A few months ago, I took a seminar at the Oxford Learning Institute on the history of the university I had spent the last two years at (one as a student, four months as a frantic international graduate searching for work, and six months as an employee of the university). Here are some interesting facts I found out:
- The first remains of Oxford date back to the 8th century. The town development followed the foundation of a monastery
- The university operates on a "federal" system (with Oxford University being the central hub and the colleges operating within it)
- Oxford was very much a completely private institution until 1919, at which point the British government gave it 30 000 British pounds
- For 100 years, it was the UK's only university
Oxford in the 1100s
- Followed the Paris model of education (run by teachers), not the Bologna model (run by students)
- The University itself has never been wealthy; its colleges, which came later, were
- The Vaults & Gardens Cafe was previously the site of the "Pledge Chest", where university professors would need to leave a "pledge" (a valuable item) in the chest in order to borrow an original version book
- Until recently, university employee paychecks came addressed from "The University Chest"
- The first professors rented rooms in houses
- Colleges were originally set up to support a small number of graduate students (small, privileged institutions)
- Oxford was a major commerce town (wine, clothmaking, etc.) It took 400 years to switch its focus from industry to university
The Invention of Cambridge
- There were often clashes between the "town" (industry people) and "gown" (educated university people)
- In the year 1200, there was violence in the streets of Oxford, and a townswoman was murdered. The ringleader fled and a few students were hung for supposed participation in the murder.
- A group of students fled the town in fear and went to hide at one student's family home, which was a rich estate.
- There, they founded Cambridge in 1209
- Several townspeople vs. scholar riots occurred over the next 300 years; Oxford was even the Royalist Capital of England in 1642 and Oliver Cromwell was the University's Chancellor
The Church, the University's Organisation and Colleges
- The town won a row against the industry supporters and with the backing of the church, established an organised structure
- This is when the Chancellor, Vice Chancellors and Pro Vice Chancellors were implemented
- New College was the first college to admit undergraduate students
- The colleges were set up through endowments by England's wealthy elite
- Colleges administer academic, financial, pastoral and social aspects of the college
- Women were allowed to join the university from 1920, but were only awarded degrees in 1948 (28 years later!) St. Anne's, St. Hilda's and Lady Margaret Hall (my college!) were the first three to admit women and for a time, were women's only colleges
The Role of Education...theoretical or practical?
- Students did not all go to university to get a degree
- Many were admitted to a Guild of their trade and used the oratory skills they learned in university (Think: Aristotle's Rhetoric) to get themselves a job
- Is the role of university to gain a broad education or technical training to prepare you for the job market? (the age old question...)
- After WWI, the growth of car factories in Oxfordshire expanded the industrial areas of the town
- Tourism and publishing have become two main industries
- Oxford Brookes was established (the other university in Oxford) and Oxford is, of course, host to many language schools and tutorial colleges
- Many science and technology companies begin as spin-outs from University of Oxford's research
Okay, so it was a BRIEF history...but hopefully some of it was interesting! I'd definitely recommend taking an hour to attend OLI's History of Oxford seminar lectured by an Oxford Emeritus history professor (book in advance!)
Farewell Oxford....and stay tuned for my upcoming posts on life in Barcelona, Spain!