The university topped the list compiled by Times Higher Education (THE), while the University of Salamanca, Spain, and the University of Coimbra, Portugal, were ranked second and third respectively.

Established in 1088, the University of Bologna is the oldest university in the western world, founded by students for students, when masters of grammar, rhetoric and logic began to devote themselves to law.

Its earliest recorded scholar was a man named Irnerius, who catalogued Roman legal materials.

Other early students included the 12th century Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

Other notable alumni include the poet Dante and former Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi.

Between the 12th and 13th centuries, a woman named Bettisia Gozzadini supposedly taught at the university, attracting crowds that were so big her lessons had to be held in the city’s public squares.

Today, with a community of more than 85,000 students, the university is among the largest in Italy, offering 200 degree programs and specialised courses across 33 departments and 11 schools. 

It is a multi-campus institution with sites across northern Italy in Cesena, Forli, Ravenna and Rimini, as well as Bologna.

It has an overseas campus in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which offers interdisciplinary programs.

The university is also home to several libraries, including the Bologna University Library, which houses major collections of antique and modern books, as well as conservation and historical and scientific research facilities.

Bologna itself is Italy’s seventh most populous city, where the university’s students make-up nearly a third of the population.

With Times Higher Education