The word "university" is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means "community of teachers and scholars." While antecedents had existed in Asia and Africa, the modern university system has roots in the European medieval university, which was created in Italy and evolved from Christian Cathedral schools for the clergy during the High Middle Ages.
The original Latin word "universitas" refers in general to "a number of persons associated into one body, a society, company, community, guild, corporation, etc." At the time of the emergence of urban town life and medieval guilds, specialized "associations of students and teachers with collective legal rights usually guaranteed by charters issued by princes, prelates, or the towns in which they were located" came to be denominated by this general term. Like other guilds, they were self-regulating and determined the qualifications of their members.
In modern usage the word has come to mean "An institution of higher education offering tuition in mainly non-vocational subjects and typically having the power to confer degrees," with the earlier emphasis on its corporate organization considered as applying historically to Medieval universities.
The original Latin word referred to degree-awarding institutions of learning in Western and Central Europe, where this form of legal organisation was prevalent, and from where the institution spread around the world.
An important idea in the definition of a university is the notion of academic freedom. The first documentary evidence of this comes from early in the life of the University of Bologna, which adopted an academic charter, the Constitutio Habita, in 1158 or 1155, which guaranteed the right of a traveling scholar to unhindered passage in the interests of education. Today this is claimed as the origin of "academic freedom". This is now widely recognised internationally - on 18 September 1988, 430 university rectors signed the Magna Charta Universitatum, marking the 900th anniversary of Bologna's foundation. The number of universities signing the Magna Charta Universitatum continues to grow, drawing from all parts of the world.