The University of Oxford is one of the most famous higher education establishments in the world. If you ask anyone from outside England to name a university on these shores, it’s likely to be a toss-up between Oxford and Cambridge. That rivalry spreads across academia, TV quizzes, boat races, and the countless hoodies you see on the streets of London, worn by tourists who don’t seem to know (or care) that neither establishment is actually in the capital. But when was the University of Oxford founded?
Unsurprisingly, given its reverence, it has been around a very long time. It was the year 1096 when the first evidence of teaching took place. Just 30 years after the Battle of Hastings, teaching started at Oxford.
While 1096 is the first recorded moment of teaching, it was 1167 when things really started to take off. That was when Henry VIII prevented English students from attending the University of Paris.
Twenty-one years later, in 1188, the historian Gerald of Wales lectured at Oxford, and the first foreign scholar – Emo of Freisland – followed in 1190.
At some point between 1200 and 1214, the university began to take on the form we know today. In 1201, a papal letter described John Grimm as magister scolarum Oxonie.
The university was granted a royal charter in 1248 and, around the same time, private benefactors began to establish its now famous separate colleges.
How old is Oxford University?
The University of Oxford is 926 years old. That makes the institution the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the second oldest on the planet in continuous operation. It’s history dates back much further than the local Oxford Brookes university, which was founded in 1865 and is often wrongly assumed to be part of Oxford University.
For those of you lucky enough to still be around, Oxford will celebrate its 1,000th birthday in 2096. It will be interesting to see what the world looks like then. Given the advancements in technology since its inception, things sure won’t look like they do now. We can only hope people have heeded warnings on climate change.
To get an idea of just how old the University of Oxford is, it has seen 41 Kings and Queens of England come and go so far. It has also survived numerous conflicts and has gone from strength to strength in recent years.
We can only imagine the celebrations once it does hit 1,000. That kind of landmark is likely to prompt one hell of a party.
What university is older?
There is only one university in the world older than Oxford and that is the University of Bologna. Teaching is said to have started in the Italian city in 1088, meaning it predates the famous English institution by just eight years.
It is the oldest university in continuous operation in the world and the first of its kind to deliver higher learning and degree-level education.
While that may be the case, the University of Oxford has clearly surpassed its slightly older rival in terms of fame.
The University of Oxford remains an elite institution, with competition for places tougher than ever. It has reached unimaginable heights since its inception almost 1,000 years ago. The founders could not have envisaged just how far things would go during those first lessons.
From there, a bona fide higher education great was formed and it shows how even the biggest of institutions come from humble beginnings.
Reforms in the early 1900s saw changes to a curriculum that had previously been seen as narrow and impractical. There were also changes to the admissions process, with an oral examination replaced by written entrance tests. Alongside that, Oxford became more accepting of different religious views, while four women’s colleges were introduced.
By 1988, 40% of undergraduates were female and that number rose to 47% by 2016.
Oxford also operates the world’s oldest university museum – Ashmolean Museum – and the largest academic library system in the UK. It also has the largest university press in the world.
To date, 28 Prime Ministers have spent their formative years at Oxford, along with 72 Nobel Prize laureates.
If you are hoping to attend the University of Oxford, there is no doubt you will be walking in the footsteps of some true greats. It is not an easy university to get into. Indeed, the application process is among the toughest. But, if you want to attend the UK’s oldest higher education institution, that is unlikely to put you off.