Is This The Oldest University in Southeast Asia? or Asia?
The Asia Pacific’s oldest university – the University of San Carlos as written here, was once been questioned as in a lingering dispute of who’s the oldest with this university that this writer is about to brief here.
This region or Asia as a continent specifically has its own 'updated version' of oldest university.
Located also in the Philippines with recent recognition by the QS World University Rankings, and known for many years as Asia’s oldest university, University of Santo Tomas (UST) was established in 1611, earlier than USC’s foundation year in 1867.
UST existed through the initiative of Miguel de Benavides, the third Archbishop of Manila.
UST was first called the Colegio de Nuestra Señora del Santisimo Rosario, and was later renamed Colegio de Santo Tomas, in honour of the foremost Dominican theologian, Thomas Aquinas.
The original campus was located in Intramuros, the walled city of Manila.
Here’s the summary of the university’s timeline since its establishment date:
In 1605, Miguel bequeathed a modest amount from his personal funds for the establishment of a seminary-college to prepare young men for the priesthood. Those funds and his personal library became the nucleus of the UST's establishment back in 1611.
In 1624, the Colegio was authorised by the King of Spain to confer academic degrees in theology, philosophy, and the arts. In 1645, Pope Innocent X elevated the college to a university.
In 1680, it was subsequently placed under the royal patronage of the Spanish monarchy. It was King Charles III of Spain who granted it the title of “Royal University” in 1785, for its exceptional loyalty in defending Manila against the British invasion.
In 1902, Pope Leo XIII declared the University of Santo Tomas a “Pontifical University”, and in 1947, Pope Pius XII bestowed upon it the title of “The Catholic University of the Philippines”.
In 1911, the university campus transferred from Intramuros to its present site, which covers a total of 21.5 hectares in the Sampaloc district.
In terms of student population, it is the largest Catholic university in the world in a single campus.
It was always questioned before on why supreme church leaders including Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis always visited UST whenever they’re in the country.
The reason why UST is so lucky to received such honourable visitors is because the status of the university as a pontifical university, directly under the authority of the Roman Pontiff – the successor of Peter, the first Pope.
Aside from its function as a regular university, a pontifical university has a special mission of spreading the Gospel and promoting the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The Rector of a pontifical university is appointed by the Vatican, and whenever the pope travels to a country where there is a pontifical university, it is his duty and pleasure to visit this university not only to see how it’s doing but also to inspire and encourage its students, faculty, and staff in their evangelization efforts.
Today, UST’s commitment to spreading the light to the youth, through education and evangelisation, has garnered reaffirmation through the recognition it has received both in the national and international scene.