The University of Oxford does not have a clear
date of foundation. Teaching at Oxford existed in some form
The expulsion of foreigners from the University of Paris in
1167 caused many English scholars to return from France and
settle in Oxford. The historian Gerald of Wales lectured to
the scholars in 1188, and the first known foreign scholar,
Emo of Friesland, arrived in 1190. The head of the University
was named a chancellor from 1201, and the masters were recognised
as a universitas or corporation in 1231. The students associated
together, on the basis of geographical origins, into two “nations”,
representing the North (including the Scots) and the South
(including the Irish and the Welsh). In later centuries, geographical
origins continued to influence many students' affiliations
when membership of a college or hall became customary in Oxford.
Members of many religious orders, including Dominicans, Franciscans,
Carmelites, and Augustinians, settled in Oxford in the mid-13th
century, gained influence, and maintained houses for students.
At about the same time, private benefactors established colleges
to serve as self-contained scholarly communities. Among the
earliest were John I de Balliol, father of the future King
of Scots; Balliol College bears his name. Another founder,
Walter de Merton, a chancellor of England and afterwards Bishop
of Rochester, devised a series of regulations for college
life; Merton College thereby became the model for such establishments
at Oxford as well as at the University of Cambridge. Thereafter,
an increasing number of students forsook living in halls and
religious houses in favour of living at colleges.
The new learning of the Renaissance greatly influenced Oxford
from the late 15th century onward. Among University scholars
of the period were William Grocyn, who contributed to the
revival of the Greek language, and John Colet, the noted biblical
scholar. With the Reformation and the breaking of ties with
the Roman Catholic Church, the method of teaching at the university
was transformed from the medieval Scholastic method to Renaissance
education, although institutions associated with the university
suffered loss of land and revenues. In 1636, Chancellor William
Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, codified the university statutes;
these to a large extent remained the university's governing
regulations until the mid-19th century. Laud was also responsible
for the granting of a charter securing privileges for the
university press, and he made significant contributions to
the Bodleian Library, the main library of the university.
The mid nineteenth century saw the aftermath of the Oxford
Movement (1833-1845) led amongst others by the future Cardinal
Newman. The influence of the reformed German university reached
Oxford via key scholars such as Jowett and Max Muller.
Administrative reforms during the 19th century included the
replacement of oral examinations with written entrance tests,
greater tolerance for religious dissent, and the establishment
of four colleges for women. Women have been eligible to be
full members of the university and have been entitled to take
degrees since 7 October 1920. Twentieth century Privy
Council decisions (such as the abolition of compulsory daily
worship, dissociation of the Regius professorship of Hebrew
from clerical status, diversion of theological bequests to
colleges to other purposes) loosened the link with traditional
belief and practice. Although the University's emphasis traditionally
had been on classical knowledge, its curriculum expanded in
the course of the 19th century and now attaches equal importance
to scientific and medical studies.
The mid twentieth century saw many distinguished continental
scholars displaced by Nazism and Communism who were to find
academic fulfilment in Oxford.
The list of distinguished scholars at the University of Oxford
is long and includes many who have made major contributions
to British politics, the sciences, medicine, and literature.
More than forty Nobel laureates and more than fifty world
leaders have been affiliated with the University of Oxford.
As a collegiate university, Oxford's structure can be confusing
to those unfamiliar with it. The university is a federation:
it comprises over forty self-governing colleges and halls,
along with a central administration headed by the Vice-Chancellor.
The academic departments are located centrally within this
structure; they are not affiliated with any particular college.
Departments provide facilities for teaching and research,
determine the syllabi and guidelines for the teaching of students,
perform research, and deliver lectures and seminars. Colleges
arrange the tutorial teaching for their undergraduates. The
members of an academic department are spread around many colleges;
though certain colleges do have subject alignments (e.g. Nuffield
College as a centre for the social sciences), these are exceptions,
and most colleges will have a broad mix of academics and students
from a diverse range of subjects. Facilities such as libraries
are provided on all these levels: by the central university
(the Bodleian), by the departments (individual departmental
libraries, such as the English Faculty Library), and by colleges
(all of which maintain a multi-discipline library for the
use of their members)