The University of Cambridge (informally Cambridge University) is a collegiate public research university in Cambridge, England, often regarded as one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Founded in 1209 and given royal charter status by King Henry III in 1231, Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s third-oldest surviving university. The university grew out of an association of scholars who left the University of Oxford after a dispute with the townspeople. The two ancient universities share many common features and are often referred to jointly as “Oxbridge”.
As of 2017, Cambridge is ranked the world’s fourth best university by three ranking tables and no other institution in the world ranks in the top 10 for as many subjects. Cambridge is consistently ranked as the top university in the United Kingdom.
By the late 12th century, the Cambridge region already had a scholarly and ecclesiastical reputation, due to monks from the nearby bishopric church of Ely. However, it was an incident at Oxford which is most likely to have formed the establishment of the university: two Oxford scholars were hanged by the town authorities for the death of a woman, without consulting the ecclesiastical authorities, who would normally take precedence (and pardon the scholars) in such a case, but were at that time in conflict with King John. The University of Oxford went into suspension in protest, and most scholars moved to cities such as Paris, Reading, and Cambridge. After the University of Oxford reformed several years later, enough scholars remained in Cambridge to form the nucleus of the new university. In order to claim precedence, it is common for Cambridge to trace its founding to the 1231 charter from King Henry III granting it the right to discipline its own members (ius non-trahi extra) and an exemption from some taxes. (Oxford would not receive a similar enhancement until 1248.)
A bull in 1233 from Pope Gregory IX gave graduates from Cambridge the right to teach “everywhere in Christendom”.
After the Cambridge University Act formalised the organizational structure of the university, the study of many new subjects was introduced, such as theology, history and modern languages. Resources necessary for new courses in the arts, architecture and archaeology were donated by Richard Fitzwilliam of Trinity College. Between 1896 and 1902, Downing College sold part of its land to build the Downing Site, comprising new scientific laboratories for anatomy, genetics and Earth sciences. During the same period, the New Museums Site was erected, including the Cavendish Laboratory, which has since moved to the West Cambridge Site, and other departments for chemistry and medicine.
The University of Cambridge began to award doctorates in the first third of the 20th century. The first Cambridge PhD in mathematics was awarded in 1924.
The university was one of only eight UK universities to hold a parliamentary seat in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The constituency was created by a Royal Charter of 1603 and returned two members of parliament. It was abolished in 1950 by the Representation of the People Act 1948.
The first women students were examined in 1882 but attempts to make women full members of the university did not succeed until 1948. Women were allowed to study courses, sit examinations, and have their results recorded from 1881; for a brief period after the turn of the twentieth century, this allowed the “steamboat ladies” to receive ad eundem degrees from the University of Dublin.
Cambridge is formed from a variety of institutions which include 31 constituent colleges and over 100 academic departments organised into six schools.
In addition to the 31 colleges, the university is made up of over 150 departments, faculties, schools, syndicates and other institutions. Members of these are usually also members of one of the colleges and responsibility for running the entire academic programme of the university is divided amongst them. The university also houses the Institute of Continuing Education, a centre for part-time study.
A “School” in the University of Cambridge is a broad administrative grouping of related faculties and other units. Each has an elected supervisory body—the “Council” of the school—comprising representatives of the constituent bodies.
There are six schools:
- Arts and Humanities
- Biological Sciences
- Clinical Medicine
- Humanities and Social Sciences
- Physical Sciences
Teaching and research in Cambridge is organised by faculties. The faculties have different organisational sub-structures which partly reflect their history and partly their operational needs, which may include a number of departments and other institutions. In addition, a small number of bodies entitled ‘Syndicates’ have responsibilities for teaching and research, e.g. Cambridge Assessment, the University Press, and the University Library.
Most conditional offers made by the Cambridge Colleges require A*A*A at A Level (or equivalent) for undergraduate science courses (excluding Psychological and Behavioural Sciences), and A*AA for arts courses and Psychological and Behavioural Sciences.
Colleges have the discretion to make non-standard offers where appropriate as part of their holistic assessment of candidates.
Undergraduate applicants may be asked to submit written work or sit a test (e.g. BMAT, TSA or a College-based test).
The University interviews the majority of its undergraduate applicants (approximately 80%).
Read their comprehensive guide to Applying to Oxford and Cambridge.
Cambridge has produced 90 Nobel Prize winners across all categories – more than any other institution.
Cambridge is at the international forefront of excellence in teaching and research.
Performance league tables consistently place Cambridge among the world’s topranking institutions.
Supervisions – regular small-group teaching with subject specialists – are one of the unique advantages of the teaching at Cambridge.
The University Careers Service promotes more vacancies each year than there are Cambridge graduates seeking employment.
The university is recognised by the High Fliers survey as having amongst the highest rates of students engaging with its Careers Service, having the highest student use of any careers service website (more than 95% of finalists are registered), and having the largest proportion of students with some relevant work experience on their CV before the February of their final year.
In addition to the support and guidance offered by the university’s Careers Service, many colleges and departments offer careers advice and services.