himalayas in the Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent has a lot of people, some very large universities – and also some outstanding natural beauty (image credit: Q-lieb-in – Wikipedia)

The smallest university

Again, with so many universities in the world, and the numbers of enrolment changing from year to year, it can be hard to determine exactly what is the smallest university in the world. It seems though, that for finding the world’s smallest university, you have to go to the United States. This is what we’ve found: the smallest institution of higher learning that can be counted as a university is a two-year institution called Deep Springs College in the town of Deep Springs, California, just a few miles from the Nevada border, where the number of students is capped at 26. Deep Springs College offers associate degrees.

The smallest university that offers at least a Bachelor’s level degree is the Alaska Bible College in Palmer, Alaska. Alaska Bible College has 39 undergraduate students and seven part-time faculty members. Because of the university’s small size, Alaska Bible College does not offer any varsity sports, but has produced at least two Olympic athletes: Charlie Akers who competed in biathlon in the 1964 Winter Olympics, and Corey Cogdell who has two bronze medals in trap shooting from the 2008 and 2016 Summer Olympics. And since it’s World Trivia Day, here’s a fun, completely un-university-related fact about Corey Cogdell: her husband is American football defensive lineman Mitch Unrein, who once – despite being a defensive lineman – caught a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning while playing for the Denver Broncos.

The skyline of New York City
They say everything is bigger in America – except some universities it turns out.

The largest campus

So that it won’t seem like all things are small in America, let’s move on to larger things. As mentioned earlier in this article, the world-famous Stanford University has one of the largest campuses in the world, but not quite the largest. That title is taken by another American university – Berry College, a private liberal arts college in Mount Berry, a small unincorporated community in the southern US state of Georgia. The Berry College campus spans 27,000 acres (109 square kilometres) of land. With only just over 2,000 students enrolled, it’s not hard to find some personal space at the Berry College campus.

The Berry College campus in Mount Berry, Georgia
Berry College in Georgia has the largest campus in the world (image credit: Camsjo – Wikipedia)

Northernmost university

The northernmost university in the world is the University of Tromsø in Norway. Its location is about 69 degrees and 41 minutes northern latitude, placing it several hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, meaning the sun shines over the campus 24 hours a day in midsummer and does not show up at all in midwinter. Despite this extreme location, it’s a very notable university: in the QS World University Rankings 2024, it was ranked as the 557th-best university in the world and only just missed out on our list of the Top 10 Universities North of the 60th Parallel.

A rural scene of a small village in Norway
Norway is the home to the world’s northernmost university.

Southernmost university

At the other end of the world, the southernmost university on Earth is the National University of Tierra del Fuego in Ushuaia, Argentina. Established in 2010, the university’s official full name is the National University of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands (Universidad Nacional de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur). The university offers undergraduate degrees in for example political science, tourism, and economics, and postgraduate degrees in for example Antarctic Studies.

The National Route 40 (Ruta 40) in southern Argentina.
Southern Argentina is home to some amazing vistas and the world’s southernmost university.

First woman to teach at a university

For the first several hundred years of their existence, universities were mainly the domain of men. Women have been very much a minority in universities until the 20th century, but already quite early on, there were some, if only a few, women around. It’s generally thought that the first woman to teach at a university was Bettisia Gozzadini, who was born in Bologna in 1209. She graduated as a law student from the University of Bologna in 1237 and started teaching there in about 1239. There is a legend that she had to wear a veil while teaching in order not to distract her students, but it’s not known for sure if this is true. She also wrote papers on various law matters, but these are all believed to be lost.

A portico at the University of Bologna
The University of Bologna is not just the oldest university in the world, but also the first to have a female teacher.

Jedi mind tricks

Love Star Wars? Did you know that is used to be possible to study jedi mind tricks at university – kind of. Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland used to offer a course called ‘Feel the Force: How to Train in the Jedi Way’ which promised to teach “real-life psychological techniques behind Jedi mind tricks”. We don’t know why, but unfortunately the course is not offered anymore. Maybe too many graduates joined the dark side.

The main entrance of the Queen's University Belfast
The Queen’s University Belfast used to offer a jedi course.

Defense Against the Dark Arts

If you prefer Harry Potter over Star Wars, you can also study defense against the dark arts at university. The University of Virginia offers a computer security course with this brilliant name. According to the university website, Defense Against the Dark Arts is a course about “computer security, with a particular focus on malware, exploits, and mitigations for malware and exploits.” Based on the UVA website, the course has been taught by the same teacher for a few years, so it looks like this particular Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching position is not cursed.

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
In Virginia you can enjoy some beautiful nature while taking a study break from your Defense Against the Dark Arts course.

Study to become a pirate

Jedis and Harry Potter are great fun and all, but maybe not strictly speaking real. Pirates then again, very much are. And you can become a certified pirate at MIT! Any MIT student who completes a class in archery, fencing, sailing, and shooting (rifle or pistol) is eligible to receive a pirate’s licence. Do note however, that this licence does not make actually acting as a pirate legal, and the Coast Guard will not appreciate it if you try to commandeer a ship.

A building at the MIT campus
Any scallywag who completes the needed courses at MIT can get a pirate’s licence.

Moon chapter of the alumni association

In today’s globalised world, many universities have students from all over the world. This had led to lots of universities having alumni associations in every corner of Earth. But did you know there’s one university that has an alumni association on the Moon? During the fourth Apollo mission to reach the Moon, the astronauts of Apollo 15 (all of whom had gone to the University of Michigan) formally established a lunar branch of the University of Michigan alumni association. They left the paperwork on the Moon.

The Moon
Can you see any Michigan alumni? (image credit: Gregory H. Revera – Wikipedia)

So there we are, some random and hopefully fun facts about universities from around the world in honour of 4 January which is World Trivia Day. Whether you’re looking to study jedi mind tricks in Belfast or Defense Against the Dark Arts in Virginia, you’ll need to find somewhere to live. For that, make sure to check our offering here on Student.com. We’re the world’s largest student housing marketplace and offer student accommodation in over 400 cities across the world!