Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Oxford and Cambridge Universities

executive summary by Darmansjah

Rivalry between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge is a phenomenon going back many centuries. During most of that time, the two were the only universities in England and Wales, making the rivalry more intense than it is now.

The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, sometimes collectively known as Oxbridge, are the two oldest universities in the United Kingdom. Both were founded more than 800 years ago, and between them they have produced a large number of Britain's most prominent scientists, writers and politicians, as well as noted figures in many other fields. Competition between Oxford and Cambridge also has a long history, dating back to around 1208 when Cambridge was founded by scholars taking refuge from hostile townsmen in Oxford

In 2012 the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, based on a survey of 13,388 academics over 131 countries which was then the largest evaluation of academic reputation to date[3] found that both Cambridge and Oxford belonged to the elite group of six universities touted as the 'globally recognised super brands'; The other four were Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

Oxford and Cambridge both have:
    well-regarded publishing houses (Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press)
    botanical gardens (University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Cambridge University Botanic Garden)
    museums (the Ashmolean and the Fitzwilliam)
    legal deposit libraries (the Bodleian and the Cambridge University Library)
    debating societies (the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union)
    business schools (the Saïd Business School and the Judge Business School)
    science parks (Oxford Science Park and Cambridge Science Park)
    theatrical societies and groups (the Oxford University Dramatic Society and The Oxford Revue, the Cambridge Footlights, The Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club and the Marlowe Society)

Collegiate structure

Oxford and Cambridge also share a common collegiate structure: each university has more than 30 semi-autonomous residential colleges (see Colleges of the University of Cambridge, Colleges of the University of Oxford), which provide the environments in which students live, work and sleep.

Applicants must choose a specific college when applying to Oxford or Cambridge, or allow the university to select one for them, as every undergraduate and graduate student must be a member of one of the colleges. However, all colleges are part of the university and students studying the same subject attend the same lectures and exams, irrespective of which college they belong to. Degrees are also awarded by the central university and not by the individual colleges.

Colleges within each university regularly compete with each other in a variety of sporting and other events (e.g. rugby, rowing, athletics and chess), but will pool their talent to form university teams for inter-university contests.

Teaching method

The principal method of undergraduate teaching (other than lectures) is the "supervision" or "tutorial": terms used at Cambridge and Oxford respectively, though the meaning is the same. These are typically weekly or more frequent hour-long sessions in which small groups of students - usually between one and three - meet with a member of the university's teaching staff or a doctoral student. Students are normally required to complete an essay or assignment in advance of the supervision/tutorial, which they will discuss with the supervisor/tutor during the session, along with any concerns or difficulties they have had with the material presented in that week's lectures. Students typically receive one to four tutorials/supervisions per week.

Neighbouring universities and other institutions

Within the cities of Oxford and Cambridge are campuses of other universities, respectively Oxford Brookes University and Anglia Ruskin University. In addition, various English language schools, secretarial and other non-university colleges are based in the two cities.

Production of educational materials

Both Oxford and Cambridge have lent their names to educational materials and institutions associated with the two universities. In addition to their printing houses, the Oxford English Dictionary is a prominent English-language dictionary worldwide, while Cambridge Assessment provides a number of widely recognised qualifications for students (including GCSEs, A-levels and English-language proficiency certificates such as the Certificate in Advanced English).

Differences between Oxford and Cambridge

The cities

The city of Oxford is larger (having a population about 30 per cent greater than Cambridge's in 2007) and has historically been more urban and industrial, whilst Cambridge more closely resembles an agricultural market town. Oxford is associated with the motor industry (BMW currently produce the Mini in Oxford, and several Formula One teams are based in Oxfordshire and neighbouring counties), whereas the area surrounding Cambridge is known as Silicon Fen, one of the most important technology centres in Europe, and has a lot of medical technology firms.

Both cities were built near rivers. However, the river is a more prominent feature in Cambridge, flowing through the city centre rather than around it as it does at Oxford. punting is especially popular in Cambridge along the famous stretch called 'The Backs', which features a number of bridges and 'the backs' of several colleges that abut the River Cam (punting is also popular at Oxford).

Despite many ancient buildings in both Oxford and Cambridge, there are also distinct differences in architecture. Oxford has a uniformity of building material, as a large proportion of the buildings are in the local sandstone. Cambridge, on the other hand, has little local stone, so the building material has been brought in from many different sources, resulting in a greater variety of character. The contrasts in architecture in Cambridge are more pronounced, as can be seen when comparing King's College with the neighbouring Senate House.

Oxford is featured more often in literature and the cinema; films with scenes shot in Oxford include Shadowlands and the Harry Potter movies, while Radcliffe Square was used in the filming of His Dark Materials: Northern Lights. The television series Inspector Morse and Lewis are also set in Oxford. Cambridge may be best known in film as the real-life location of the court race scene portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire (although the scene was filmed at Eton College instead), or for the television series Porterhouse Blue

Oxford for humanities, Cambridge for sciences

There is a somewhat common impression that Oxford is stronger in politics and the humanities, while Cambridge is stronger in the sciences and engineering. Despite both universities stressing that there is no significant difference between them in either the sciences or humanities today, this disparity in the popular imagination has existed since at least the late 1820s, when The Times newspaper reported on the appointment of Oxford and Cambridge academics to the newly established professorships of University College London: "it is known to be the intention to choose classical professors at Oxford, and mathematical at Cambridge", although in the event both the classical and mathematical professors were eventually chosen from Cambridge.

In his book, The Decline of Privilege: The Modernization of Oxford University, Joseph A. Soares, an American sociologist, suggests that Oxford developed a superior political and literary reputation because of its unparalleled connections to England's governing class, its status as the oldest and most traditional university in England, and the greater romantic appeal of Oxford to writers:
             ...in British cabinets in the twentieth century, Oxford men and women outnumbered Cambridge graduates nearly two to one ... Of eleven prime ministers counting back from Tony Blair, eight were undergraduates at Oxford, and none were at Cambridge ... Oxford has been second to none as a gatekeeper to the political elite...

Academics and novelists have viewed Oxford as the quintessential English university ... authors who portray universities in their novels, as Ian Carter's definitive study of British university fiction since 1945 demonstrated, have been attracted to Oxford by a huge majority. Of the 204 novels written between 1945 and 1988 that featured British academic life, 119 depicted Oxford; Cambridge, with 26 appearances, came in a distant second place ... Carter showed that fictional Oxford signified those values thought to epitomize English society: tolerance, civility, pluralism, and democracy ... To judge from novels on academic life, one would surmise that England's soul dwelled in Oxford.

Because of its relation to the power elite and its hold on the middle-class imagination, Oxford often provided the mental landscape for national self-examination ...

[A] major charge against Oxford was that ... it was anti-science and unconcerned with contributing to economic growth. As we shall see ... there was substance to this criticism before World War II, but there has not been since then.

In contrast, Cambridge has been associated with a large number of Nobel Prize-winning breakthroughs and the majority of Britain's most culturally significant scientists, including Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. The authors of Oxford Figures also suggest that Cambridge's unrivalled intellectual reputation in England, especially although not exclusively in technical fields, could be partly attributed to the emphasis it placed on mathematics for many years:

“Cambridge developed, from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, a highly competitive examination culture geared towards ranking students on a mathematical examination, after prolonged coaching. Furthermore ... no student could go on to [study classics unless they had already done well in mathematics]. This system produced ... many of the best mathematicians and scientists of the nineteenth century, as well as some of the best lawyers, clergymen, and other professionals...

Although the Cambridge system in its most competitive form was dropped in the early twentieth century ... [the effect it had on the quality of Oxford applicants] can be seen in the rueful reflections in 1912 of Arthur Joliffe, Fellow and tutor at Corpus Christi College from 1891 to 1920, upon the evidence presented by candidates for Oxford entrance scholarships:

it is undeniable that the average candidate [at Oxford] is not as good as the average candidate at Cambridge. The genius from the small grammar school, the promising student from a provincial university, the ablest boy at the large public school, all are sent to Cambridge in preference to Oxford as a rule. Some of the candidates sent to Oxford from large public schools are occasionally so bad that one can only suppose that their masters think that a willingness to come to Oxford is a sufficient qualification for a Mathematical Scholarship there.
Notwithstanding the above, significant changes have occurred at both Oxford and Cambridge over the last century, including Cambridge's diversification away from intense mathematical study and Oxford's renewed emphasis on ground-breaking scientific research, such as its influential work in the development of penicillin. However, the withdrawal of equal academic dress from Oxford's scientist alumni may perhaps reflect a current institutional preference towards the arts. Also, Oxford offers the course of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, while Cambridge does not. Software tycoon Bill Gates gives scholarships to Cambridge, while Oxford is home to what is the oldest and arguably the most prestigious academic award for graduates - Rhodes Scholarship - instituted by Cecil Rhodes. US News and World Report rankings support this stereotype; Cambridge tends to rank higher in the sciences, and Oxford in the humanities.

Entrance to Oxford and Cambridge is academically competitive. According to the 2011 Universities Guide from The Guardian newspaper, the five top universities in the UK based on undergraduate students' performance in public examinations while at high school (as measured on the UCAS tariff scale) were Cambridge (546), Oxford (530), Imperial College London (500), the London School of Economics (493) and Durham University (466). Depending on which subject an applicant wishes to specialise in, there are often compulsory subject-specific entrance tests as well.

After an initial screening of submitted applications, short-listed candidates at Oxford and Cambridge are invited to a series of tests and interviews with the academics who may eventually be teaching them. Oxbridge interviews have acquired something of a mythical status in the British media, becoming a source of various humorous anecdotes and urban legends due to the perception that the interviews themselves are bizarre, intimidating and/or frequently involve unusual questions and requests. Interview prompts reportedly used in the past include "Do you think you're clever?" (from a Law interview at Cambridge) and "Talk about a light bulb" (from an Engineering interview at Oxford). Admissions staff have said that there are no correct answers to such questions, but that applicants are assessed on their ability to approach unfamiliar, open-ended problems and discuss them articulately, incorporating new ideas and evidence as the discussion progresses. Candidates are also expected to show a willingness to challenge their own preconceptions about the topics under discussion, as well as the preconceptions adopted by their interviewers. This is essentially a test of whether the student would do well under the tutorial/supervision system at Oxford and Cambridge, and a poor performance at interview may negate an otherwise strong application.

In recent years, Cambridge has placed slightly more emphasis than Oxford on public exam results during the selection process. Cambridge routinely asks applicants who take A-level exams to report their exact scores, not just letter-grades;[27] this is partly to distinguish between high A-grades and borderline A/B grades. In contrast, disclosure of exact scores for Oxford applications is voluntary. In 2010, the new A* grade for A-level exams (an A* indicating a high A) was introduced. Cambridge started requesting that its applicants achieve at least one A* grade if they were taking A-levels, letting students earn a place through their performance in public examinations; Oxford initially stated that it relies more on its own internal aptitude tests and waited to see how effective the A* grade is at highlighting the best candidates, before deciding to implement it as a requirement for most courses starting in 2012.

Due to the similarities between the two universities, and to ease the burden of interviewing so many applicants each year, high school students are not normally allowed to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same application cycle. This restriction does not apply to potential organ scholars or students who already have a degree and are applying for a second undergraduate degree or a graduate degree at Oxbridge.

Over the last few years, British universities have been subjected to the increasing popularity of national university league tables, which rank universities based on criteria such as their student-staff ratio, drop-out rates and spending on services and facilities. Oxford and Cambridge have been a constant presence at the top end of the tables, never appearing outside the overall top three and rarely not holding the first and second places, but their dominance in individual subjects has been challenged by other institutions.

As of 2012, Cambridge has been ranked above Oxford in three out of the four major UK university league tables. Cambridge has been ranked 1st and Oxford 2nd in the tables compiled by the Guardian, and The Sunday Times, and 3rd behind the London School of Economics in The Complete University Guide, whereas Oxford is ranked 1st and Cambridge 2nd in The Times Good University Guide.

International league tables of universities across the world, which use a variety of different criteria (often research output in the sciences and reputation among peer institutions), have also generally favoured Cambridge over Oxford; for example the 2010 U.S. News & World Report's World's Best Universities ranking placed Cambridge as 1st in the world and Oxford the 6th. The Academic Ranking of World Universities produced in China ranked Cambridge 5th in the world in 2010 and ranked Oxford 10th.

However, in the International 2013 Times Higher Education rankings, Oxford is ranked 2nd globally and Cam

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