University of Oxford

University of Oxford
University Offices
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About the University of Oxford


The University of Oxford is a world-leading centre of learning, teaching and research and the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford is a unique and historic institution. There isn’t an exact date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.

In 1188, the historian, Gerald of Wales, gave a public reading to an assembly of Oxford dons. And around 1190, the arrival of Emo of Friesland, the first known overseas student, set in motion the university’s tradition of international scholarly links. By 1201, the university was headed by a magister scholarum Oxonie, on whom the title of Chancellor was conferred in 1214. In 1231 the masters were recognised as a universitas or corporation.

In the 13th century, rioting between town and gown (townspeople and students) hastened the establishment of primitive halls of residence. These were succeeded by the first of Oxford’s colleges, which began as medieval halls of residence or endowed houses under the supervision of a Master. University College, Balliol College and Merton College were established between 1249 and 1264 and are the oldest colleges.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and there are 39 Oxford colleges – each financially independent and self-governing but related to the central university in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, similar to colleges, except that they tend to be smaller. The colleges and the central university work together to organise teaching and research, and many staff at Oxford will hold both a college and a university post.

Divisions & departments

The central university comprises many sections, including academic and administrative departments, libraries and museums. There are four academic divisions: Medical Sciences, Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences, Humanities, and Social Sciences, which oversee roughly 100 major academic departments. Each department organises teaching and research in different subject areas, from Anthropology to Zoology. There are also many smaller specialist research centres and sub-departments.

Medical Sciences Division

The Medical Sciences Division at the University of Oxford is an internationally recognised centre of excellence for biomedical and clinical research and teaching; it is repeatedly placed first in clinical, pre-clinical and health in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The division has over 2,000 researchers undertaking a wide range of research, from atomic-resolution molecular structural biology to epidemiology applied to large populations. The division provides a stimulating and challenging environment for nearly 1,800 talented graduate students.

Mathematical, Physical, and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division

The Mathematical, Physical, and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division at the University of Oxford is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading science universities. The disciplines within the MPLS Division regularly appear at the highest levels in world rankings and have been evaluated as conducting world-leading and internationally excellent research in UK research assessments. The Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences research at Oxford is the best in the country, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment exercise carried out by HEFCE.

Humanities Division

The Humanities Division at the University of Oxford brings together nine faculties and the Ruskin School of Art. The faculties are among the largest in the world and enable Oxford to offer an education in Arts and Humanities unparalleled in its range of subjects, from ancient and modern languages and literature to history, philosophy, religion, music and fine art. The division comprises around a third of the university’s community of staff and students, undertaking taught graduate and research degrees in a wide range of subjects, some of which cross the boundaries of traditional disciplines.

Social Sciences Division

The Social Sciences Division at the University of Oxford represents one of the largest groupings of social scientists globally. It brings together over 1,000 researchers committed to tackling some of the significant challenges facing humanity, such as sustainable resource management, migration, global governance, justice, poverty and development. Their research combines rigorous and innovative quantitative methodologies and theoretical approaches using individual and collective experiences and actions. Over 5,000 students are enrolled on undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the division.

In addition to the four academic divisions, the central university has a Department for Continuing Education and a division for Gardens, Libraries and Museums.

Department for Continuing Education

The Department for Continuing Education offers part-time, flexible courses and programmes for adult learners. It offers more than 1,000 courses anually, including weekly classes, online courses, day, weekend and summer schools, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications, and continuing professional development courses. In short, the Department for Continuing Education exists to enable the University of Oxford to reach students beyond the full-time student body. More than 15,000 students enrol on its programmes each year. They hail from more than 160 countries and range in age from 18 to 98.

Gardens, Libraries and Museums

The Gardens, Libraries and Museums of the University of Oxford contain some of the world’s most significant collections. With over 21 million objects, specimens and printed items, they constitute one of the largest and most important research repositories in the world and provide an outstanding resource for scholars, students and members of the public. But while they are significant places of scholarly enquiry, they also represent the front door to the wealth of knowledge and research curated and generated at the university.

The four museums are home to over 8.5 million objects and specimens representing the natural world, global art and artefacts:

  • The Ashmolean is the first public museum in Britain, and its collections include the most important group of Raphael drawings in the world.
  • The History of Science Museum – housed in the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum building – contains the world’s finest collection of historic scientific instruments.
  • The Museum of Natural History holds the university’s internationally significant collections of 7 million geological and zoological specimens, including the fossil bones of the first dinosaur ever to be described scientifically.
  • The Pitt Rivers Museum houses one of the world’s finest collections of anthropology and archaeology, with objects from every continent and from throughout human history.

The Bodleian Libraries Group is the largest university library system in the United Kingdom. It comprises the principal university library – the Bodleian Old Library – and 27 libraries across Oxford, which provide services to 21st-century scholars across subject disciplines, from direct access to high-demand print collections to online access to journals, manuscripts, archives and databases. Together, the Bodleian Libraries Group hold more than 13 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals and outstanding special collections, including rare books and manuscripts.

Founded in 1621, the Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in Britain. Its collections have been used in teaching, research and conservation for almost 400 years, and it forms the most compact yet diverse collection of plants in the world. The Harcourt Arboretum, which has been part of the Botanic Garden since 1963, contains the finest collection of trees in Oxfordshire, including some of the oldest redwoods in the UK.

University of Oxford Colleges

Oxford’s 39 colleges and five permanent private halls are both an integral part of the collegiate university and also independent, self-governing academic communities. Diverse in age, size and scope, they all contribute significantly to the central university’s core activities – learning and teaching, research, and broad engagement with society.

Oxford Colleges in alphabetical order are as follows:

NameYear foundedUndergrads?Comments
All Souls College1438No
(Fellows only)
Balliol College1263Yes
Brasenose College1509Yes
Christ Church1546Yes
Corpus Christi College1517Yes
Exeter College1314Yes
Green Templeton College2008No
Harris Manchester College1786Yes (age 21+)Became a college in 1996
Hertford College1740Yes
Jesus College1571Yes
Keble College1870Yes
Kellogg College1990NoRemaned in 1994
Lady Margaret Hall1878Yes
Linacre College1962No
Lincoln College1427Yes
Magdalen College1458Yes
Mansfield College1886Yes
Merton College1264Yes
New College1379Yes
Nuffield College1937No
Oriel College1326Yes
Pembroke College1624Yes
The Queen’s College1341Yes
Reuben College2019NoRenamed in 2020
St Anne’s College1879YesBecame a college in 1952
St Antony’s College1950NoBecame a college in 1963
St Catherine’s College1962YesBecame a college in 1962
St Cross College1965No
St Edmund Hall1278YesBecame a college in 1957
St Hilda’s College1893Yes
St Hugh’s College1886Yes
St John’s College1555Yes
St Peter’s College1929YesBecame a college in 1961
Somerville College1879Yes
Trinity College1555Yes
University College1249Yes
Wadham College1610Yes
Wolfson College1966NoBecame a college in 1981
Worcester College1714Yes

Permanent Private Halls

The University of Oxford Permanent Private Halls in alphabetical order are as follows:

NameYear foundedComments
Blackfriars Hall1221
Campion Hall1896
Regent’s Park College1752Became a PPH in 1957
St Benet’s Hall1897Closed in 2022
St Stephen’s House1876Became a PPH in 2003
Wycliffe Hall1877

Good to know

  • Oxford has educated a wide range of notable alumni, including 28 prime ministers of the UK and many heads of state and government around the world.
  • As of October 2020, 72 Nobel Prize laureates, 3 Fields Medalists, and 6 Turing Award winners have studied, worked, or held visiting fellowships at the University of Oxford, while its alumni have won 160 Olympic medals.
  • Oxford is the home of numerous scholarships, including the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the oldest international graduate scholarship programmes.
  • The university is one of the largest employers in Oxford and Oxfordshire, with over 14,400 staff as of 31 July 2019. This figure does not include those employed solely by the colleges, Oxford University Press, casual workers and those on variable hours contracts.
  • As of December 2018, the university was home to 24,299 students split roughly equally between undergraduate students (11,930 or 49%) and graduate students (11,813 or 49%), plus 556 (or 2%) visiting, recognised and other students.
  • The University of Oxford contributes around £5.8 billion to the UK economy and supports more than 50,000 full-time jobs. Globally, the impact is £7.1 billion.
  • The current Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford is Professor Irene Tracey.

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