University of Oxford
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The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge where they established what became the University of Cambridge. The two English ancient universities share many common features and are jointly referred to as Oxbridge. Both are ranked among the most prestigious universities in the world.
The university is made up of thirty-nine semi-autonomous constituent colleges, five permanent private halls, and a range of academic departments which are organised into four divisions. All the colleges are self-governing institutions within the university, each controlling its own membership and with its own internal structure and activities. All students are members of a college. It does not have a main campus, and its buildings and facilities are scattered throughout the city centre. Undergraduate teaching at Oxford consists of lectures, small-group tutorials at the colleges and halls, seminars, laboratory work and occasionally further tutorials provided by the central university faculties and departments. Postgraduate teaching is provided predominantly centrally.
Oxford operates the world's oldest university museum, as well as the largest university press in the world and the largest academic library system nationwide. In the fiscal year ending 31 July 2019, the university had a total income of £2.45 billion, of which £624.8 million was from research grants and contracts.
Oxford has educated a wide range of notable alumni, including 30
The University of Oxford's foundation date is unknown. It is known that teaching at Oxford existed in some form as early as 1096, but it is unclear when the university came into being. The scholar Theobald of Étampes lectured at Oxford in the early 1100s.
It grew quickly from 1167 when English students returned from the University of Paris. The historian Gerald of Wales lectured to such scholars in 1188, and the first known foreign scholar, Emo of Friesland, arrived in 1190. The head of the university had the title of chancellor from at least 1201, and the masters were recognised as a universitas or corporation in 1231. The university was granted a royal charter in 1248 during the reign of King Henry III.
The students associated together on the basis of geographical origins, into two '
In 1333–1334, an attempt by some dissatisfied Oxford scholars to found a new
The new learning of the
The university was a centre of the Royalist party during the English Civil War (1642–1649), while the town favoured the opposing Parliamentarian cause. From the mid-18th century onwards, however, the university took little part in political conflicts.
Before reforms in the early 19th century, the curriculum at Oxford was notoriously narrow and impractical. Sir Spencer Walpole, a historian of contemporary Britain and a senior government official, had not attended any university. He said, "Few medical men, few solicitors, few persons intended for commerce or trade, ever dreamed of passing through a university career." He quoted the Oxford University Commissioners in 1852 stating: "The education imparted at Oxford was not such as to conduce to the advancement in life of many persons, except those intended for the ministry." Nevertheless, Walpole argued:
Among the many deficiencies attending a university education there was, however, one good thing about it, and that was the education which the undergraduates gave themselves. It was impossible to collect some thousand or twelve hundred of the best young men in England, to give them the opportunity of making acquaintance with one another, and full liberty to live their lives in their own way, without evolving in the best among them, some admirable qualities of loyalty, independence, and self-control. If the average undergraduate carried from University little or no learning, which was of any service to him, he carried from it a knowledge of men and respect for his fellows and himself, a reverence for the past, a code of honour for the present, which could not but be serviceable. He had enjoyed opportunities... of intercourse with men, some of whom were certain to rise to the highest places in the Senate, in the Church, or at the Bar. He might have mixed with them in his sports, in his studies, and perhaps in his debating society; and any associations which he had this formed had been useful to him at the time, and might be a source of satisfaction to him in after life.
Out of the students who matriculated in 1840, 65% were sons of professionals (34% were Anglican ministers). After graduation, 87% became professionals (59% as Anglican clergy). Out of the students who matriculated in 1870, 59% were sons of professionals (25% were Anglican ministers). After graduation, 87% became professionals (42% as Anglican clergy).
M. C. Curthoys and H. S. Jones argue that the rise of organised sport was one of the most remarkable and distinctive features of the history of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was carried over from the athleticism prevalent at the public schools such as Eton, Winchester, Shrewsbury, and Harrow.
All students, regardless of their chosen area of study, were required to spend (at least) their first year preparing for a first-year examination that was heavily focused on
At the start of 1914, the university housed about 3,000 undergraduates and about 100 postgraduate students. During the First World War, many undergraduates and fellows joined the armed forces. By 1918 virtually all fellows were in uniform, and the student population in residence was reduced to 12 per cent of the pre-war total. The University Roll of Service records that, in total, 14,792 members of the university served in the war, with 2,716 (18.36%) killed. Not all the members of the university who served in the Great War were on the Allied side; there is a remarkable memorial to members of New College who served in the German armed forces, bearing the inscription, 'In memory of the men of this college who coming from a foreign land entered into the inheritance of this place and returning fought and died for their country in the war 1914–1918'. During the war years the university buildings became hospitals, cadet schools and military training camps.
Two parliamentary commissions in 1852 issued recommendations for Oxford and Cambridge. Archibald Campbell Tait, former headmaster of Rugby School, was a key member of the Oxford Commission; he wanted Oxford to follow the German and Scottish model in which the professorship was paramount. The commission's report envisioned a centralised university run predominantly by professors and faculties, with a much stronger emphasis on research. The professional staff should be strengthened and better paid. For students, restrictions on entry should be dropped, and more opportunities given to poorer families. It called for an enlargement of the curriculum, with honours to be awarded in many new fields. Undergraduate scholarships should be open to all Britons. Graduate fellowships should be opened up to all members of the university. It recommended that fellows be released from an obligation for ordination. Students were to be allowed to save money by boarding in the city, instead of in a college.
The system of separate
The mid-19th century saw the impact of the Oxford Movement (1833–1845), led among others by the future Cardinal John Henry Newman. The influence of the reformed model of German universities reached Oxford via key scholars such as Edward Bouverie Pusey, Benjamin Jowett and Max Müller.
Administrative reforms during the 19th century included the replacement of oral examinations with written entrance tests, greater tolerance for religious dissent, and the establishment of four women's colleges. Privy Council decisions in the 20th century (e.g. the abolition of compulsory daily worship, dissociation of the Regius Professorship of Hebrew from clerical status, diversion of colleges' theological bequests to other purposes) loosened the link with traditional belief and practice. Furthermore, although the university's emphasis had historically been on classical knowledge, its curriculum expanded during the 19th century to include scientific and medical studies. Knowledge of Ancient Greek was required for admission until 1920, and Latin until 1960.
The University of Oxford began to award doctorates for research in the first third of the 20th century. The first Oxford DPhil in mathematics was awarded in 1921.
The mid-20th century saw many distinguished continental scholars, displaced by Nazism and communism, relocating to Oxford.
The list of distinguished scholars at the University of Oxford is long and includes many who have made major contributions to politics, the sciences, medicine, and literature. As of October 2022, 73 Nobel laureates and more than 50 world leaders have been affiliated with the University of Oxford.
The university passed a statute in 1875 allowing examinations for women at roughly undergraduate level;
These first three societies for women were followed by St Hugh's (1886) and St Hilda's (1893). All of these colleges later became coeducational, starting with Lady Margaret Hall and St Anne's in 1979, and finishing with St Hilda's, which began to accept male students in 2008. In the early 20th century, Oxford and Cambridge were widely perceived to be bastions of male privilege, however the integration of women into Oxford moved forward during the First World War. In 1916 women were admitted as medical students on a par with men, and in 1917 the university accepted financial responsibility for women's examinations.
On 7 October 1920 women became eligible for admission as full members of the university and were given the right to take degrees. In 1927 the university's dons created a quota that limited the number of female students to a quarter that of men, a ruling which was not abolished until 1957. However, during this period Oxford colleges were single sex, so the number of women was also limited by the capacity of the women's colleges to admit students. It was not until 1959 that the women's colleges were given full collegiate status.
In 1974, Brasenose, Jesus, Wadham, Hertford and St Catherine's became the first previously all-male colleges to admit women. The majority of men's colleges accepted their first female students in 1979, with Christ Church following in 1980, and Oriel becoming the last men's college to admit women in 1985. Most of Oxford's graduate colleges were founded as coeducational establishments in the 20th century, with the exception of St Antony's, which was founded as a men's college in 1950 and began to accept women only in 1962. By 1988, 40% of undergraduates at Oxford were female; in 2016, 45% of the student population, and 47% of undergraduate students, were female.
In June 2017, Oxford announced that starting the following academic year, history students may choose to sit a take-home exam in some courses, with the intention that this will equalise rates of firsts awarded to women and men at Oxford. That same summer, maths and computer science tests were extended by 15 minutes, in a bid to see if female student scores would improve.
The detective novel Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, herself one of the first women to gain an academic degree from Oxford, is largely set in the all-female Shrewsbury College, Oxford (based on Sayers' own Somerville College), and the issue of women's education is central to its plot. Social historian and Somerville College alumna Jane Robinson's book Bluestockings: A Remarkable History of the First Women to Fight for an Education gives a very detailed and immersive account of this history.
Buildings and sites
|Map of the University of Oxford|
The university is a "city university" in that it does not have a main campus; instead, colleges, departments, accommodation, and other facilities are scattered throughout the city centre. The Science Area, in which most science departments are located, is the area that bears closest resemblance to a campus. The ten-acre (4-hectare) Radcliffe Observatory Quarter in the northwest of the city is currently under development. However, the larger colleges' sites are of similar size to these areas.
Iconic university buildings include the Radcliffe Camera, the Sheldonian Theatre used for music concerts, lectures, and university ceremonies, and the Examination Schools, where examinations and some lectures take place. The University Church of St Mary the Virgin was used for university ceremonies before the construction of the Sheldonian. Christ Church Cathedral uniquely serves as both a college chapel and as a cathedral.
In 2012–2013, the university built the controversial one-hectare (400 m × 25 m)
The University Parks are a 70-acre (28 ha) parkland area in the northeast of the city, near Keble College, Somerville College and Lady Margaret Hall. It is open to the public during daylight hours. As well as providing gardens and exotic plants, the Parks contains numerous sports fields, used for official and unofficial fixtures, and also contains sites of special interest including the Genetic Garden, an experimental garden to elucidate and investigate evolutionary processes.
The Botanic Garden on the High Street is the oldest botanic garden in the UK. It contains over 8,000 different plant species on 1.8 ha (4+1⁄2 acres). It is one of the most diverse yet compact major collections of plants in the world and includes representatives of over 90% of the higher plant families. The Harcourt Arboretum is a 130-acre (53 ha) site six miles (10 km) south of the city that includes native woodland and 67 acres (27 hectares) of meadow. The 1,000-acre (4.0 km2) Wytham Woods are owned by the university and used for research in zoology and climate change.
Academic departments are located centrally within the structure of the federation; they are not affiliated with any particular college. Departments provide facilities for teaching and research, determine the syllabi and guidelines for the teaching of students, perform research, and deliver lectures and seminars.
Colleges arrange the tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and the members of an academic department are spread around many colleges. Though certain colleges do have subject alignments (e.g.,
The university's formal head is the
The University of Oxford is a "public university" in the sense that it receives some public money from the government, but it is a "private university" in the sense that it is entirely self-governing and, in theory, could choose to become entirely private by rejecting public funds.
To be a member of the university, all students, and most academic staff, must also be a member of a college or hall. There are thirty-nine colleges of the University of Oxford and five permanent private halls (PPHs), each controlling its membership and with its own internal structure and activities. Not all colleges offer all courses, but they generally cover a broad range of subjects.
The colleges are:
The permanent private halls were founded by different Christian denominations. One difference between a college and a PPH is that whereas colleges are governed by the
The PPHs and colleges join as the Conference of Colleges, which represents the common concerns of the several colleges of the university, to discuss matters of shared interest and to act collectively when necessary, such as in dealings with the central university. The Conference of Colleges was established as a recommendation of the Franks Commission in 1965.
Teaching members of the colleges (i.e. fellows and tutors) are collectively and familiarly known as
While the university has a larger annual income and operating budget, the colleges have a larger aggregate endowment: over £4.9bn compared to the university's £1.2bn. The central University's endowment, along with some of the colleges', is managed by the university's wholly-owned endowment management office, Oxford University Endowment Management, formed in 2007. The university used to maintain substantial investments in fossil fuel companies. However, in April 2020, the university committed to divest from direct investments in fossil fuel companies and to require indirect investments in fossil fuel companies be subjected to the Oxford Martin Principles.
The total assets of the colleges of £6.3 billion also exceed total university assets of £4.1 billion. The college figure does not reflect all the assets held by the colleges as their accounts do not include the cost or value of many of their main sites or heritage assets such as works of art or libraries.
The university was one of the first in the UK to raise money through a major public fundraising campaign, the Campaign for Oxford. The current campaign, its second, was launched in May 2008 and is entitled "Oxford Thinking – The Campaign for the University of Oxford". This is looking to support three areas: academic posts and programmes, student support, and buildings and infrastructure; having passed its original target of £1.25 billion in March 2012, the target was raised to £3 billion. The campaign had raised a total of £2.8 billion by July 2018.
The university has faced criticism for some of its sources of donations and funding, including All Souls College taking £10,000 from slave trader Christopher Codrington in 1710, Oriel College taking £100,000 from the will of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes in 1902, taking £20 million from Wafic Saïd who was involved in the Al-Yammah arms deal in 1996, and taking £150 million from the US billionaire businessman Stephen A. Schwarzman in 2019. The university has defended its decisions saying it "takes legal, ethical and reputational issues into consideration."
The university has also faced criticism, as noted above, over its decision to accept donations from fossil fuel companies having received £21.8 million from the fossil fuel industry between 2010 and 2015 and £18.8 million between 2015 and 2020.
The university accepted £6 million from The Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust in 2021. Former racing driver Max Mosley claims to have set up the trust "to house the fortune he inherited" from his father, Oswald Mosley who was founder of two far right groups Union Movement and the British Union of Fascists.
Oxford is a member of the
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In common with most British universities, prospective students apply through the UCAS application system, but prospective applicants for the University of Oxford, along with those for medicine, dentistry, and University of Cambridge applicants, must observe an earlier deadline of 15 October. The Sutton Trust maintains that Oxford University and Cambridge University recruit disproportionately from 8 schools which accounted for 1,310 Oxbridge places during three years, contrasted with 1,220 from 2,900 other schools.
To allow a more personalised judgement of students, who might otherwise apply for both, undergraduate applicants are not permitted to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year. The only exceptions are applicants for organ scholarships and those applying to read for a second undergraduate degree. Oxford has the lowest offer rate of all Russell Group universities.
Most applicants choose to apply to one of the individual colleges, which work with each other to ensure that the best students gain a place somewhere at the university regardless of their college preferences. Shortlisting is based on achieved and predicted exam results, school references, and, in some subjects, written admission tests or candidate-submitted written work. Approximately 60% of applicants are shortlisted, although this varies by subject. If a large number of shortlisted applicants for a subject choose one college, then students who named that college may be reallocated randomly to under-subscribed colleges for the subject. The colleges then invite shortlisted candidates for interview, where they are provided with food and accommodation for around three days in December. Most applicants will be individually interviewed by academics at more than one college. Students from outside Europe can be interviewed remotely, for example, over the Internet.
Offers are sent out in early January, with each offer usually being from a specific college. One in four successful candidates receives an offer from a college that they did not apply to. Some courses may make "open offers" to some candidates, who are not assigned to a particular college until
The university has come under criticism for the number of students it accepts from private schools;
In 2018 the university's annual admissions report revealed that eight of Oxford's colleges had accepted fewer than three black applicants in the past three years. Labour MP David Lammy said, "This is social apartheid and it is utterly unrepresentative of life in modern Britain." In 2020, Oxford had increased its proportion of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students to record levels. The number of BAME undergraduates accepted to the university in 2020 rose to 684 students, or 23.6% of the UK intake, up from 558 or 22% in 2019; the number of Black students was 106 (3.7% of the intake), up from 80 students (3.2%). UCAS data also showed that Oxford is more likely than comparable institutions to make offers to ethnic minority and socially disadvantaged pupils.
Teaching and degrees
Undergraduate teaching is centred on the tutorial, where 1–4 students spend an hour with an academic discussing their week's work, usually an essay (humanities, most social sciences, some mathematical, physical, and life sciences) or problem sheet (most mathematical, physical, and life sciences, and some social sciences). The university itself is responsible for conducting examinations and conferring degrees. Undergraduate teaching takes place during three eight-week academic terms: Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity. (These are officially known as 'Full Term': 'Term' is a lengthier period with little practical significance.) Internally, the weeks in a term begin on Sundays, and are referred to numerically, with the initial week known as "first week", the last as "eighth week" and with the numbering extended to refer to weeks before and after term (for example "noughth week" precedes term). Undergraduates must be in residence from Thursday of 0th week. These teaching terms are shorter than those of most other British universities, and their total duration amounts to less than half the year. However, undergraduates are also expected to do some academic work during the three holidays (known as the Christmas, Easter, and Long Vacations).
Research degrees at the master's and doctoral level are conferred in all subjects studied at graduate level at the university.
Scholarships and financial support
There are many opportunities for students at Oxford to receive financial help during their studies. The Oxford Opportunity Bursaries, introduced in 2006, are university-wide means-based bursaries available to any British undergraduate, with a total possible grant of £10,235 over a 3-year degree. In addition, individual colleges also offer bursaries and funds to help their students. For graduate study, there are many scholarships attached to the university, available to students from all sorts of backgrounds, from Rhodes Scholarships to the relatively new Weidenfeld Scholarships. Oxford also offers the Clarendon Scholarship which is open to graduate applicants of all nationalities. The Clarendon Scholarship is principally funded by Oxford University Press in association with colleges and other partnership awards. In 2016, Oxford University announced that it is to run its first free online economics course as part of a "massive open online course" (Mooc) scheme, in partnership with a US online university network. The course available is called 'From Poverty to Prosperity: Understanding Economic Development'.
Students successful in early examinations are rewarded by their colleges with scholarships and exhibitions, normally the result of a long-standing endowment, although since the introduction of tuition fees the amounts of money available are purely nominal. Scholars, and exhibitioners in some colleges, are entitled to wear a more voluminous undergraduate gown; "commoners" (originally those who had to pay for their "commons", or food and lodging) are restricted to a short, sleeveless garment. The term "scholar" in relation to Oxford 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. "Closed" scholarships, available only to candidates who fitted specific conditions such as coming from specific schools, were abolished in the 1970s and 1980s.
The university maintains the largest university library system in the UK, and, with over 11 million volumes housed on 120 miles (190 km) of shelving, the Bodleian group is the second-largest library in the UK, after the British Library. The Bodleian is a legal deposit library, which means that it is entitled to request a free copy of every book published in the UK. As such, its collection is growing at a rate of over three miles (five kilometres) of shelving every year.
The buildings referred to as the university's main research library, The Bodleian, consist of the original Bodleian Library in the Old Schools Quadrangle, founded by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1598 and opened in 1602, the Radcliffe Camera, the Clarendon Building, and the Weston Library. A tunnel underneath Broad Street connects these buildings, with the Gladstone Link, which opened to readers in 2011, connecting the Old Bodleian and Radcliffe Camera.
A new book depository opened in South Marston, Swindon in October 2010, and recent building projects include the remodelling of the New Bodleian building, which was renamed the Weston Library when it reopened in 2015. The renovation is designed to better showcase the library's various treasures (which include a Shakespeare First Folio and a Gutenberg Bible) as well as temporary exhibitions.
The Bodleian engaged in a mass-digitisation project with Google in 2004. Notable electronic resources hosted by the Bodleian Group include the Electronic Enlightenment Project, which was awarded the 2010 Digital Prize by the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
Oxford maintains a number of museums and galleries, open for free to the public. The Ashmolean Museum, founded in 1683, is the oldest museum in the UK, and the oldest university museum in the world. It holds significant collections of art and archaeology, including works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Turner, and Picasso, as well as treasures such as the Scorpion Macehead, the Parian Marble and the Alfred Jewel. It also contains "The Messiah", a pristine Stradivarius violin, regarded by some as one of the finest examples in existence.
Adjoining the Museum of Natural History is the Pitt Rivers Museum, founded in 1884, which displays the university's archaeological and anthropological collections, currently holding over 500,000 items. It recently built a new research annexe; its staff have been involved with the teaching of anthropology at Oxford since its foundation, when as part of his donation General Augustus Pitt Rivers stipulated that the university establish a lectureship in anthropology.
The Oxford University Press is the world's second oldest and currently the largest
Rankings and reputation
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Oxford is regularly ranked within the top five universities in the world and is currently ranked first in the world in the
Oxford was ranked 13th in the world in 2022 by the Nature Index, which measures the largest contributors to papers published in 82 leading journals.
In the 2018
According to the QS World University Rankings by Subject, the University of Oxford also ranks as number one in the world for four Humanities disciplines: English Language and Literature,
Other traditions and customs vary by college. For example, some colleges have
Balls are major events held by colleges; the largest, held triennially in ninth week of Trinity Term, are called commemoration balls; the dress code is usually white tie. Many other colleges hold smaller events during the year that they call summer balls or parties. These are usually held on an annual or irregular basis, and are usually black tie.
Punting is a common summer leisure activity.
There are several more or less quirky traditions peculiar to individual colleges, for example the All Souls Mallard song.
Clubs and societies
Sport is played between college teams, in tournaments known as
There are two weekly student newspapers: the independent
Most academic areas have student societies of some form which are open to students studying all courses, for example the Scientific Society. There are groups for almost all faiths, political parties, countries, and cultures.
The Oxford Union (not to be confused with the Oxford University Student Union) hosts weekly debates and high-profile speakers. There have historically been elite invitation-only societies such as the Bullingdon Club.
Student union and common rooms
The Oxford University Student Union, formerly better known by its acronym OUSU and now rebranded as Oxford SU, exists to represent students in the university's decision-making, to act as the voice for students in the national higher education policy debate, and to provide direct services to the student body. Reflecting the collegiate nature of the University of Oxford itself, OUSU is both an association of Oxford's more than 21,000 individual students and a federation of the affiliated college common rooms, and other affiliated organisations that represent subsets of the undergraduate and graduate students. The OUSU Executive Committee includes six full-time salaried sabbatical officers, who generally serve in the year following completion of their Final Examinations.
The importance of collegiate life is such that for many students their college JCR (Junior Common Room, for undergraduates) or MCR (Middle Common Room, for graduates) is seen as more important than OUSU. JCRs and MCRs each have a committee, with a president and other elected students representing their peers to college authorities. Additionally, they organise events and often have significant budgets to spend as they wish (money coming from their colleges and sometimes other sources such as student-run bars). (It is worth noting that JCR and MCR are terms that are used to refer to rooms for use by members, as well as the student bodies.) Not all colleges use this JCR/MCR structure, for example
Throughout its history, a sizeable number of Oxford alumni, known as Oxonians, have become notable in many varied fields, both academic and otherwise. A total of 70 Nobel prize-winners have studied or taught at Oxford, with prizes won in all six categories. More information on notable members of the university can be found in the individual college articles. An individual may be associated with two or more colleges, as an undergraduate, postgraduate and/or member of staff.
Thirty British prime ministers have attended Oxford, including William Gladstone, H. H. Asquith, Clement Attlee, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Of all the post-war prime ministers, only Gordon Brown was educated at a university other than Oxford (the University of Edinburgh), while Winston Churchill, James Callaghan and John Major never attended a university.
Over 100 Oxford alumni were elected to the
At least 30 other international leaders have been educated at Oxford.