A university in Imperialism and Imperialism 2 is for training civilians. Click the right-facing arrow button to increase your order. If you want to order one but have insufficient items, you may leave the window open while visiting other screens or panels to reduce their requirements so that you have enough for the civilian.
As with the other unit-building facilities, the university offers a menu of possible specialized functions you can convert an expert worker to. Click on one and you see its statistics, a description, the cost per unit (expert workers, paper, and money), and how many of each required item you have.