University of Santo Tomas, the Oldest Existing University in Asia
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The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, the Catholic University of the Philippines, is the oldest existing university in Asia. But, according to Jose Victor Torres in his article in Philippine Daily Inquirer, its reputation as the oldest university was challenged by the University of San Carlos in Cebu which, in 1995, officially celebrated its 400th Foundation Day. Jose Victor Torres is a member of the faculty in University of Santo Tomas or UST and an adviser of the schools official theater group. San Carlos has its roots tied with those of another institution the Jesuit-run Colegio de San Ildefonso. Aloysius Lopez Cartagenas, a professor of the San Carlos Seminary, wrote in his study that the earliest roots of the University of San Carlos in Cebu is not the Jesuit Colegio de San Ildefonso of 1595 but the Seminario de San Carlos which, under the Vincentian Fathers, began to admit lay students in 1867. The year 1867, not 1595 as claimed, appears to be the propitious beginning of an educational institution that would later become a university.
Colegio de San Ildefonso opened in 1595 and closed down in 1608, leaving only a primary school for boys.
In 1605, Bishop Miguel de Benavides gave 1,500 pesos and a personal library collection for the foundation of a seminary-college. Colegio de Nuestra Senora del Santisimo Rosario was eventually founded on April 26, 1611. It is located in Intramuros, the Walled City. The institution was later on renamed Colegio de Santo Tomas in memory of St. Thomas Aquinas, the foremost Dominican theologian. It became a university in November 20, 1645 by the order of Pope Innocent X. It was placed under the patronage of the Spanish crown.
The Jesuit-run Colegio de San Ildefonso closed down after the Jesuit expulsion from the Philippines in 1768. Its buildings, however, were used by the Diocese of Cebu for San Carlos Seminary, which was established in 1783. In 1867, the seminary opened a government-authorized secondary school that became known as Colegio de San Carlos.
The University of Santo Tomas was granted many titles: “Royal University” in 1785 by King Charles III of Spain; “Pontifical University” by Pope Leo XIII in 1902; and “The Catholic University of the Philippines” by Pope Pius XII in 1947. It was transferred from Intramuros to its present site in Sampaloc, Manila in 1927.
In 1924, during the American period, the Colegio de San Ildefonso separated from the seminary and, in 1948, was given university rank by the Philippine government. In its entire existence, the school changed administration from the diocese to the Vincentians and, finally, to the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) order.
With these facts, University of Santo Tomas is really the oldest existing university in the Philippines and in Asia.