I've played D&D forever, but mostly in homebrew settings; I've never delved into the lore of the published settings. But now I'm playing in an Adventurers League game set in the Forgotten Realms, and I've made a character with the Archaeologist background.

One of the suggested bonds for this background is "I hope to bring prestige to a library, a museum, or a university." This fits my character idea, and a university makes sense to me, so I went to cast around for some established location that makes sense. I found a list of Educational buildings in the Realms, but it's pretty short ­— and it seems to be almost entirely wizard or bardic colleges, with a smattering of military academies.

Is there normal higher education in Faerûn? I mean a school (college, whatever) which might teach things like archaeology — or philosophy, history, rhetoric, math or whatever else is setting-appropriate (which clearly archaeologist is), but not as part of wizardly education or whatever. I know there are institutions with religious acolytes and arcane acolytes, but are there... undergrads, grad students, post-docs? (If not, where do archaeologists learn their trade?)

Is it reasonable to just assume that any big city would have a university or college or similar? I'd love to tie in to a specific place, because that's the whole point of this "bonds" thing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Beware of the X Y problem. If what you are meaning to ask is "what place is a good one for my Archeaologist's bond", this is not what came out in the text above. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Oct 18 '17 at 22:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by "mundane" in the question title? \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Oct 18 '17 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, I don't care about what it's called. I mean a school which might teach things like archeology — or philosophy or math or whatever else is setting-appropriate (which clearly archeologist is), but not as part of wizardly education or whatever. That's what I mean by mundane. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 18 '17 at 23:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ As for x/y problem, I wanted to avoid "please write my background for me". \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 18 '17 at 23:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure, but maybe disclosing your character's class could be useful too? I assume it's not bard. \$\endgroup\$ – Michał Politowski Oct 19 '17 at 9:10

In a magical medieval world like FR, I am not sure if it would be easy to find an institution of higher learning that is not connected to theology, military or magic. Even Earth's fair share of universities were founded with religious studies playing a core role.

As a concrete example, consider the so-called City of Splendors, Waterdeep, one of the largest cities in the continent of Faerun, and possibly the most influential. An entire 2e boxed set, and a 3.5e sourcebook was dedicated just to this city. The 3.5e sourcebook describes it to have over 130k population which increases 5-fold in the summer months. The city boasts 12 churches, 4 or 5 arcane schools, a large number of guilds, places to obtain poisons, potions, magical and mundane weapons, a great library associated with the church of Oghma, 11 independent sages (mostly mid-to-high level experts) specialising in various mundane and arcane topics, but only a single organization that is categorised as scholastic, the bardic college New Olamn. No universities at all.

If you decide to expand your question to allow temples and libraries in FR, then the list is a lot longer of course. The most famous of the libraries is Candlekeep. Another one would be the High Temple of Mystra on Mount Talath in Halruaa. Others can be found on the FR wikia. Furthermore, if you allow universities of magic, 3e FR Campaign Setting (FRCS) mentions that it is not uncommon to meet wizards who are university graduates in the lands of Lantan and Halruaa.

Finally, if you want to stick to universities and find the Zakharan and Oriental institutions listed in guildbounty's answer too far, you can try the Great University in Gheldaneth. To the extent that I know, that is the only university that is mentioned by name throughout the whole FRCS. (With its 320-pages full of two-column small-font text, FRCS is arguably the most information-dense sourcebook published on the Realms.) The Great University was one of the two most prominent buildings (the other is the Wizard College) of that metropolis, which happened to be the second largest city in Mulhorand, and ruled by clerics of Thoth. Unfortunately the city survived but got devastated by the Spellplague, so it is not clear what the current whereabouts of the university are.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hmmm. As noted in comments to other answers, in the real medieval world, universities / colleges were founded with strong religious underpinnings, but still taught non-clerics (and had courses of instruction ranging to all areas, not just or even primarily theology). What would be different in a magical medieval world, in general and in FR in specific? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 25 '17 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ The main differences are: (1) Many of the "higher" professions, for example law, a key subject in the establishment of say University of Bologna, involve/benefit from the use of magic. (2) Many of those professions are within the actual domain/portfolio of the large pantheon of deities. It will not be easy to practice law without getting involved with the churches of Tyr or Torm for instance. Even the acts of collecting and disseminating knowledge belong to the portfolio of particular powers like Oghma, Deneir, Gond, etc. So I feel "secular universities" will be much rarer than medieval Earth. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Oct 25 '17 at 13:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the commonality and/or centrality of magic in the world is key here. This could be like asking whether there are universities in our world that do not teach or even care for "hard" sciences. While you could make jokes about certain religiously conservative schools, the answer is mostly "no", that even if you want to go to school for, say, History, you still need a modicum of knowledge of chemistry, etc., or at least you would be hard-pressed to find a school that flat out rejected the entire concept of teaching it. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Columbia Oct 18 '18 at 13:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ One could also say that, in the Forgotten Realms, magic is a branch of science as much as any other, and it would be as ridiculous to have a "no magic" science university as it would be to have a "no physics" science university in ours. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Columbia Oct 23 '18 at 19:46

In the list that you quoted, there are three schools that have a more mundane focus, or include mundane programs.

The Grand University of Huzuz in Al-Qadim

The Grand University enrolled a few hundred students for a three-year course covering topics such as business, language, history, and etiquette.

The Great School of Deneir in the Hordelands...

large temple and school [...] dedicated to the god of learning

Al-Bidir Sallah, also in Huzuz

the university included colleges for Alchemy, Barbering, Combat, Fine Arts, Magic, and Science.

In addition to this, there are places such as the House of Knowledge (Neverwinter) that is a temple to Oghma, and the priests there teach anyone who would come to learn. Though that's more education on demand, rather than a formalized higher education.

That's all I could find, unfortunately.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So, is the list there comprehensive for official material, or is it just incomplete? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 19 '17 at 4:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm I cannot say for certain that it is comprehensive...because I have not read every piece of FR literature that exists...but I am not aware of any locations of higher education in-lore that are not included there. Logically, though...it makes sense. The Realms are mostly a Medieval World. The Medieval era's "education" system was largely built upon apprenticeship, rather than academy. If you wanted an 'education' in something other than a trade, then you went to work at a monastary/library/whatever and were educated while you worked there. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Oct 19 '17 at 13:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not a historian by any means, but there are many real-world universities which date to the High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages. If the answer is that the Forgotten Realms doesn't have an analog, that's, I guess, the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 19 '17 at 14:17

Yes, there are places of higher education in Faêrun (check your linked list), but they are only for the elite (nobility and distinguished adventurers like your character). There is no formal educational system like our earthen colleges and universities. But any place that graduates lv1 adventurers might be considered a "college".

The list in the wiki is a good starting point. There are some colleges not listed there (like the Blackstaff Tower that hosted ~50 apprentices at its peak (mostly harpists).

3.5 had all sorts of demographics tables and rules, and those demographics are still a sound basis in 5e society: commoners will make for 95%+ of the population.

A Level 1 adventurer is already someone of the elite.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, there a lot of wizard towers with apprentices and stuff. Are there any Oxfords or Jagiellonian Universities? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 18 '17 at 23:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm Are you sure you want a school founded with a strong religious basis? (See the history of Oxford, University of Paris, and for that matter the whole early European University system ...) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 19 '17 at 2:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Well, that's setting-appropriate for real-world medieval Europe — so if it's setting appropriate for Forgotten Realms, that's fine. (As long as it's not solely religious instruction, or cleric-class specific training.) \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 19 '17 at 2:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin Are the 3.5E demographics tables appropriate for Forgotten Realms? As I remember, the default 3.5 setting was Greyhawk. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 19 '17 at 4:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin The starting gold alone would seem to make the Lvl 1 Adventurer part of the elite... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 19 '17 at 13:43

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