Oxford: The oldest university in the English speaking world

Here are a few useless, but interesting, facts you may not know about the University of Oxford.

  • The University of Oxford isn’t centralised at all. It is comprised of over forty self-governing colleges and halls, and academic departments. Academic staff aren’t employed by departments, but by colleges (at least mostly). While there are centralised libraries most department also have their own library, and their own cafeteria.
  • Every student has to be affiliated with a college. There are about 40 colleges, and some are far better (i.e. richer) than others. Students have to live in college for their first year, and sometimes their third as well.
  • Undergraduate teaching at Oxford is organised around weekly essay-based tutorials given by lecturers that are paid for mostly by the colleges. These tutorial groups are small, basically one to three students. Yes, you heard right, students here get extremely personalised teaching. There are also lectures and laboratory classes for some disciplines (like zoology) that are organised by University, but these are secondary to the tutorials.
  • In addition to paying for most their students’ education, the colleges also provide lots of play equipment (fields, boat sheds, yoga classes, etc. ), and put on at least one or two big social dance type events (which are called “Balls” if they require fancy attire, and “Bops” if they don’t).
  • Students study for only three terms a year. Each term is only eight weeks long (that’s right these guys have 28 weeks off a year). Apparently they’re supposed to prepare heavily in their time off. Yeh right.
  • At exam time both the students and the lecturers and everyone giving the exam has to dress up in full academic dress (i.e. the funny gowns and hats). Underneath the gowns they also have to abide a dress code known as Subfusc, which is basically a waiters outfit: black and white garb, long pants for guys, skirts for girls (below the knee, mind you!)
  • As exams occur at various stages of the year, it is common to see people wearing academic gowns at all times of day any day of the week round here.
  • This extraordinarily expensive privileged schooling system quite clearly seems to work as a heap of famous figures have emanated from the halls of Oxford including 26 British Prime Ministers (26!), three Aussie PMs, Rupert Murdoch, Benazhir Bhutto, Bill Clinton, Aung San Suu Kyi, JRR Tolkien, Rowan Atkinson, Aldous Huxley and even Nigella Lawson.

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