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It is one of the most prestigious Italian universities, commonly ranking in the first places of national, European and international rankings both as a whole and for individual subjects.
It was the first place of study to use the term universitas for the corporations of students and masters, which came to define the institution (especially its famous law school) located in Bologna.
The university's emblem carries the motto Alma mater studiorum ("Nourishing mother of studies") and the date A.D. 1088, and it has about 86,500 students in its 11 schools.
It has campuses in Cesena, Forlì, Ravenna and Rimini and a branch center abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It also has a school of excellence named Collegio Superiore di Bologna. An associate publisher of the University of Bologna is the Bononia University Press.
The University of Bologna saw the first woman to earn a university degree and teach at a university, Bettisia Gozzadini, and the first woman to earn both a doctorate in science and a salaried position as a university professor, Laura Bassi.
The entry of some students in the Natio Germanica Bononiae, the nation of German students at Bologna; miniature of 1497.
The date of the University of Bologna's founding is uncertain, but believed by most accounts to have been 1088. The university was granted a charter (Authentica habita) by Holy Roman EmperorFrederick I Barbarossa in 1158, but in the 19th century, a committee of historians led by Giosuè Carducci traced the founding of the University back to 1088, which would make it the oldest continuously-operating university in the world. However, the development of the institution at Bologna into a university was a gradual process. Paul Grendler writes that "it is not likely that enough instruction and organization existed to merit the term university before the 1150s, and it might not have happened before the 1180s."
The university arose around mutual aid societies (known as universitates scholarium) of foreign students called "nations" (as they were grouped by nationality) for protection against city laws which imposed collective punishment on foreigners for the crimes and debts of their countrymen. These students then hired scholars from the city's pre-existing lay and ecclesiastical schools to teach them subjects such as liberal arts, notarial law, theology, and ars dictaminis (scrivenery). The lectures were given in informal schools called scholae. In time the various universitates scholarium decided to form a larger association, or Studium--thus, the university. The Studium grew to have a strong position of collective bargaining with the city, since by then it derived significant revenue through visiting foreign students, who would depart if they were not well treated. The foreign students in Bologna received greater rights, and collective punishment was ended. There was also collective bargaining with the scholars who served as professors at the university. By the initiation or threat of a student strike, the students could enforce their demands as to the content of courses and the pay professors would receive. University professors were hired, fired, and had their pay determined by an elected council of two representatives from every student "nation" which governed the institution, with the most important decisions requiring a majority vote from all the students to ratify. The professors could also be fined if they failed to finish classes on time, or complete course material by the end of the semester. A student committee, the "Denouncers of Professors", kept tabs on them and reported any misbehavior. Professors themselves were not powerless, however, forming collegia doctorum (professors' committees) in each faculty, and securing the rights to set examination fees and degree requirements. Eventually, the city ended this arrangement, paying professors from tax revenues and making it a chartered public university.
Bologna University Library
The university is historically notable for its teaching of canon and civil law; indeed, it was set up in large part with the aim of studying the Digest, a central text in Roman law, which had been rediscovered in Italy in 1070, and the university was central in the development of medieval Roman law. Until modern times, the only degree granted at that university was the doctorate.
Bettisia Gozzadini earned a law degree in 1237, being one of the first women in history to obtain a university degree. She taught law from her own home for two years, and in 1239 she taught at the university, becoming the first woman in history to teach at a university.
In 1477, when Pope Sixtus IV issued a papal bull, authorizing the creation of Uppsala University in Sweden, the bull specified that the new university would have the same freedoms and privileges as the University of Bologna - a highly desirable situation for the Swedish scholars. This included the right of Uppsala to establish the four traditional faculties of theology, law (Canon Law and Roman law), medicine, and philosophy, and to award the bachelor's, master's, licentiate, and doctoral degrees.
Laura Bassi was born into a prosperous family of Bologna and was privately educated from the age of five. Bassi's education and intellect was noticed by Prospero Lorenzini Lambertini, who became the Archbishop of Bologna in 1731 (later Pope Benedict XIV). Lambertini became the official patron of Bassi. He arranged for a public debate between Bassi and four professors from the University of Bologna on 17 April 1732. In 1732, Bassi, aged twenty, publicly defended her forty-nine theses on Philosophica Studia at the Sala degli Anziani of the Palazzo Pubblico. The University of Bologna awarded her a doctorate degree on 12 May. She became the first woman to receive a doctorate in science, and the second woman in the world to earn a philosophy doctorate after Elena Cornaro Piscopia in 1678, fifty-four years prior. She was by then popularly known as Bolognese Minerva. On 29 October 1732, the Senate and the University of Bologna granted Bassi's candidature and was appointed professor of natural philosophy in December and taught physics. She became the first salaried woman lecturer in the world, thus beginning her academic career. She was also the first woman member of any scientific establishment, when she was elected to the Academy of Sciences of the Institute of Bologna in 1732. Bassi became the most important populariser of Newtonian mechanics in Italy.
Higher education processes are being harmonised across the European Community. Nowadays the university offers 101 different "Laurea" or "Laurea breve" first-level degrees (three years of courses), followed by 108 "Laurea specialistica" or "Laurea magistrale" second-level degrees (two years). However, other 11 courses have maintained preceding rules of "Laurea specialistica a ciclo unico" or "Laurea magistrale a ciclo unico", with only one cycle of study of five years, except for medicine and dentistry which requires six years of courses. After the "Laurea" one may attain 1st level Master (one-year diploma, similar to a Postgraduate diploma). After second-level degrees are attained, one may proceed to 2nd level Master, specialisation schools (residency), or doctorates of research (PhD).
The 11 Schools (which replace the preexisting 23 faculties) are:
The university is structured in 33 departments (there were 66 until 2012), organized by homogeneous research domains that integrate activities related to one or more faculty. A new department of Latin history was added in 2015.
In the early 1950s, some students of the University of Bologna were among the founders of the review "il Mulino". On 25 April 1951 the first issue of the review was published in Bologna. In a short time, "il Mulino" became one of the most interesting reference points in Italy for the political and cultural debate, and established important editorial relationships in Italy and abroad. Editorial activities evolved along with the review. In 1954, the il Mulino publishing house (Società editrice il Mulino) was founded, which today represents one of the most relevant Italian publishers. In addition to this were initiated research projects (focusing mostly on the educational institutions and the political system in Italy), that eventually led, in 1964, to the establishment of the Istituto Carlo Cattaneo.
The Collegio Superiore is an excellence institution inside the University of Bologna, aimed at promoting students' merit through dedicated learning programmes.
The institution was founded in 1998 as Collegio d'Eccellenza. Together with the Institute for Advanced Study it is part of the Institute for Higher Study.
The Collegio Superiore offers an additional educational path to students enrolled in a degree programme at the University of Bologna, providing specialized courses as part of an interdisciplinary framework.
All students of the Collegio Superiore are granted a full-ride scholarship and additional benefits such as the assistance of a personal tutor and free accommodation at the Residence for Higher Study. In order to remain members of the Collegio Superiore students are required to maintain high marks in both their degree programme and the additional courses.
Beatrice Fraboni, professor of Physics of Matter, has been head of Collegio Superiore since 2019.
The 2021 QS World University Rankings ranked the University of Bologna 160th in the world, as well as 69th (1st in Italy) with reference to academic reputation. In another measurement by the same company, it was positioned among the world's top 200 universities for graduate employability (177th).
Nationally, in 2020 Bologna topped Italy's main ranking of large public universities (> 40,000 students) for the eleventh year in a row, produced by the Italian Center for Social Investment Studies.