When we think of the word ‘university’, more often than not we think of major institutions either in the United States or in Europe. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge are among the quintessential examples of the university establishment. We think sororities, fraternities, water sports and red plastic cups — these are often very first associations we will make with the idea of university, along with long laborious hours in the library and reams of indecipherable scrawled notes.
These examples of universities often seem enormous, too — Harvard has a current estimated student body of twenty-one thousand, while Oxford is home to in excess of twenty-two thousand students. That’s not even mentioning other well-knows universities that are much bigger — New York University, for example, has an estimated fifty thousand, nine-hundred and seventeen students, which is a vast student body. Such seemingly enormous populations of students can often seem unnerving to students. Frequently, there is an associated feeling of powerlessness and unimportance, as though students in these institutions could easily be lost in a sea of faceless names. This is more often than not a misguided fear — larger universities, in fact, frequently have incredible programs and facilities for their students in order to prevent such occurrences. As well as this, they have the freedom and resources to put emphasis on unconventional forms of university teaching in order to appeal to a wider variety of learning preferences or opportunities, such as distance learning.
Interestingly, the top ten largest colleges in the world by enrolment are largely based outside of the U.S. and Europe, meaning that there is a wide range of top-class universities frequently ignored by the Western world. This list compiles ten such colleges.
10. University of Pune, India — 493, 531 students
The University of Pune, located in Pune, India, is the tenth-largest in the world in terms of enrolment, with close to five hundred thousand students. The university was established in February 1949, and currently offers over four hundred course programs in different disciplines at Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels. Its two main departments are Anthropology and Electronic Science, with numerous subcategories in each. The University of Pune is currently a leading university in India, covering three districts in the state of Maharashtra: Pune, Ahmednagar and Nashik.
9. Tribhuvan University, Nepal — 500, 000 students
At number nine is Tribhuvan University, the Central Campus of which is situated in Kitipur, Nepal, a small town about five kilometres away from the city centre of Kathmandu. The first ever institute of higher education to be established in Nepal, Tribhuvan University was set up in 1959 and nowadays has in and around the region of five hundred thousand students. The university boasts thirty-eight central departments and four research centres, and offers an impressive one thousand and seventy-nine courses at Undergraduate level, and one thousand at Postgraduate.
8. Ramkhamhaeng University, Thailand — 525, 000 students
Located in Bangkok, Thailand, at number eight is Ramkhamhaeng University. The largest public university in Thailand, Ramkhamhaeng University was established post-country-wide crisis around higher level education in the year 1971. It is named after King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, who is credited with having invented the Thai alphabet. The university’s offered modules span a large range of faculties, including those of humanities and social sciences, and the major branches of science. In 1999, the university established its Institute of International Studies in order to better provide for the ever-increasing demand for international higher education, which may well go some way towards contributing to its high population of students.
7. Universitas Terbuka, Indonesia — 646, 467 students
The Universitas Terbuka in Indonesia is at number seven. The forty-fifth State University in the Republic of Indonesia, the institute was established in 1984, and university now boasts almost six-hundred and fifty thousand students. It is a highly aspirational centre of education, stating on its official website that by 2021 it aims to have become a world-class Distance Learning University. There is also a strong emphasis placed on independent learning within the university, with speed reading and self-discipline amongst the abilities extolled by the staff. An ostensibly tough love method of learning, but clearly one that works, judging by its volume of students.
6. Payame Noor University, Iran — 818, 150 students
With a large jump in population of student body as compared to number seven, Payame Noor University in Teheran, Iran, is at number six. Home to in and around eight-thousand and eighteen, one hundred and fifty students, Payame Noor University was established in 1988 by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The university has numerous departments, including Human Science, Social Science & Economics, Agriculture, Art & Media and Theology and Islamic Studies, meaning that it caters for a hugely wide variety of interests. Payame Noor University also offers the opportunity to avail of encompassing learning, which involves independent study, with the students being entirely responsible for their own education while having access to select university materials.
5. Bangladesh National University, Bangladesh — 1, 000, 000 students
At number five, with a considerable one million students, is Bangladesh National University in Gazipur, Bangladesh. The university was set up in 1992 as an Act of Parliament. It is an unusual institution in that it spans the country through its affiliated bodies, making it an off-campus university, unlike others in Bangladesh. The university offers a wide range of degrees, including BA, BSS, BBS, B. Sc., Post-graduate, Professional, MS, M. Phil and Ph.D., some on more limited scales than others.
4. Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan — 1, 806, 214 students
Another large jump in student body from the preceding university: with close on two million students, at number four is Allama Iqbal Open University in Islamabad, Pakistan. With the incredible status of having been the first open university established in Asia, and the second in the world, the university’s main campus is in Islamabad, but it has a large network of regional centres spread out all over the country. The university was set up in 1974 with the intention of bringing higher education to the masses, and through its employment of distance learning has achieved its objective, particularly in relation to bettering its education of women. Pakistan has a relatively high level of poverty and difficulties pertaining to women specifically, which can make convential methods of higher education problematic, making distance learning a shrewd and worthwhile undertaking for the university.
3. Islamic Azad University, Iran — 1, 900, 000
The second Iranian university on this list is also based in Tehran. Only around one hundred thousand students away from two million, the Islamic Azad University has several branches — including the North, South, and Central Tehran branches — and was originally founded in 1982. The university came about as a result of the charter of the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution, the highest body possible to be responsible for the establishment of a centre for higher education in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The college’s main areas of education include Agriculture, Art, Science and Medicine, making it attractive to a wide range of students.
2. Anadolu University, Turkey — 1, 974, 343 students
At number two, with round about an impressive one million, nine-hundred and seventy-four thousand, three-hundred and forty-three students is Anadolu University in Eskisehir, Turkey. First set up in 1958 as the Academy of Economic and Commercial Sciences, the institution became Anadolu University in the year 1982. The university has several campuses, one of which (home to the School of Physical Education and Sports, the Faculty of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Faculty of Engineering) strangely enough also houses Anadolu Airport. The university currently has sixteen faculties, three of which offer distance education, and twenty-five research centres.
1. Indira Gandhi National Open University, India — 3, 500, 000 students
At number one is the Indira Gandhi National Open University, unsurprisingly located in the second-most populated country in the world: India. The university is conservatively estimated to have three and a half million students, with approximations reaching up to and over four million. Situated in New Delhi, the university was established through an Act of Parliament in 1985, and began by offering a choice of two programs; Diploma in Management and Diploma in Distance Education respectively. Nowadays it caters not only to India but to thirty-six other countries worldwide, and boasts an impressive sixty-seven regional centres. The university prides itself on its all-inclusive mentality as to education, and notably offers free-of-cost education to prison inmates country-wide.