The University of Oxford has no known foundation date. Teaching at Oxford existed in some form as early as 1096, but it is unclear when a university came into being. It grew quickly in 1167 when English students returned from the University of Paris. 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 had the title of 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.
After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled from the violence to Cambridge, later forming the University of Cambridge.
The students associated together on the basis of geographical origins, into two “nations”, 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. 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.
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. As a centre of learning and scholarship, Oxford’s reputation declined in the Age of Enlightenment; enrolments fell and teaching was neglected.
In 1637, William Laud, the chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, codified the university’s statutes. These, to a large extent, remained its governing regulations until the mid-19th century. From the beginnings of the Church of England as the established church until 1866, membership of the church was a requirement to receive the BA degree from the university and “dissenters” were only permitted to receive the MA 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.
At the start of 1914 the university housed about 3000 undergraduates and about 100 postgraduate students. During the First World War many undergraduates and Fellows joined the armed forces. By 1918 virtually all Fellows were in uniform, and the student population in residence was reduced to 12 per cent.
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 universities reached Oxford via key scholars such as Edward Bouverie Pusey, Benjamin Jowett and Max Müller.
The University of Oxford began to award doctorates in the first third of the 20th century. The first Oxford DPhil in mathematics was awarded in 1921.
The mid-20th century saw many distinguished continental scholars, displaced by Nazism and communism, relocating to Oxford.
The list of distinguished scholars at the University of Oxford is long and includes many who have made major contributions to 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.
In 1916 women were admitted as medical students on a par with men, and in 1917 the university accepted financial responsibility for women’s examinations. On 7 October 1920 women became eligible for admission as full members of the university and were given the right to take degrees. 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. 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.
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 highly research intensive and elite English universities.
The various academic faculties, departments, and institutes are organised into four divisions, each with its own head and elected board. They are:
- Humanities division
- Social Sciences Division
- Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division
- Medical Sciences Division
Conditional offers for students studying A levels range between A*A*A and AAA (or 38–40 points in the International Baccalaureate including core points, or another equivalent) depending on the subject. Specific A level (or equivalent) subjects may be required to apply for some subjects, especially in the sciences. Most subjects require applicants to sit a written test and/or submit written work as part of their application.
Oxford has a world-class reputation for academic excellence and courses have an academic rather than vocational focus. Many Oxford academics are international experts in their chosen fields in all disciplines of the sciences and arts.
Tutorials are at the heart of teaching at Oxford. A tutorial is a lesson with a tutor usually taking place once or twice every week. Tutors are experts in their field and often world-leaders. Students usually have to prepare work in advance, for example an essay or some mathematical problems, which they then discuss in the tutorial. Through tutorials, students develop powers of independent, critical thought; analytical and problem-solving abilities, and written and oral communication skills.
Oxford University’s Careers Service offers each and every student one of the most innovative careers programmes to equip students to make the most informed choice after their degree. With a strong focus on learning and development, any student can:
- Have one or more 20-minute 1:1 sessions with an experienced careers adviser; over 5,500 sessions are offered each year
- Build their employability skills and experience through their leading programmes; any student can apply to take part in the Student Consultancy, the Insight into Teaching, the Insight into Medicine, Insight into Business, and the microInternship and full internship programmes
- Attend the Springboard holistic development programme (though this is only for women)
- Meet thousands of employers at one or more of the 15 major careers fairs each year, and the hundreds of employer events held throughout term time
- Attend a careers event in their department, faculty or college
- Connect with alumni willing to help with advice
- Have exclusive access to CareerConnect – the events and vacancy system that posted over 8,500 opportunities in 2014–15