How did universities develop
Universities today are a key component for modern states and economies, where the professional classes and academic research are fostered. We often rate societies by their abilities to produce scientific achievement and develop economic success where universities play a critical role in this. However, the history of universities was very different and these institutions were first relatively parochial and only in recent times have they become pervasive.
Early institutions of higher learning existed long before universities were established. These early institutions conducted research and taught pupils, similar to our ideas of universities today. Early recordings from Egypt and Mesopotamia suggest there were not only scholars who conducted research but also these scholars likely taught and were affiliated with institutions of learning. The Ashurbanipal Library and Library at Sippar were collections of knowledge that likely also had students and teachers associated with them that taught a select group of individuals who not only learned the complex writen languages of Egypt and Mesopotamia but also began to study and apply their knowledge.
The first institution that was more fully documented was the Platonic academy, founded in 387 BCE, and Aristotle's Peripatetic school was founded in 335 BCE. These schools generally had a select few pupils and were not institutions for mass education. They were seen as privilege for a select few. Perhaps one of the first truly international institutions of higher education was the Musaeum, an institutions that brought knowledge to it from around the known world. The Library of Alexandria was part of this institution and it served as a repository for knowledge not just from the Hellenistic world but also accumulated knowledge from Babylonia and Persia that had preceded Greek scholarship. The Musaeum largely functioned like an international university, where students would come to be educated by the best teachers. The Ptolemaic state was tolerant to scholarship and allowed individuals from many regions to come to Alexandria to be involved in this institution.
In the ancient world, several regions developed traditions of scholarship. In the Indian subcontinent, Pushpagiri and Nalanda were two well known centers of higher education. These institutions were devoted to Buddhist teaching but also trained individuals in arts, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy. Even politics, or something comparable to political science, in essence political theory, was taught at these academies. Earlier Hindu tradition and higher learning, such as Taxilia, also inducted students. This place became associated with one of the earlier economic treatises known to us, a text call the Arthashastra, which also discussed other topics as well, such as political statecraft.
China had developed an imperial academy to train bureaucrats during the Han dynasty in Taixue by the 1st century CE. While earlier academies were more akin to private institutions, the imperial training system the Chinese developed became more similar to public education. The school seemed to recruit students nationwide and admission was based on skills and accolades, demonstrating that by then higher education had become a form of social mobility. Up to 30,000 students may have attended the academy at a given time. Later in the 1st millennium CE, the school began to develop an examination system that evaluated its enrolled classes.
In ancient Persia, during the Sasanid dynasty at around 3rd century CE, Gundishapur functioned as a medical training and higher education academy. This academy continued to function for some time after the arrival of Islam and became one of the key influences and foundations for Islamic higher education that succeed it.