The date of the university's foundation is unknown, and indeed it may not have been a single event, but there is evidence of teaching there as early as 1096. When Henry II of England forbade English students to study at the University of Paris in 1167, Oxford began to grow very quickly. The foundation of the first halls of residence, which later became colleges, dates from this period and later. Following the murder of two students accused of rape in 1209, the University was disbanded. On June 20, 1214, the University returned to Oxford with a charter negotiated by Nicholas de Romanis, a papal legate.
Oxford's chief rival is Cambridge, founded shortly afterwards. Together Oxford and Cambridge are sometimes referred to as Oxbridge. Cambridge is considered stronger in scientific subjects whereas Oxford is considered stronger in languages and philosophy.
Oxford consists of a number of separate colleges, and students are enrolled in a specific one. These colleges are not only halls of residence, but are partly responsible for the teaching of undergraduates. The oldest colleges are University College, Balliol, and Merton, established between 1249 and 1264. Women entered the university for the first time in 1878. They became members of the University (eligible to receive degrees) in 1920. Women's colleges before integration included Somerville College, St. Hugh's, and Lady Margaret Hall. Almost all colleges are now co-educational, the only remaining women-only college being St. Hilda's.
In addition to the colleges, there are a number of departments or faculties - one for each major subject studied. These organise lectures and are tasked with producing final examinations. Nevertheless, the principal task of many departments is research, much of which is privately funded (in the case of the more technical disciplines).
The academic year is divided into three terms, each of eight weeks' duration. Michaelmas term lasts from early October to early December; Hilary normally from January until before Easter; and Trinity normally from after Easter until June. These terms are among the shortest of any British university.
Admission to the University of Oxford is a complex matter. Each student and teacher is associated with a specific college, rather than with the university as a whole, and undergraduates normally complete most of their course work in "tutorials" within their own colleges. (There are exceptions: for example, a student may be admitted to a course which is not taught by any Fellows of his/her own college, and will have to travel to other colleges for tutorials.) Until very recently, all applicants for undergraduate courses were obliged to sit an entrance examination in addition to the national GCE examinations. Only if successful in this examination, and at a subsequent interview, were they offered a place. Oxford lagged behind Cambridge in going over to a system whereby prospective students could be offered entry conditional on A-level results, in line with the practice in other British universities.
Oxford, like Cambridge, has traditionally been regarded as elitist, and a preserve of the wealthy. The cost of taking a course, in the days before student grants were available, was prohibitive, and public schools prepared their pupils more specifically for the entrance examination, some even going so far as to encourage applicants to spend an extra year in the sixth form in order to study for it, whereas pupils from state schools rarely had this luxury. However, in the course of the 20th century, there was a continuous drive to admit a larger proportion of pupils from state schools[?], and this trend continues. Until the 1980s, there were relatively few places available for women, but numbers are now more or less equal.
Various financial awards are available to prospective and existing students. These include scholarships and exhibitions, normally the result of a long-standing endowment. Older colleges tend to have more of these available to candidates, and the concept of "rich" and "poor" colleges has grown up partly as a result. ("Closed" scholarships also exist, accessible only by candidates from specific schools.) Scholars and exhibitioners are entitled to wear a more voluminous undergraduate gown, "commoners" being restricted to a short sleeveless garment with strips of material to represent the "rags" of a poor student. The term, "scholar", in relation to Oxbridge, therefore has a specific meaning as well as the more general meaning of someone of outstanding academic ability.
It may be noted that there is a second university at Oxford - Oxford Brookes University[?]Website (http://www.brookes.ac.uk/), formerly Oxford Polytechnic[?], for which entrance requirements are not so stringent and which is a modern campus university, located in the eastern suburbs of the city. There are also a number of independent "colleges" which have nothing to do with the university but are popular, particularly with overseas students, because they allow their students to state truthfully that they have studied at Oxford; these institutions vary considerably in the standard of teaching they provide.
Ruskin College, Oxford, an adult education college, though not part of the university, has close links with it.
Lists of well-known former students and present and former Fellows of the university can be found under the entries for the colleges. Note that an individual may be associated with two or more colleges, as an undergraduate and/or graduate student and as a member of staff. See also List of notable Oxford students
Events and organisations connected with the university include:
Oxford University is the setting for numerous works of fiction, including:
Many poets have been inspired by the university:
Films set in the university include: