The University of Oxford, situated in the city of Oxford in England, is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
Oxford University and Cambridge University are sometimes referred to collectively as Oxbridge. The two universities have a long history of competition with each other, as they are the two oldest in England and among the most famous in the world (see Oxbridge rivalry).
Oxford is a member of the Russell Group of research-led British Universities. It has recently come top of some league tables which rank universities in Britain. Though often contested, an international league table produced by the Times Higher Education Supplement rated Oxford fifth in the world overall and second in the world for both science and arts and humanities.
Oxford is, like Cambridge and others, a member of the Coimbra Group, a network of leading European universities, and the LERU (League of European Research Universities). Oxford is also a member of the Europaeum.
The date of the university's foundation is unknown, and indeed it may not have been a single event, but there is evidence of teaching there as early as 1096. When Henry II of England forbade English students to study at the University of Paris in 1167, Oxford began to grow very quickly. The foundation of the first halls of residence, which later became colleges, dates from this period and later. Following the murder of two students accused of rape in 1209, the University was disbanded (leading to the foundation of the University of Cambridge). On June 20 1214, the University returned to Oxford with a charter negotiated by Nicholas de Romanis, a papal legate. The University's status was formally confirmed by an Act for the Incorporation of Both Universities in 1571, in which the University's formal title is given as The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford.
Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the university's central facilities, such as departments and faculties, libraries and science facilities, and 39 colleges and 7 permanent private halls (PPHs). All teaching staff and degree students must belong to one of the colleges (or PPHs). These colleges are not only houses of residence, but have substantial responsibility for the teaching of undergraduates and postgraduates. Some colleges only accept postgraduate students. Only one of the colleges, St Hilda's, remains single-sex, accepting only women (though several of the religious PPHs are male-only).
Oxford's collegiate system springs from the fact that the University came into existence through the gradual agglomeration of independent institutions in the city of Oxford.
See also Colleges of Oxford University, and a list of Cambridge sister colleges.
Brasenose College in the 1670s
As well as the collegiate level of organisation, the university is subdivided into departments on a subject basis, much like most other universities. Departments take a major role in graduate education and an increasing role in undergraduate education, providing lectures and classes and organising examinations. Departments are also a centre of research, funded by outside bodies including the major research councils; while colleges have an interest in research, most are not subject specialist in organisation.
The main legislative body of the university is Congregation, the assembly of all academics who teach in the university. Another body, Convocation, encompasses all graduates of the university, was formerly the main legislative body of the university, and until 1949 elected the two Members of Parliament for the University. Convocation now has very limited functions, chief of which is to elect the (largely symbolic) Chancellor of the University, most recently in 2003 with the election of Chris Patten. The executive body of the university is the University Council , which consists of the Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood (succeeding Sir Colin Lucas), heads of departments and other members elected by Congregation in addition to observers from the Student Union. Apart from the present House of Congregation, there is also an Ancient House of Congregation which somehow survived the university reforms in the 19th century and is summoned today for the sole purpose of granting degrees.
The academic year is divided into three terms, each of eight weeks' duration. Michaelmas term lasts from early October to early December; Hilary normally from January until before Easter; and Trinity normally from after Easter until June. These terms are among the shortest of any British university, and the workload is intense.
Admission to the university
Admission to the University of Oxford is on academic merit and potential.
Admission for undergraduates is undertaken by individual colleges working together to ensure that the very best students gain a place at the university. Selection is based on school references, personal statements, achieved results, predicted results, written work, written tests and interviews.
For graduate students, admission is firstly by the university department in which each will study, and then secondarily with the college with which they are associated.
Oxford, like Cambridge, has traditionally been perceived to be a preserve of the wealthy, although this is today not the case. The cost of taking a course, in the days before student grants were available, was prohibitive unless one was a scholar (or in even earlier times, a servitor — one who had to serve his fellow undergraduates in exchange for tuition). Public schools and grammar schools prepared their pupils more specifically for the entrance examination, some even going so far as to encourage applicants to spend an extra year in the sixth form in order to study for it: pupils from other state schools rarely had this luxury.
In recent years, Oxford has made greater efforts to attract pupils from state schools, and admission to Oxford and Cambridge remains on academic merit and potential. Around half of the students in Oxford come from state school backgrounds. However, there is still much public debate in Britain about whether more could be done to attract those from poorer social backgrounds.
Students successful in early examinations are rewarded with scholarships and exhibitions, normally the result of a long-standing endowment, although when tuition fees were first abolished the amounts of money available became purely nominal: much larger funded bursaries are available on the basis of need for current and prospective students. ("Closed" scholarships, which were accessible only by candidates from specific schools, exist now only in name.) Scholars, and exhibitioners in some colleges, are entitled to wear a more voluminous undergraduate gown; "commoners" (i.e. those who had to pay for their "commons", or food and lodging) being restricted to a short sleeveless garment. The term, "scholar", in relation to Oxbridge, therefore has a specific meaning as well as the more general meaning of someone of outstanding academic ability. In previous times there were "noblemen commoners" and "gentlemen commoners", but these ranks were abolished in the 19th century.
Until 1866 one had to belong to the Church of England to receive the BA degree from Oxford, and "dissenters" were only permitted to receive the MA in 1871. Knowledge of Ancient Greek was required until 1920, and Latin until 1960. Women were admitted to degrees in 1920.
The system of academic degrees in the university is very confusing to those not familiar with it. This is not merely due to the fact that many degree titles date from the Middle Ages, but also due to the fact that in recent years many changes have been haphazardly introduced. See also Degrees of Oxford University.
Oxford has produced four British and about five foreign Kings, 47 Nobel prize-winners, 25 British Prime Ministers, six saints, 86 Archbishops and 18 Cardinals. More complete information on famous senior and junior members of the University can be found in the individual college articles. Note that an individual may be associated with two or more colleges, as an undergraduate, postgraduate, and/or member of staff.
See also: List of notable Oxford students.
The "other" Oxford students
There is a second university at Oxford - Oxford Brookes University , formerly known as Oxford Polytechnic, whose entrance requirements are less stringent. It is located on campuses largely in the eastern suburbs of the city. There are also a number of independent "colleges" which have nothing to do with either university but are popular, particularly with overseas students, perhaps because they allow their students to state truthfully that they have studied at Oxford; these institutions vary considerably in the standard of teaching they provide.
Ruskin College, Oxford, an adult education college, though not part of the university, has close links with it.
Events and organisations connected with the university include:
University Church of St Mary the Virgin
See also: Academic dress of Oxford University
Oxford in literature and the media
Oxford University is the setting for numerous works of fiction, including:
Fictional universities based on Oxford include Terry Pratchett's Unseen University and "Christminster" in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure.
For a list of fictional colleges of Oxford University see fictional Oxford colleges.
Many poets have been inspired by the university:
Films set in the university include:
A Yank at Oxford , starring Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh
Oxford Blues, starring Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy and Amanda Pays.
American Friends , starring Michael Palin
Iris, starring Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent and Kate Winslet, about the life of Iris Murdoch
Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, about the life of CS Lewis
Young Sherlock Holmes, starring Nicholas Rowe
True Blue, about the Mutiny Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race of 1987
The Saint, film starring Val Kilmer of 1997
A Chump at Oxford (1940) starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
This does not include movies that used the University as a set but were not depicted as Oxford University, such as the Harry Potter movies.
Last updated: 10-17-2005 16:40:49