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University of Oxford

University of Oxford
University of Oxford seal
Latin: Universitas Oxoniensis
Motto Dominus Illuminatio Mea (Latin)
Motto in English The Lord is my Light
Established Unknown, teaching existed since 1096 (1096)[1]
Endowment £4.03 billion (inc. colleges)[2][3]
Chancellor The Rt. Hon. Lord Patten of Barnes
Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton
Students 22,116[4]
Undergraduates 11,772[4]
Postgraduates 9,850[4]
Other students 494[4]
Location Oxford, England, UK
Colours      Oxford Blue[5]
Athletics The Sporting Blue
Affiliations IARU
Russell Group

The University of Oxford (informally Oxford University or simply Oxford) is a collegiate research university located in Oxford, England. While having no known date of foundation, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096,[1] making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and the world's second-oldest surviving university.[1][6] It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.[1] After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled northeast to Cambridge, where they established what became the University of Cambridge.[7] The two "ancient universities" are frequently jointly referred to as "Oxbridge".

The University is made up from a variety of institutions, including

  • Official website
  • 'The University of Oxford', A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 3: The University of Oxford (1954), pp. 1–38

External links

  • Annan, Noel, The Dons: Mentors, Eccentrics and Geniuses HarperCollins (London, 1999)
  • 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, Jeremy (ed.), The History of the University of Oxford, Oxford University Press (Oxford, 1994).
  • Clark, Andrew (ed.), The colleges of Oxford: their history and traditions, Methuen & C. (London, 1891).
  • 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).
  • Kenny, Anthony & Kenny, Robert, Can Oxford be Improved?, Imprint Academic (Exeter, 2007)
  • 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 University 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). v.1
  • 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 University Press (Oxford, 1998).


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See also

The University of Oxford is the setting for numerous works of fiction. Oxford was mentioned in fiction as early as 1400 when Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales referred to a "Clerk [student] of Oxenford". By 1989, 533 novels based in Oxford had been identified, and the number continues to rise.[156] Famous literary works range from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, to the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which features an alternate-reality version of the University.

Oxford in literature and other media

Other notable figures include Gertrude Bell, an explorer, archaeologist, mapper and spy, who, along with T. E. Lawrence, helped establish the Hashemite dynasties in what is today Jordan and Iraq and played a major role in establishing and administering the modern state of Iraq; Richard Francis Burton, who travelled in disguise to Mecca and journeyed with John Hanning Speke as the first European explorers to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile; mountaineer Tom Bourdillon, member of the expedition to make the first ascent of Mount Everest; and Peter Fleming, adventurer and travel writer and elder brother of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.

Three of the most well-known adventurers and explorers who attended Oxford are Walter Raleigh, one of the most notable figures of the Elizabethan era, T. E. Lawrence, whose life was the basis of the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, and Thomas Coryat. The latter, the author of "Coryat's Crudities hastily gobbled up in Five Months Travels in France, Italy, &c'" (1611) and court jester of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, is credited with introducing the table fork and umbrella to England and being the first Briton to do a Grand Tour of Europe.[155]

Adventure and exploration

Oxford students have also excelled in other sports. Such alumni include American football player Myron Rolle (NFL player); Olympic gold medalists in athletics David Hemery and Jack Lovelock; basketball players Bill Bradley (U.S. Senator and NBA player) and Charles Thomas McMillen (U.S. Congressman and NBA player); figure skater John Misha Petkevich (national champion); footballers John Bain, Charles Wreford-Brown, and Cuthbert Ottaway; modern pentathlete Steph Cook (Olympic gold medalist); rugby footballers Stuart Barnes, Simon Danielli, David Humphreys, David Edward Kirk, Anton Oliver, Ronald Poulton-Palmer, Joe Roff, and William Webb Ellis (allegedly the inventor of rugby football); runner Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister (who ran the first sub-four-minute mile), World Cup ski racer Ryan Max Riley (national champion); and tennis player Clarence Bruce.

Rowers from Oxford who have won gold at the Olympics or World Championships include House of Lords), Douglas Jardine, Malcolm Jardine, Imran Khan, Alan Melville, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, M. J. K. Smith, and Pelham Warner.

Some 50 Olympic medal-winners have academic connections with the university, including Sir Matthew Pinsent, quadruple gold-medallist rower.[14][154] Other sporting connections include Imran Khan.[14]


Philosophy was never absent from Oxford's preoccupations. Oxford philosophers of the 20th century include Gilbert Ryle,[150] author of the influential The Concept of Mind, who spent his entire philosophical career at the university and Derek Parfit, who specialises in personal identity and related matters. Other commonly read modern philosophers to have studied at the university include A. J. Ayer,[150] Paul Grice, Thomas Nagel, known for his essay "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?", and Robert Nozick. John Searle, presenter of the Chinese room thought experiment, studied and began his academic career at the university.[153]

Oxford's philosophical tradition started in the medieval era, with Robert Grosseteste[150] and William of Ockham,[150] commonly known for Occam's razor, among those teaching at the university. Thomas Hobbes,[151][152] Jeremy Bentham and the empiricist John Locke received degrees from Oxford. Though the latter's main works were written after leaving Oxford, Locke was heavily influenced by his twelve years at the university.[150]


Oxford has also produced at least 12 saints, and 20 Archbishops of Canterbury, the most recent Archbishop being Rowan Williams, who studied at Wadham College and was later a Canon Professor at Christ Church.[14][147] Religious reformer John Wycliffe was an Oxford scholar, for a time Master of Balliol College. John Colet, Christian humanist, Dean of St Paul's, and friend of Erasmus, studied at Magdalen College. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, studied at Christ Church and was elected a fellow of Lincoln College.[148] The Oxford Movement(1833-1845) was closely associated with the Oriel Fellows John Henry Newman, Edward Bouverie Pusey and John Keble. Other religious figures were Mirza Nasir Ahmad, the third Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Shoghi Effendi, one of the appointed leaders of the Baha'i faith and Joseph Cordeiro, the only Pakistani Catholic cardinal.[149]


Actors Hugh Grant,[143] Kate Beckinsale,[143] Dudley Moore,[144] Michael Palin,[14] and Terry Jones[145] were undergraduates at the University, as were Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck[14] and filmmakers Ken Loach[146] and Richard Curtis.

Composers John Taverner, William Walton, James Whitbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber have all been involved with the university.

The long list of writers associated with Oxford includes John Fowles, Theodor Geisel, Thomas Middleton, Samuel Johnson, Christopher Hitchens, Robert Graves, Evelyn Waugh,[123] Lewis Carroll,[124] Aldous Huxley,[125] Oscar Wilde,[126] C. S. Lewis,[127] J. R. R. Tolkien,[128] Graham Greene,[129] V.S.Naipaul, Philip Pullman,[14] Joseph Heller,[130] Vikram Seth,[14] the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley,[131] John Donne,[132] A. E. Housman,[133] W. H. Auden,[134] T. S. Eliot, Wendy Perriam and Philip Larkin,[135] and seven poets laureate: Thomas Warton,[136] Henry James Pye,[137] Robert Southey,[138] Robert Bridges,[139] Cecil Day-Lewis,[140] Sir John Betjeman,[141] and Andrew Motion.[142]

Oscar Wilde read Greats at Magdalen from 1874 to 1878.

Literature, music, and drama

Economists Adam Smith, Alfred Marshall, E. F. Schumacher, and Amartya Sen all spent time at Oxford.

Robert Boyle, a founder of modern chemistry, never formally studied or held a post within the university, but resided within the city to be part of the scientific community and was awarded an honorary degree.[121] Notable scientists who spent brief periods at Oxford include Albert Einstein[122] developer of general theory of relativity and the concept of photons; and Erwin Schrödinger who formulated the Schrödinger equation and the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment.

Scientists who performed research in Oxford include chemist Dorothy Hodgkin who received her Nobel Prize for "determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances".[118] Both Richard Dawkins[119] and Frederick Soddy[120] studied at the university and returned for research purposes. Robert Hooke,[14] Edwin Hubble,[14] and Stephen Hawking[14] all studied in Oxford.

The University is associated with eleven winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, five in physics and sixteen in medicine.[117]

Three Oxford mathematicians, Michael Atiyah, Daniel Quillen and Simon Donaldson, have won Fields Medals, often called the "Nobel Prize for mathematics". Andrew Wiles, who proved Fermat's Last Theorem, was educated at Oxford and is currently a Royal Society Research Professor at Oxford. Marcus du Sautoy and Roger Penrose are both currently mathematics professors. Stephen Wolfram, chief designer of Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha studied at the university, along with Tim Berners-Lee,[14] inventor of the World Wide Web,[115] Edgar F. Codd, inventor of the relational model of data,[116] and Tony Hoare, programming languages pioneer and inventor of Quicksort.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee - inventor of the World Wide Web

Mathematics and sciences

At least 30 other international leaders have been educated at Oxford[14] This number includes Harald V of Norway,[106] Abdullah II of Jordan,[14] four Prime Ministers of Australia (John Gorton, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, and Tony Abbott)[107][108][109] two Prime Ministers of Canada (Lester B. Pearson and John Turner),[14][110] two Prime Ministers of India (Manmohan Singh and Indira Gandhi (although she did not finish her degree)),[14][111] five Prime Ministers of Pakistan (Liaquat Ali Khan, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Sir Feroz Khan Noon, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and Benazir Bhutto),[14] S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike (former Prime Minister of Ceylon), Norman Washington Manley of Jamaica,[112] Eric Williams (Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago), Álvaro Uribe (Colombia's former President), Abhisit Vejjajiva (former Prime Minister of Thailand) and Bill Clinton (the first President of the United States to have attended Oxford; he attended as a Rhodes Scholar).[14][113] Arthur Mutambara (Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe), was a Rhodes Scholar in 1991. Festus Mogae (former president of Botswana) was a student at University College. The Burmese democracy activist and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, was a student of St. Hugh's College.[114]

Over 100 Oxford alumni were elected to the House of Commons in 2010.[105] This includes current Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, and numerous members of the cabinet and shadow cabinet. Additionally, over 140 Oxonians sit in the House of Lords.[14]

26 British prime ministers have attended Oxford, including William Gladstone, Herbert Asquith, Clement Attlee, Harold Macmillan, Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair[14] and most recently David Cameron.[104] Of all the post-war Prime Ministers, only one was educated at a university other than Oxford.[105]

Bill Clinton attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar whilst Nelson Mandela was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university.


More 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.

Throughout its history, a sizeable number of Oxford alumni, known as Oxonians, have become notable in many varied fields, both academic and otherwise, ranging from T. E. Lawrence, British Army officer known better as Lawrence of Arabia[101] to the explorer, courtier, and man of letters, Sir Walter Raleigh, (who attended Oriel College but left without taking a degree);[102] and the Australian media mogul, Rupert Murdoch.[103] Moreover, 58 Nobel prize-winners have studied or taught at Oxford, with prizes won in all six categories.[14]

Notable alumni

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 Wadham College's entire student population is represented by a combined Students' Union and purely graduate colleges have different arrangements.

The Oxford University Student Union, better known by its acronym OUSU, 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.

OUSU and Common Rooms

Sports teams, but also other societies and groups organised especially for the purpose, often take part in crewdates. These evenings involve 'crews' (often one of each gender, hence the name) going for a meal and consuming much alcohol, before heading to a nightclub.[100]

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 invite-only societies such as the Bullingdon Club.

Most academic areas have student societies of some form which are open to all students, regardless of course, for example the Scientific Society. There are groups for almost all faiths, political parties, countries and cultures.

The Oxford Union's debating chamber

There are two weekly student newspapers: the independent Cherwell and OUSU's The Oxford Student. Other publications include the Isis magazine, The Owl Journal, the satirical Oxymoron, and the graduate Oxonian Review. The student radio station is Oxide Radio. Most colleges have chapel choirs. Music, drama, and other arts societies exist both at collegiate level and as university-wide groups. Unlike most other collegiate societies, musical ensembles actively encourage players from other colleges.

Sport is played between collegiate teams, in tournaments known as cuppers (the term is also used for some non-sporting competitions). In addition to these there are higher standard university wide groups. Significant focus is given to annual varsity matches played against Cambridge, the most famous of which is The Boat Race, watched by a TV audience of between five and ten million viewers. This outside interest reflects the importance of rowing to many of those within the university. Much attention is given to the termly intercollegiate rowing regattas: Christ Church Regatta, Torpids and Summer Eights. A blue is an award given to those who compete at the University team level in certain sports. As well as traditional sports, there are teams for activities such as Octopush and Quidditch.

Rowing at Summer Eights, an annual intercollegiate bumps race

Clubs and societies

Punting is a common summer leisure activity.

Balls are major events held by colleges, The largest, held triennially in 9th week of Trinity term, are called Commemoration balls and the dress code is usually white tie. Many other colleges hold smaller events during that they call summer balls or parties. These are usually held on an annual or irregular basis, and are usually black tie.

Other traditions and customs vary by college. For example some colleges hold formal hall six times a week, but for others happens on an irregular basis. At most colleges such meals require gowns to be worn and a Latin grace is said.

Academic dress is required for examinations, matriculation, disciplinary hearings, and when visiting university officers. A referendum held amongst the Oxford student body in 2006 showed 81% against making it voluntary in examinations — 4,382 voted in the poll, almost 1,000 more than voted in the previous term's students' union elections.[97] This was widely interpreted by students as not so much being a vote on making subfusc voluntary, but rather a vote on whether or not to effectively abolish it by default, as it was assumed that if a minority of people came to exams without subfusc, the rest would soon follow.[98] In July 2012 the regulations regarding academic dress were modified to be more inclusive to transgender people.[99]

An undergraduate student at the University of Oxford in subfusc for Matriculation


Student life

Moreover, the University has been recognised as among the world's "six super brands" by the Times World Reputation Rankings since 2011 when the first time such a league table was released.[96]

Oxford has been among the world's top ten universities in different league tables, and regularly competes with Cambridge for the first place in UK. In particular, it had held the number one position in the Times Good University Guide for eleven consecutive years,[92] and has also maintained its 1st place in "Clinical, Pre-Clinical & Health" of the THE World University Rankings for three consecutive years.[93] In 2014, Oxford's Saïd Business School came 23rd in the world in Financial Times Global MBA Ranking.[94] Oxford ranked 10th in the world and 2nd in Europe in Best World Universities 2012 compiled by Human Resources & Labor Review (HRLR) using Measurements of World's Top 300 Universities Graduates' Performance.[95]

(2014, world)
(2014/15, world)
(2014/15, world)
THE Reputation[88]
(2014, world)
(2015, national)
The Guardian[90]
(2015, national)
Times/Sunday Times[91]
(2015, national)

Rankings and reputation

The Oxford University Press is the world's second oldest university press and currently the largest university publication house by the number of publications,[12] publishing more than 6,000 new books every year,[84] including many reference, professional, and academic works (such as the Oxford English Dictionary, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the Oxford World's Classics, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and the Concise Dictionary of National Biography).

The coat of arms of the university (used in many Oxford publishing products).


The Museum of the History of Science is housed on Broad St in the world’s oldest-surviving purpose-built museum building.[83] It contains 15,000 artefacts, from antiquity to the 20th century, representing almost all aspects of the history of science. In the Faculty of Music on St Aldate's is the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, a collection mostly of instruments from Western classical music, from the medieval period onwards. Christ Church Picture Gallery holds a collection of over 200 old master paintings.

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 interior of the Pitt Rivers Museum

The University Museum of Natural History holds the University’s zoological, entomological and geological specimens. It is housed in a large neo-Gothic building on Parks Road, in the University’s Science Area.[81][82] Among its collection are the skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, and the most complete remains of a dodo found anywhere in the world. It also hosts the Simonyi Professorship of the Public Understanding of Science, currently held by Marcus du Sautoy.

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.[80] 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.

The Ashmolean is the oldest museum in Britain.


The Bodleian engaged in a mass-digitisation project with Google in 2004.[78][79]

A new book depository opened in South Marston, Swindon in October 2010,[76] and current building projects include the remodelling of the New Bodleian building, which will be renamed the Weston Library when it reopens in 2014–15.[77] 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 Libraries group was formed in 2000, bringing the Bodleian Library and some of the subject libraries together.[72] It now comprises 28[73] libraries, a number of which have been created by bringing previously separate collections together, including the Sackler Library, Social Science Library and Radcliffe Science Library.[72] Another major product of this collaboration has been a joint integrated library system, OLIS (Oxford Libraries Information System),[74] and its public interface, SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online), which provides an electronic catalogue covering all member libraries, as well as the libraries of individual colleges and other faculty libraries, which are not members of the group but do share cataloguing information.[75]

The Clarendon Building is home to many senior Bodleian Library staff and previously housed the university's own central administration.

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,[71] the Radcliffe Camera, the Clarendon Building, and the New Bodleian Building. A tunnel underneath Broad Street connects these buildings, with the Gladstone Link connecting the Old Bodleian and Radcliffe Camera opening to readers in 2011.

The University maintains the largest university library system in the UK;[13] 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.[70]

The Radcliffe Camera, built 1737–1749 as Oxford's science library, now holds books from the English, History, and Theology collections.


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) being restricted to a short, sleeveless garment. The term "scholar" in relation to Oxford therefore had 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, exist now only in name.

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, it is the most generous bursary scheme offered by any British university.[65] 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.[66] Oxford also offers the Clarendon Scholarship which is eligible for graduate applicants of all nationalities.[67] Clarendon Scholarship is majorly funded by Oxford University Press in association with colleges and other partnership awards.[68][69]

Rhodes House - home to the awarding body for the Rhodes Scholarships, often considered to be "the world's most prestigious scholarship".

Scholarships and financial support

Research degrees at the master's and doctoral level are conferred in all subjects studied at graduate level at the university.

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 terms: Michaelmas Term, Hilary Term and Trinity Term.[63] (These are officially known as 'Full Term', 'Term' is an 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 "-1st week" and "0th week" precede term). Undergraduates must be in residence from Thursday of 0th week. These teaching terms are shorter than those of most other British universities,[64] 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).

Members of the University Congregation pass through Radcliffe square after Encaenia.

Teaching and degrees

Offers are sent out shortly before Christmas (exceptionally, in early January for the 2012-13 admissions round), with an offer usually being from a specific college. One in four successful candidates receive offers 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 A Level results day in August.[61][62]

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.[60] 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.

[59] and those applying to read for a second undergraduate degree.[58] 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

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.[57]


Academic profile

Oxford is a member of the Russell Group of research-led British universities, the G5, the League of European Research Universities, and the International Alliance of Research Universities. It is also a core member of the Europaeum and forms part of the "golden triangle" of British universities.[56]


The University launched a fundraising campaign in May 2008, called Oxford Thinking – The Campaign for the University of Oxford.[54] This is looking to support three areas: academic posts and programmes, student support, and buildings and infrastructure[55] and having passed its original target of £1.25 billion in March 2012, the target has now been raised to £3 billion.[49]

While the University has the larger annual income and operating budget, the colleges have a larger aggregate endowment: over £2.9bn compared to the University's £850m.[51] 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.[52] The University has substantial investments in fossil fuel companies, and in 2014 begain consultations on whether it should follow some US universities which have committed to sell off their fossil fuel investments.[53]

In 2011/12, the University had an income of £1,016m; key sources were research grants (£409m), teaching funding (£204m), and academic fees (£173m).[49] The colleges had a total income of £361m,[50] of which £47m was flow-through from the University.[49]

The dining hall at Christ Church. The hall is an important feature of the typical Oxford college, providing a place to both dine and socialise.


Teaching members of the colleges (i.e. Fellows and Tutors) are collectively and familiarly known as dons, although the term is rarely used by the University itself. In addition to residential and dining facilities, the colleges provide social, cultural, and recreational activities for their members. Colleges have responsibility for admitting undergraduates and organising their tuition; for graduates, this responsibility falls upon the departments. There is no common title for the heads of colleges: the titles used include Warden, Provost, Principal, President, Rector, Master and Dean.

The PPHs and colleges join together as the Conference of Colleges, which represents the common concerns of the several colleges of the University, and to discuss policy and to deal with the central University administration.[46][47] The Conference of Colleges was established as a recommendation of the Franks Commission in 1965.[48]

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 Fellows of the college, the governance of a PPH resides, at least in part, with the corresponding Christian denomination. The six current PPHs are:

The colleges are:

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 38 colleges of the University of Oxford and six Permanent Private Halls, each controlling its membership and with its own internal structure and activities.[9] Not all colleges offer all courses, but they generally cover a broad range of subjects.

Chapel of Keble College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford
Tom Quad, Christ Church in the snow


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.[45]

Two university Humanities Division; the Social Sciences Division; the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division; and the Medical Sciences Division.

The Vice-Chancellor, currently Andrew Hamilton, is the de facto head of the University. Five Pro-Vice-Chancellors have specific responsibilities for Education; Research; Planning and Resources; Development and External Affairs; and Personnel and Equal Opportunities. The University Council is the executive policy-forming body, which consists of the Vice-Chancellor as well as heads of departments and other members elected by Congregation, in addition to observers from the Student Union. Congregation, the "parliament of the dons", comprises over 3,700 members of the University’s academic and administrative staff, and has ultimate responsibility for legislative matters: it discusses and pronounces on policies proposed by the University Council. Only Oxford and Cambridge (which is similarly structured) have this democratic form of governance.

Wellington Square, the name of which has become synonymous with the university's central administration.

The university's formal head is the Chancellor, currently Lord Patten of Barnes, though as at most British universities, the Chancellor is a titular figure, and is not involved with the day-to-day running of the university. The Chancellor is elected by the members of Convocation, a body comprising all graduates of the university, and holds office until death.

Central governance

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., Nuffield College as a centre for the social sciences), these are exceptions, and most colleges will have a broad mix of academics and students from a diverse range of subjects. Facilities such as libraries are provided on all these levels: by the central university (the Bodleian), by the departments (individual departmental libraries, such as the English Faculty Library), and by colleges (each of which maintains a multi-discipline library for the use of its members).

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.

As a collegiate university, Oxford's structure can be confusing to those unfamiliar with it. The university is a federation, comprising over forty self-governing colleges and halls, along with a central administration headed by the Vice-Chancellor.


There are also various collegiate-owned open spaces open to the public, including Bagley Wood and most notably Christ Church Meadow.[44]

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 hectares (4½ acres). It is one of the most diverse yet compact 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 ha) of meadow. The 1,000-acre (4 km2) Wytham Woods are owned by the University and used or research in zoology and climate change.

The University Parks are a 70-acre (28 ha) parkland area in the northeast of city. 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.

Autumn in the Botanic Garden


In 2012–13, the University built the controversial one-hectare (400m × 25m) Castle Mill development of 4–5 storey blocks of student flats overlooking Cripley Meadow and the historic Port Meadow, blocking views of the spires in the city centre.[42] The development has been likened to building a "skyscraper beside Stonehenge".[43]

Iconic university buildings include 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.

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.

The Sheldonian Theatre, built by Sir Christopher Wren between 1664 and 1668, hosts the University's Congregation, as well as concerts and degree ceremonies.
The atrium of the Chemistry Research Laboratory. The university has invested heavily in new facilities in recent years.

Main sites

Buildings and Sites

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 a (fictional) women's college at Oxford, and the issue of women's education is central to its plot.

In 2008, the last single-sex college, St Hilda's, admitted its first men, so that all colleges are now co-residential. By 1988, 40% of undergraduates at Oxford were female;[40] the ratio was about 46%:54% in men's favour for the 2012 undergraduate admission.[41]

In 1974, Brasenose, Jesus, Wadham, Hertford and St Catherine's became the first previously all-male colleges to admit women.[38][39]

The University passed a Statute in 1875 allowing its delegates to create examinations for women at roughly undergraduate level.[30] The first four women's colleges were established due to the activism of the Association for Promoting the Higher Education of Women (AEW). Lady Margaret Hall (1878)[31] was followed by Somerville College in 1879;[32] the first 21 students from Somerville and Lady Margaret Hall attended lectures in rooms above an Oxford baker's shop.[30] The first two colleges for women were followed by St Hugh's (1886),[33] St Hilda's (1893)[34] and St Anne's College (1952).[35] In the early 20th century, Oxford and Cambridge were widely perceived to be bastions of male privilege,[36] and it was not until 7 October 1920 that women became eligible for admission as full members of the university and were given the right to take degrees.[37] 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.[30] However, before the 1970s all Oxford colleges were for men or women only, so that the number of women was 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.

Somerville College was founded as one of Oxford's first women's colleges in 1879, it is now fully co-educational.

Women's education

The list of distinguished scholars at the University of Oxford is long and includes many who have made major contributions to British politics, the sciences, medicine, and literature. More than 50 Nobel laureates and more than 50 world leaders have been affiliated with the University of Oxford.[14]

The mid-20th century saw many distinguished continental scholars, displaced by Nazism and Communism, relocating to Oxford.

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. 20th-century Privy Council decisions (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 traditionally had been on classical knowledge, its curriculum expanded in the course of the 19th century to encompass scientific and medical studies. Knowledge of Ancient Greek was required for admission until 1920, and Latin until 1960.

Brasenose Lane in the city centre, a street onto which three colleges back - Brasenose, Lincoln and Exeter.

The system of separate honour schools for different subjects began in 1802, with Mathematics and Literae Humaniores.[27] Schools for Natural Sciences and Law, and Modern History were added in 1853.[27] By 1872, the latter was split into Jurisprudence and Modern History. Theology became the sixth honour school.[28] In addition to these B.A. Honours degrees, the postgraduate Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) was, and still is, offered.[29]

The mid-19th century saw the impact of the Oxford Movement (1833–1845), led among others by the future Cardinal Newman. The influence of the reformed model of German university reached Oxford via key scholars such as Edward Bouverie Pusey, Benjamin Jowett and Max Müller.

An engraving of Christ Church, Oxford, 1742

Modern period

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 of Oxford took little part in political conflicts.

In 1636, Chancellor William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, codified the university's statutes. These, to a large extent, remained its governing regulations until the mid-19th century. Laud was also responsible for the granting of a charter securing privileges for the University Press, and he made significant contributions to the Bodleian Library, the main library of the university. From the inception of the Church of England until 1866, membership of the church was a requirement to receive the B.A. degree from Oxford, and "dissenters" were only permitted to receive the M.A. in 1871.

With the Reformation and the breaking of ties with the Roman Catholic Church, Recusant scholars from Oxford fled to continental Europe, settling especially at the University of Douai. The method of teaching at Oxford was transformed from the medieval Scholastic method to Renaissance education, although institutions associated with the university suffered losses of land and revenues.

The new learning of the Renaissance greatly influenced Oxford from the late 15th century onwards. Among university scholars of the period were William Grocyn, who contributed to the revival of Greek language studies, and John Colet, the noted biblical scholar.

Magdalen College – founded in the mid-15th century

Renaissance period

In 1333–34, an attempt by some dissatisfied Oxford scholars to found a new university at Stamford, Lincolnshire was blocked by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge petitioning King Edward III.[24] Thereafter, until the 1820s, no new universities were allowed to be founded in England, even in London; thus, Oxford and Cambridge had a duopoly, which was unusual in western European countries.[25][26]

The students associated together on the basis of geographical origins, into two "nations", representing the North (Northern or Boreales, which included the English people north of the River Trent and the Scots) and the South (Southern or Australes, which included English people south of the Trent, the Irish, and the Welsh).[18][19] In later centuries, geographical origins continued to influence many students' affiliations when membership of a college or hall became customary in Oxford. In addition to this, members of many religious orders, including Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians, settled in Oxford in the mid-13th century, gained influence, and maintained houses or halls for students.[20] At about the same time, private benefactors established colleges to serve as self-contained scholarly communities. Among the earliest such founders were William of Durham, who in 1249 endowed University College,[20] and John Balliol, father of a future King of Scots; Balliol College bears his name.[18] Another founder, Walter de Merton, a Lord Chancellor of England and afterwards Bishop of Rochester, devised a series of regulations for college life;[21][22] Merton College thereby became the model for such establishments at Oxford,[23] as well as at the University of Cambridge. Thereafter, an increasing number of students forsook living in halls and religious houses in favour of living in colleges.[20]

In 1605 Oxford was still a walled city, but several colleges had been built outside the city walls. (North is at the bottom on this map.)
Aerial view of Merton College's Mob Quad, the oldest quadrangle of the university, constructed in the years from 1288-1378.

After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled from the violence to Cambridge, later forming the University of Cambridge.[7][17]

The University of Oxford has no known foundation date.[15] Teaching at Oxford existed in some form in 1096, but it is unclear at what point a university came into being.[1] It grew quickly in 1167 when English students returned from the University of Paris.[1] 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 was named a 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.[16]

Balliol College – one of the university's oldest constituent colleges




  • History 1
    • Founding 1.1
    • Renaissance period 1.2
    • Modern period 1.3
    • Women's education 1.4
  • Buildings and Sites 2
    • Main sites 2.1
    • Parks 2.2
  • Organisation 3
    • Central governance 3.1
    • Colleges 3.2
    • Finances 3.3
    • Affiliations 3.4
  • Academic profile 4
    • Admission 4.1
    • Teaching and degrees 4.2
    • Scholarships and financial support 4.3
    • Libraries 4.4
    • Museums 4.5
    • Publishing 4.6
    • Rankings and reputation 4.7
  • Student life 5
    • Traditions 5.1
    • Clubs and societies 5.2
    • OUSU and Common Rooms 5.3
  • Notable alumni 6
    • Politics 6.1
    • Mathematics and sciences 6.2
    • Literature, music, and drama 6.3
    • Religion 6.4
    • Philosophy 6.5
    • Sport 6.6
    • Adventure and exploration 6.7
  • Oxford in literature and other media 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
    • Notes 9.1
    • Bibliography 9.2
  • External links 10

Oxford has educated many notable alumni, including 27 Nobel laureates (58 total affiliations), 26 British Prime Ministers (most recently David Cameron) and many foreign heads of state.[14]

Most tutorials at the self-governing colleges and halls, supported by classes, lectures and laboratory work provided by university faculties and departments. Oxford is the home of several notable scholarships, including the Clarendon Scholarship which was launched in 2001[10] and the Rhodes Scholarship which has brought graduate students to read at the university for more than a century.[11] Oxford operates the largest university press in the world[12] and the largest academic library system in the United Kingdom.[13]

Being a city university, it does not have a main campus; instead, all the buildings and facilities are scattered throughout the metropolitan centre. [9] All the colleges are self-governing institutions as part of the University, each controlling its own membership and with its own internal structure and activities.[8]

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