The history of the University of Bologna offers an example of how the spontaneous-order mechanisms underlying market anarchism — mechanisms like mutual-aid surety associations and competing legal jurisdictions — can operate in a university setting.
Many mediæval universities were run from the top down. The University of Paris, for example, was founded, organized, and funded by the government, and students were under the strict regulation and control of the faculty. But the University of Bologna was run from the bottom up — controlled by students and funded by students. As for its founding, nobody ever really started the University — it just sort of happened. The University of Bologna arose spontaneously, through the interactions of individuals who were trying to do something else.
In the 12th century, Bologna was a center of intellectual and cultural life. Students came to Bologna from all over Europe to study with prominent scholars. These individual professors were not originally organized into a university; each one operated freelance, offering courses on his own and charging whatever fees students were willing to pay. If a professor was a lousy teacher or charged too much, his students would switch to a different professor; professors had to compete for students, and would get paid only if students found their courses worth taking.
Bologna soon became crowded with foreign students. But being a foreigner in Bologna had its disadvantages; aliens were subject to various sorts of legal disabilities. For example, aliens were held responsible for the debts of their fellow countrymen; that is, if John, an English merchant, owed money to Giovanni, a Bolognese native, and John skipped town, then innocent bystander James, if James were an English citizen, could be required by Bolognese law to pay to Giovanni the money owed by John.
The foreign students therefore began to band together, for mutual insurance and protection, into associations called “nations,” according to their various nationalities; one “nation” would be composed of all English students, another of all French students, and so on. If any student needed assistance (e.g., in paying other people’s debts as demanded by the government), the other members of his “nation” would chip in to help. Each was willing to pledge a contribution to the group for this purpose, in exchange for the assurance that he would himself be able to draw on these pooled resources in time of need.
Read the rest via Center for a Stateless Society » A University Built by the Invisible Hand.