Not only was a Timbuktu a famous trading hub, but it also became a center of Islamic scholarship during the Mali and Songhai kingdoms. The most famous of the city's universities was the University of Sankore. A student at this school would have the freedom to choose various courses of study, ranging from medicine and mathematics to philosophy, history, and art. However, the primary study would be on the Quran and the teachings of Islam. Instead of attending classes in a formalized academic building, students heard lectures in Mosque courtyards or in the homes of instructors. Some courses of study took ten years to complete. This and other schools in the city would have attracted students from all over the Islamic world.
A student in Timbuktu in 1489 would spend many hours at study each day. The several libraries provided excellent access to writings of all sorts. This is before this part of the world had access to the printing press, so all libraries had were handwritten manuscripts. If a rare manuscript could not be found in one of the universities' or mosques' libraries, a student in the city might visit a private collection if he had enough connections.
A student would also write his own book. While listening to his instructor's lecture, a student would write it down, nearly word for word. Once complete, the student would read his manuscript aloud. If it were deemed correct, he would then keep it as a source for further study.
When not attending to his studies, a student in fifteenth-century Timbuktu would enjoy the truly cosmopolitan nature of the city. Being a major trade hub, Timbuktu would allow a student to interact with people from all over the known world. In fact, many of the students in the city were merchants themselves. A number of trade associations ran their own schools in Timbuktu. In addition to the Quran, students at these schools also studied matters of business and commerce.