Which university is Russia’s oldest?

The corridor of the Twelve Colleges building

The corridor of the Twelve Colleges building

NSmirnova (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Two universities — Moscow State University and St. Petersburg State University — are competing for this title.

Moscow State University was founded in 1755 by the decree of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna and, since, then it has had a continuous history.

Moscow University and the Neglinnaya River. 1790s.

The history of St. Petersburg State University, meanwhile, is full of peripetias.

1724  Peter the Great issued a decree on the foundation of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and, with it, the Academic University and gymnasium. By the end of the 18th century, the Academic University was liquidated, but the gymnasium operated until 1803.

Modern building of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg

1804  The Main Pedagogical Institute was established in the capital  already outside the system of the Academy of Sciences.

1819  Alexander I approved the project to restore the university in St. Petersburg on the basis of the Pedagogical institute. In 1821, the university received the title of the Imperial University and, in 1830, occupied the famous building of the Twelve Colleges.

Building of the Twelve Colleges (University) on Vasilyevsky Island in St. Petersburg

In the 1980s, university researchers began studying the early history of the university and substantiated the year 1724 as the date of the beginning of university education in St. Petersburg. After this, St. Petersburg State University began to be considered the successor of Peter the Great’s Academic University. This point of view is now shared not only in the university itself, but also at state level.

So, on February 8, 2024, St. Petersburg State University celebrates its 300th anniversary as the undisputed oldest university in Russia.

Meanwhile, Moscow State University will turn 270 years old in 2025.

 Moscow State University

Dear readers,

Our website and social media accounts are under threat of being restricted or banned, due to the current circumstances. So, to keep up with our latest content, simply do the following:

  • Subscribe to our Telegram channel
  • Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter
  • Enable push notifications on our website
  • Install a VPN service on your computer and/or phone to have access to our website, even if it is blocked in your country

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

This website uses cookies. Click here to find out more.

Accept cookies