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The university was founded in 1410 when a group of Augustinian clergy, driven from the University of Paris by the Avignon schism and from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge by the Anglo-Scottish Wars, formed a society of higher learning in St Andrews, which offered courses of lectures in divinity, logic, philosophy, and law.A charter of privilege was bestowed upon the society of masters and scholars by the Bishop of St Andrews, Henry Wardlaw, on 28 February 1411.American Bobby Jones, co-founder of the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, was named a Freeman of the City of St Andrews in 1958, becoming only the second American to be so honored, the other being Benjamin Franklin in 1759.
It is the oldest of the four ancient universities of Scotland and the third oldest university in the English-speaking world (following Oxford and Cambridge Universities).
At this time, the majority of the teaching was of a religious nature and was conducted by clerics associated with the cathedral.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the university had mixed fortunes and was often beset by civil and religious disturbances.
The academic year is divided into two terms, Martinmas and Candlemas.
In term time, over one-third of the town's population is either a staff member or student of the university.