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Which in the World`s oldest College/Institution?

Updated on March 18, 2011

According to public records the oldest educational institution is Oxford University in England. That is at least in the English speaking world. Oxford University traces its roots back to the 11th century. There is no clear 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 the assembled Oxford dons and in 1190 the arrival of Emo of Friesland, the first known overseas student, set in train the University's tradition of international scholarly links. By 1201, the University was headed by a magister scolarum Oxonie, on whom the title of Chancellor was conferred in 1214, and in 1231 the masters were recognized as a universitas or corporation.

There was some dispute between the towns folk and students in 1209 which resulted in some of the teachers/academics flee to the town of Cambridge where the University of Cambridge was founded. The two universities have since had a long history of competition with each other.

In the late 17th century, the Oxford philosopher John Locke, suspected of treason, was forced to flee the country. The 18th century, when Oxford was said to have forsaken port for politics, was also an era of scientific discovery and religious revival. Edmund Halley, Professor of Geometry, predicted the return of the comet that bears his name; John and Charles Wesley's prayer meetings laid the foundations of the Methodist Society.

The University assumed a leading role in the Victorian era, especially in religious controversy. From 1833 onwards The Oxford Movement sought to revitalise the Catholic aspects of the Anglican Church. One of its leaders, John Henry Newman, became a Roman Catholic in 1845 and was later made a Cardinal. In 1860 the new University Museum was the scene of a famous debate between Thomas Huxley, champion of evolution, and Bishop Wilberforce.

The university is essentially 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 to any particular college. The departments perform research, provide facilities for teaching and research, organise lectures and seminars, and determine the syllabus and guidelines for the teaching of students. Colleges then organise the tutorial teaching for their undergraduates. The members of an academic department are spread around many colleges; though certain colleges do have subject strengths (e.g. Nuffield College as a centre for the social sciences), they are the exception, 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).

There are many famous Oxonians, as alumni of the University are known:

25 British Prime Ministers have attended Oxford (including William Gladstone, Herbert Asquith, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair). At least 25 other international leaders have been educated at Oxford. This number includes King Harald V of Norway,King Abdullah II of Jordan, three Prime Ministers of Australia (John Gorton, Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke)[ two Prime Ministers of India (Manmohan Singh and Indira Gandhi)Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan,Norman Washington Manley(Chief Minister of Jamaica), and Bill Clinton, the first American President to attend Oxford. The Burmese democracy activist and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was a student of St Hugh's College.Including Aung San Suu Kyi, 47 Nobel prize winners have studied or taught at Oxford.

Oxford has also produced at least 12 saints and 20 Archbishops of Canterbury, including the current incumbent Rowan Williams (who studied at Wadham College and was later a Canon Professor at Christ Church At least nine Olympic medal winners have academic connections with the university, including Sir Matthew Pinsent, quadruple gold medallist rower.]T. E. Lawrence was a student at Jesus College,while other illustrious members have ranged from the explorer, courtier, and man of letters Sir Walter Raleigh (who attended Oriel College, though left without taking a degree) to the media magnate Rupert Murdoch The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, studied at Christ Church and was elected a fellow of Lincoln College

Amongst the long list of writers associated with Oxford are Evelyn Waugh,Lewis Carroll,Aldous Huxley, Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Graham Greene,Phillip Pullman,Vikram Seth, and Plum Sykes, the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Donne, A. E. Housman,W. H. Auden,[ and Philip Larkin, and Poets Laureate Thomas Warton, Henry James Pye], Robert Southey, Robert Bridges,Cecil Day-Lewis,Sir John Betjeman,  and Andrew Motion.

Some contemporary scientists include Stephen Hawking. and Nobel prize-winner Anthony James Leggett, and Tim Berners-Lee, co-inventor of the World Wide Web

Actors Hugh Grant, Kate Beckinsale, ]Dudley Moore, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones, were undergraduates at the University, as were Oscar winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, and film-maker Ken Loach.

More complete information on famous senior and junior members of the University can be found in the individual college articles (an individual may be associated with two or more colleges, as an undergraduate, postgraduate, and/or member of staff).


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    • barryrutherford profile imageAUTHOR

      Barry Rutherford 

      9 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Me too ! I must too put that on my Bucket List !

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Fascinating hub! I'd love to visit Oxford some day.

    • AuraGem profile image


      10 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      This wealth of brainpower from Oxford makes me feel very small! lol

      Great hub!

      Smiles and Light

    • Prince Maak profile image

      Prince Maak 

      11 years ago from Just Above the EARTH and below the SKY

      Barry, thankx for answering the question.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this information with us.keep it up.


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