University of Oxford
The university traces its roots back to at least the end of the 11th century, although the exact date of foundation remains unclear. According to legend, after riots between scholars and townsfolk broke out in 1209, some of the academics at Oxford fled north-east to the town of Cambridge, where the University of Cambridge was founded. The two universities have since had a long history of competition with each other, and are widely seen as the most elite and prestigious universities in the United Kingdom (see Oxbridge rivalry).
Oxford has recently topped two university-ranking league tables produced by British newspapers: it came first according to The Guardian and, for the fourth consecutive year, in The Times table. Although widely contested (as with most league tables) on the basis of their ranking criteria, recent international tables produced by The Times Higher Education Supplement and Shanghai Jiao Tong University rated Oxford fourth and tenth in the world respectively.
Oxford is a member of the Russell Group of research-led British universities, the Coimbra Group (a network of leading European universities), the LERU (League of European Research Universities), and is also a core 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. Rioting in 1209 led many scholars to leave Oxford for other parts of the country, leading to the establishment a university in Cambridge. On June 20 1214, a charter of liberties was granted to the University by Nicholas de Romanis, the papal legate, which authorised the appointment of a chancellor of the University. Riots between townsmen and scholars ("town and gown") were common until the St Scholastica Day riot in 1355 led to the king confirming the supremacy of the University over the town.
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. In 1603 the University granted the right to appoint two Members of Parliament, a right which lasted until the abolition of university constituencies in 1949.
The comprehensive set of statutes, known as the Laudian Code, was drawn up by Archbishop William Laud in 1636 and ratified by Charles I. The University supported the king during the English Civil War, and was the site of his court and parliament, but clashed with his grandson, the Roman Catholic James II, who was later overthrown in the Glorious Revolution.
A Royal Commission to reform the University was appointed in 1850 and its proposals, accepted by Parliament, revolutionised the medieval workings of the University, until then still governed by the code of 1636. Later royal commissions were appointed in 1872 and 1919. In 1871 the Universities Tests Act opened the University to Dissenters and Roman Catholics. The first women's halls were established in 1878, and women were admitted to degrees in 1920.
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.
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 major research councils; while colleges have an interest in research, few are subject-specialized in organisation.
The main legislative body of the University is Congregation, the assembly of all academics who teach in the University. Another body, Convocation, encompassing all the graduates of Oxford, 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: the main one is to elect the (largely symbolic) Chancellor of the University, most recently in 2003 with the election of Christopher 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. Until 1969, the statutes also provided for an Ancient House of Congregation, which somehow survived the university reforms in the 19th century and was summoned for the sole purpose of granting degrees. Since then degrees have been granted by Congregation, but as late as 1994 these were still being announced in the Gazette as meetings of the Ancient House.
The academic year is divided into three terms, known as Full Terms, each of eight weeks' duration. Michaelmas Term lasts from October to December; Hilary Term from January till March; and Trinity Term from April till June. These terms are amongst the shortest of any British university, and the workload during each term is therefore intense. Students are also expected to prepare heavily in the three vacations (known as the Christmas, Easter and Long Vacations).
Admission to the University of Oxford is principally based on academic merit and potential. Admissions for undergraduates is undertaken by individual colleges, working with each other to ensure that the best students gain a place at the University regardless of whether or not they are accepted by their preferred choice. This has resulted in a greater balancing of academic strength across the various constituent colleges than was historically typical of the University. Selection is based on school references, personal statements, achieved results, predicted results, written work, written tests and the interviews which are held between applicants and faculty members. Because of the high volume of applications and the direct involvement of the faculty in admissions, students are not permitted to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year.
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 today this is not the case (except concerning overseas students, see below). 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.
As is the case for many other British universities, University of Oxford admission often favors fee-paying overseas applicants over EU-students of equal strength for undergraduate studies. This is a broad development, and understandable from a fiscal point of view, but it nevertheless tarnishes the University's academic credibility in the undergraduate sector.
In recent years, Oxford has made greater efforts to attract pupils from state schools, though admission to Oxford and Cambridge remains on academic merit and potential. Around half of the students in Oxford come from state school backgrounds; for comparison, approximately 93% of students in the UK study at state schools. There is still much public debate in Britain about whether more could be done to attract those from poorer social backgrounds. Responding to these criticisms, Oxford has introduced a university-wide means-tested bursary scheme effective from 2006, the Oxford Opportunity Bursaries, to offer financial support to those in need.
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 to 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 because, in recent years, many changes have been haphazardly introduced.
- See also: Degrees of Oxford University.
Oxford has had a role in educating four British and at least eight foreign kings, 47 Nobel prize-winners, three Fields medallists, 25 British Prime Ministers, 28 foreign presidents and prime ministers, seven saints, 86 archbishops, 18 cardinals, and one pope. Seven of the last eleven British Prime Ministers have been Oxford graduates. Amongst the University's old members are many widely influential scientists, artists and other prominent figures. Several contemporary scientists include Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and Nobel prize-winner Anthony James Leggett, and Tim Berners Lee, co-inventor of the world wide web; actors Hugh Grant, Kate Beckinsale, Dudley Moore, Michael Palin. Terry Jones and Richard Burton studied at the University, as did film-maker Ken Loach; Evelyn Waugh, Lewis Carroll, Aldous Huxley, Oscar Wilde, Vikram Seth and the poets Shelley, Donne, Auden and Philip Larkin are amongst the long list of writers associated with Oxford. Explorers such as Lawrence of Arabia and Walter Raleigh, along with modern media magnate Rupert Murdoch were also former students. More complete information on famous senior and junior 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).
- See also: List of notable Oxford students.
Other students in Oxford
There is a second university in Oxford - Oxford Brookes University , formerly known as Oxford Polytechnic. There are also a number of independent "colleges" which have nothing to do with either university but are popular, particularly with overseas students, in part because they allow their students to state truthfully that they have studied in Oxford; these institutions vary considerably in the standard of teaching they provide. Finally, many University of Oxford colleges host overseas students (primarily from American universities) enrolled in study abroad programs during the summer months.
Ruskin College, Oxford, an adult education college, though not part of the University, has close links with it.
Events and organisations officially connected with the University include:
- The Oxford Union Society
- The Oxford University Press, the world's oldest and largest university press
- The Bodleian Library
- Major Research Libraries (including the Sackler Library)
- Oxford University Department for Continuing Education
- The Taylor Institution
- The Oxford University Student Union
- Cherwell (Student publication)
- Oxford Student (Student publication)
- Isis Magazine (Student publication)
- Oxford University Newman Society - Catholic speaker society
- The OICCU, the undergraduate Christian union
- The Owl Journal (Student publication)
- The Oxford University Museum of Natural History (sometimes called The Oxford University Museum)
- The Pitt Rivers Museum
- The Ashmolean Museum
- The Bate Collection
- The Museum of the History of Science
- University Church of St Mary the Virgin
- Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum
- Oxford University Sports Federation
- Oxford University Boat Club
- Oxide Radio (student radio station)
- The O'Reilly Theatre
- Moser Theatre
- Rhodes Trust
- Rothermere American Institute
- Said Business School
- Computing Laboratory
- Isis Innovation
- The Oxford University Parks
Also associated with the University:
- Gaudy Celebrations
- Commemoration Balls
- May Morning Celebration
- Eights Week and Torpids
- The Boat Race against Cambridge University
- Academic dress of Oxford University
- Formal Hall
- Oxbridge Scarf Colours
- The Bullingdon Club
Oxford in literature and other media
Oxford University is the setting for numerous works of fiction. Quickly becoming part of the cultural imagination, Oxford was mentioned in fiction as early as 1400 when Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales referred to a 'Clerk [student] of Oxenford': 'For him was levere have at his beddes heed/ Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,/ of Aristotle and his philosophie/ Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie'. As of 1989, more than 533 Oxford-based novels had been identified, and the number continues to rise. Literary works include:
- Gaudy Night, a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (who was herself a graduate of Somerville).
- Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.
- A Staircase in Surrey, a quintet of novels by J. I. M. Stewart.
- A series of whodunnits by Veronica Stallwood, including Oxford Blue, Oxford Exit, etc.
- The His Dark Materials trilogy of Philip Pullman (alternative reality)
- The Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter is set in Oxford and frequently refers to the University (although most of the college names are fictional).
- An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
- Where the Rivers Meet, a trilogy of novels by John Wain
- Tom Brown at Oxford, by Thomas Hughes
- Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm
- Jill, by Philip Larkin
For a list of fictional colleges of Oxford University, see fictional Oxford colleges.
Many poets have also been inspired by the University:
- The Oxford Sausage was an anthology published in 1764 and edited by Thomas Warton. The Glamour of Oxford (1911) is a collection of verse and prose edited by William Knight, and another anthology - Seccombe and Scott's In Praise of Oxford (1912) - spans two volumes. More recent compilations include Oxford and Oxfordshire in Verse (1983) and Oxford in Verse (1999) (see 'Further Reading').
- 'Duns Scotus' Oxford' is one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' better-known poems.
Films set in the University include:
- A Yank at Oxford (1938), starring Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh
- A Chump at Oxford (1940) starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
- Accident (movie) (1967), film about an Oxford don, co-written by Harold Pinter
- May Morning (1970), a critique of social mores in early 1970's Oxford
- Incense for the Damned (1972), starring Peter Cushing, Patrick Macnee and Edward Woodward (based on the novel Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven)
- Brideshead Revisited (1981), based on Waugh's novel; a mini-series enormously popular in Britain and America, the film has sometimes been seen as drawing unwanted attention to Oxford's stereotypical reputation as a playground of the upper classes. It stars Jeremy Irons, and most college shots are of Christ Church and Hertford.
- Oxford Blues (1984), starring Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy and Amanda Pays
- American Friends (1991), starring Michael Palin
- Shadowlands (1993), starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, about the life of CS Lewis
- The Madness of King George (1994), with Nigel Hawthorne
- Tom & Viv (1994), a film which explores the troubled relationship between T.S. Eliot (played by Willem Defoe) and his mentally ill wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood (Miranda Richardson)
- True Blue (1996), about the mutiny at the time of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race of 1987
- Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), a James Bond sequel starring Pierce Brosnan (Bond returns to Oxford to brush up on his Danish.)
- The Saint (1997), film starring Val Kilmer
- Wilde (1997), film about the outlandish playwright starring Stephen Fry, Jude Law and Vanessa Redgrave
- The Red Violin (1998), the violin arrives in Oxford after being given to an English lord
- Iris (2001), starring Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent and Kate Winslet, about the life of Iris Murdoch
This list does not include movies wherein university buildings appeared as a backdrop but were not depicted as Oxford University, such as the Harry Potter movies and the earlier Young Sherlock Holmes.
- Batson, Judy G., Oxford in Fiction, Garland (New York, 1989).
- Betjeman, John, An Oxford University Chest, Miles (London, 1938).
- Brooke, Christopher and Roger Highfield, Oxford and Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1988).
- Casson, Hugh, Hugh Casson's Oxford, Phaidon (London, 1988).
- Catto, J. (ed.), The History of the University of Oxford, Oxford University Press (Oxford, 1994).
- De-la-Noy, Michael, Exploring Oxford, Headline (London, 1991).
- Dougill, John, Oxford in English Literature, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, 1998).
- Feiler, Bruce, Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge, Perennial (New York, 2004).
- Fraser, Antonia (ed.), Oxford and Oxfordshire in Verse, Penguin (London, 1983).
- Knight, William (ed.), The Glamour of Oxford, Blackwell (New York, 1911).
- Pursglove, Glyn and Alistair Ricketts (eds.), Oxford in Verse, Perpetua (Oxford, 1999).
- Hibbert, Christopher, The Encyclopaedia of Oxford, Macmillan (Basingstoke, 1988).
- Horan, David, Cities of the Imagination: Oxford, Signal (Oxford, 2002).
- Miles, Jebb, The Colleges of Oxford, Constable (London, 1992).
- Morris, Jan, Oxford, Faber and Faber/OUP (London, 1965/2001).
- Morris, Jan, The Oxford Book of Oxford, Oxford Univ. Press (Oxford, 2002).
- Pursglove, G. and A. Ricketts (eds.), Oxford in Verse, Perpetua (Oxford, 1999).
- Seccombe, Thomas and H. Scott (eds.), In Praise of Oxford (2 vols.), Constable (London, 1912).
- Snow, Peter, Oxford Observed, John Murray (London, 1991).
- Tames, Richard, A Traveller's History of Oxford, Interlink (New York, 2002).
- Thomas, Edward, Oxford, Black (London, 1902).
- Tyack, Geoffrey, Blue Guide: Oxford and Cambridge, Black (New York, 2004).
- Tyack, Geoffrey, Oxford: An Architectural Guide, Oxford Univ. Press (Oxford, 1998).
- University of Oxford website
- Oxford University Press
- Virtual tour of Oxford University
- Oxford City Council tourism site – Maps of the University and city, directions, events, etc.
- Information] from NNDB
- Oxford Information
- The Aliens' Guide to Oxford
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