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The University of Oxford

The Radcliffe Camera in Oxford, England as vie...
The Radcliffe Camera in Oxford, England as viewed from the tower of the Church of St Mary the Virgin. This is a 10 (2x5) segment panorama taken by myself with a Canon 5D and 70-200mm f/2.8L at 70mm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The University of Oxford (informally referred to as Oxford University or simply Oxford) is a collegiate research university located in Oxford, England. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096,[1] making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and the second-oldest surviving university in the world, after the University of Bologna.[1][6] In post-nominals, the University of Oxford is commonly abbreviated as "Oxon.", from the Latin Universitas Oxoniensis. Since 2007, "Oxf" has been used in official university publications, though this "has been criticized by some readers".[7]
The university has a long history. 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 north-east to Cambridge, where they established what became the University of Cambridge. Most undergraduate teaching at Oxford is organised around weekly tutorials at self-governing colleges and halls, supported by classes, lectures and laboratory work organised by university faculties and departments. Oxford regularly contends with Cambridge for first place in the UK league tables.[8][9][10]The University of Oxford has been the home of two of the most prestigious graduate scholarships, the Rhodes Scholarship, which has brought international students to read at the university for more than a century,[11] and the Clarendon Scholarships


The University of Oxford has no known foundation date. Teaching at Oxford existed in some form in 1096, but it is unclear at what point a university came into being.[1]The expulsion of foreigners from the University of Paris in 1167 caused many English scholars to return from France and settle in Oxford. 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 students associated together on the basis of geographical origins, into two "nations", representing the North (including the Scots) and the South (including the Irish and the Welsh). 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 for students. 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, and John Balliol, father of a future King of Scots; Balliol College bears his name.
 Another founder, Walter de Merton, a chancellor of England and afterwards Bishop of Rochester, devised a series of regulations for college life; Merton College thereby became the model for such establishments at Oxford, 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. 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.[13] Thereafter until the 1820s, no new universities were allowed to start in England, even in London; and, subsequently, Oxford and Cambridge had a duopoly unusual in western European countries.[14][15]

Renaissance period

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. 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.
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. 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.

Modern period

The mid-nineteenth 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. The system of separate honour schools for different subjects began in 1802, with Mathematics and Literae Humaniores.[16] Schools for Natural Sciences and Law, and Modern History were added in 1853.[16] By 1872, the latter was split into Jurisprudence and Modern History; and, Theology became the sixth honour school.[17] In addition to these B.A. Honours degrees, the postgraduate Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) was, and still is, offered.[18]
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.[citation needed] 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 theological bequests to colleges to other purposes) loosened the link with traditional belief and practice.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Knowledge of Ancient Greek was required for admission until 1920, and Latin until 1960.[citation needed]
The mid-20th century saw many distinguished continental scholars, displaced by Nazism and Communism, relocating to Oxford.[citation needed]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 40 Nobel laureates and more than 50 world leaders have been affiliated with the University of Oxford.[19]

Women's education

The University passed a Statute in 1875 allowing its delegates to create examinations for women at roughly undergraduate level.[20] The first four women's colleges were established thanks to the activism of the Association for Promoting the Higher Education of Women (AEW). Lady Margaret Hall (1878)[21] was followed by Somerville College in 1879;[22] the first 21 students from Somerville and Lady Margaret Hall attended lectures in rooms above an Oxford baker's shop.[20] The first two colleges for women were followed by St Hugh's (1886),[23] St Hilda's (1893)[24] and St Anne's College (1952).[25]
Oxford was long considered a bastion of male privilege,[26] 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.[27] In 1927 the University's dons created a quota[28] that limited the number of female students to a quarter that of men, a ruling which was not abolished until 1957.[20] However, before the 1970s all Oxford colleges were for men or women only, so that the number of women was effectively 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.[29][30In 2008, the last single-sex college, St Hilda's, admitted its first men, meaning all colleges are now co-residential. By 1988, 40% of undergraduates at Oxford were female;[31] the ratio is now about 48:52 in men's favour.
The detective novel Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers, herself one of the first women to gain an academic degree from Oxford, takes place in a (fictional) women's college at Oxford, and the issue of women's education is central to its plot.

Buildings, collections, and facilities  

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 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 Sheldonian Theatre used for music concerts, lectures, and university ceremonies, and 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, the University embarked on 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.[32] The development has been likened to building a "skyscraper beside Stonehenge".[33].[12]
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