Privilege by Charles V granting the establishment of the University of San Marcos in Lima (1551), the first officially established and the longest continuously operating university in the Americas.
Old campus of the university San Antonio Abad in Cusco, Peru.

The list of universities established in the viceroyalties of the Hispanic America comprises all universities established by the Spanish Empire in America from the settlement of the Americas in 1492 to the Wars of Independence in the early 19th century.

The transfer of the European university model to the overseas colonies in the Americas represented a decisive turning point in the educational history of the continents:

Nothing remotely resembling a university existed in the New World before Europeans arrived and settled there. Yet by the end of the eighteenth century, numerous universities and other institutions of higher education could be found in North, Central and South America. They had not been invented de novo; they were implants from the European university tradition and its stocks.[1]

The Christian mission of the Indians and the increasing demand for skilled hands in the administration of the rapidly growing empire made the Spanish colonists realize the need to offer a university education on soil in the Americas.[2] The foundation of a university required, following the medieval tradition, either a papal bull (or papal brief) or a royal privilege granting the right to confer academic degrees to the students. Usually a bestowment from both clerical and secular authorities was sought and achieved.[3] Universities were all subjected to the king's supervision, only San Nicolas in Bogotá held the status of a private university.[4]

The new foundations modeled their charters mainly on that of the University of Salamanca, the oldest and most venerable Spanish university.[5] The curriculum of smaller universities was confined to the artes, a kind of basic studies, and Catholic theology (plus church law).[5] A leading role was assumed by the gradually evolving full universities which additionally offered courses in medicine and jurisprudence, thus comprising all four classic faculties.[5] The influential first universities were founded in the viceroyalties centers Santo Domingo, Lima and Mexico City. When it became apparent that the vast distances of the Spanish realm required a greater geographical spread of universities, they contributed to the creation of further foundations.[6]

A key role in the development of the university system was played by the Catholic orders, especially by the Jesuits, but also the Dominicans and Augustinians. The founding and operation of most universities resulted from the – usually local – initiative of one of these orders, which sometimes quarreled openly over the control of the campus and the curriculum.[2] The (temporary) dissolution of the Jesuit order in the late 18th century proved to be a major setback for the university landscape in Latin America, several of the suppressed Jesuit universities were reopened only decades later.[7]

The successful export of the university, a genuine European creation,[8] to another continent demonstrated its "extraordinary effectiveness and adaptability" as the highest educational institution and marked the beginning of its universal adoption in the modern age (see also List of the oldest universities).[9] Yet there is no denying that at the end of the colonial era the intellectual and academic life in the younger colonial colleges of the British territories appeared more vital.[9] Nevertheless, the Spanish universities in the Americas fulfilled their primary task, the education of the clerical and secular viceroyalty elite, and could thus assume an important function in aiding the development of the young republics after the separation from the motherland.[9]

In Portuguese Brazil, by contrast, no university existed far beyond the colonial period (the first was established as late as 1912 in Curitiba as University of Paraná).[10] The lower local demand for theological and legal specialists was largely met by Jesuit colegios, while students aspiring to higher education had to take up studies overseas at the University of Coimbra. Instead of universities for general studies, the Portuguese favored the creation of professional academies to respond to the local needs of technicians and skilled professionals, including creating the first school of higher studies in engineering of the Americas.[10]


The list is sorted by the date of recognition. At places where more than one university was established, the name of the institution is given in brackets.

16th century

Founded University Modern country
1538[6][11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino Dominican Republic
1551[11] National University of San Marcos Peru
1551[11][17] Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico Mexico
1552[18] La Plata o Charcas[uncertain 1] Bolivia
1558[11] Santo Domingo (Santiago de La Paz) Dominican Republic
1580[11] Saint Thomas Aquinas University Colombia
1586[18] Quito (San Fulgencio) Ecuador

17th century

Founded University Modern country
1613[11][19] National University of Córdoba Argentina
1621[18] Santiago (San Miguel) Chile
1621[18] Cuzco (San Ignacio de Loyola) Peru
1621[11] University of Saint Francis Xavier Bolivia
1623[11] Pontifical Xavierian University Colombia
1624[4][11] es:Real y Pontificia Universidad de Mérida (Yucatán) (in Spanish) Mexico
1676[11][18] University of San Carlos of Guatemala Guatemala
1677[11] San Cristóbal of Huamanga University Peru
1681[11] Central University of Ecuador Ecuador
1685[11] Santiago (Rosario) Chile
1690[4][11] National University of San Antonio Abad in Cuzco Peru
1694[4][18] Bogotá (San Nicolás) Colombia
1696[11] Central University of Ecuador Ecuador

18th century

Founded University Modern country
1721[11] University of Havana Cuba
1721[11] Central University of Venezuela Venezuela
1733[7] Asunción Paraguay
1738[11] Royal University of San Felipe Chile
1744[7][20] University of Cauca Colombia
1749[11] es:Universidad de San Francisco Javier (Panamá) Panama
1749[18] es:Universidad Pencopolitana Chile
1791[11] University of Guadalajara Mexico

19th century

Founded University Modern country
1806[11] University of the Andes, Venezuela Venezuela
1812[11] National Autonomous University of Nicaragua Nicaragua
1828[11] National University of Saint Augustine Perú

See also


  1. ^ University status open to dispute


  1. ^ Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, p. 256
  2. ^ a b Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, pp. 218f.
  3. ^ Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, p. 216
  4. ^ a b c d Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, p. 219
  5. ^ a b c Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, p. 215
  6. ^ a b Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, p. 218
  7. ^ a b c Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, p. 220
  8. ^ Rüegg 1993, pp. 13f.
  9. ^ a b c Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, pp. 231f.
  10. ^ a b Roberts, Rodriguez & Herbst 1996, pp. 220f.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Jílek 1984, pp. 325–339
  12. ^ "Historia - UASD". 27 January 2021.
  13. ^ La Historia de las Universidades Hispanoamericanas: Período Hispano. Rodríguez Cruz, Águeda María. Bogotá, Colombia, Instituto Caro Y Cuervo, 1973.
  14. ^ AVR: Reg. Suppl., n. 2304, fol. 199. Facs.: BELTRÁN DE HEREDIA, La autenticidad de la bula “In apostulatus culmine” base de la Universidad de Santo Domingo, puesta fuera de discusión, 1955, entre págs. 40 y 41. Ed.: BELTRÁN DE HEREDIA, 1. c., págs. 41-43)
  15. ^ "In apostolatus culmine". 29 October 1538.
  16. ^ The Hispanic American Historical Review. Vol. 26, No. 4 (Nov., 1946), pp. 513-515
  17. ^ La Universidad Pontificia de México: [1]
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Tünnermann 1991, pp. 26, 35–38
  19. ^ Universidad Nacional de Córdoba: Orígenes Archived 2011-07-14 at the Wayback Machine (in Spanish)
  20. ^ Tünnermann 1991, p. 26