Since the founding of the University of Bologna in 1088, European higher education has undergone over the centuries a phenomenal expansion of institutions, in terms of diversity, missions and students as well as changes in institutional structures. Data on the foundation year included in ETER provide interesting information on the historical roots of the current Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
Half of the European HEIs included in ETER were founded after 1988.
Data shows that the 400 HEIs in ETER founded before the XX century enroll 44% of all PhD students today (but only 20% of the undergraduate students). This points to a pattern where a core of older universities progressively expanded their activities, particularly concerning research, while new HEIs have been created to accommodate the incredible increase in the number of students after World War II.
ETER shows that this expansion took place in three successive waves. First, the foundation of “new universities” after World War II, such as l’Aquila in Italy or Nantes in France, largely established in regions without older universities. The second wave, which began in the 1970s, saw the creation of many HEIs that did not have the right to award the PhD, but instead were mostly focused on education, such as colleges or Fachhochschulen. The third wave, which occurred after the deregulation of the education market, saw the founding of a large number of private HEIs, a movement that accelerated at the beginning of the XXI century.
On the contrary, European HEIs at the top international rankings are quite old, such as Cambridge (1209), Oxford (1096) and Heidelberg (1386), with only technical universities being slightly younger (ETH Zurich was founded in 1855).