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University of Oxford

The University of Oxford, situated in the city of Oxford, England, is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Organisation
3 Admission to the University
4 Degree names
5 Famous Alumni and Fellows
6 The "other" Oxford students
7 Institutions
8 Oxford in literature and the media
9 External link
10 See also


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. On June 20, 1214, the University returned to Oxford with a charter negotiated by Nicholas de Romanis, a papal legate.

Oxford's chief domestic rival is Cambridge, founded shortly afterwards. Together Oxford and Cambridge are sometimes referred to as Oxbridge. Cambridge is, not always correctly, considered stronger in scientific subjects whereas Oxford is, not always correctly, considered stronger in theology and the humanities. Both are members of the Russell Group of research led British Universities.


Oxford consists of a central university (including the central and departmental libraries, and science laboratories) 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 and one college does not accept students at all. 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 department 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 "regent" or resident masters and doctors who teach in the university. The assembly of "non-regent" masters and doctors, or Convocation, now encompassing all graduates of the university, now has very limited functions, chief of which is to elect of the Chancellor of the University. The executive body of the university is the Hebdomadal Council, which consists of the Vice-Chancellor, heads of departments and other members elected by Congregation.

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 for undergraduates is undertaken by individual colleges, which admit their own students to be taught partly in tutorials within their own colleges, and partly by lectures and classes by the university. 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. Admission at the undergraduate level is selective and highly competitive, on the basis of school references, personal statements, achieved results, predicted results, written work, written tests and interviews.

Oxford, like Cambridge, has traditionally been perceived to be a preserve of the wealthy. 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 schoolss 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. Greater effort is now made to widen access to the university, and the proportion of private- and state- educated students is now roughly equal, but as the university admissions are conducted purely on the basis of academic merit (no targets on state-school admission are set) the proportions vary from year to year and from college to college. Women were admitted in the 19th century, but most colleges were single-sex until the 1970s. Numbers are now more or less equal.

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 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.

Degree names

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.

Famous Alumni and Fellows

Lists of well-known former students and present and former Fellows of the Colleges can be found under the entries for the Colleges of Oxford University. Note that an individual may be associated with two or more colleges, as an undergraduate and/or graduate student and as a member of staff. See also List of notable Oxford students

The "other" Oxford students

There is a second university at Oxford - Oxford Brookes University [1], formerly known as Oxford Polytechnic, whose entrance requirements are less stringent. It is located on a campus in the eastern suburbs of the city. There are also a number of independent "colleges" which have nothing to do with the 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:

Related article: Academic dress of Oxford University

Oxford in literature and the media

Oxford University is the setting for numerous works of fiction, including:

Ficitional universities based on Oxford include Unseen University and the Invisible College

Many poets have been inspired by the university:

Films set in the university include:

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.

External link

See also