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Oxbridge is a composite, or portmanteau, of the University of Oxfordmarker and the University of Cambridgemarker in Englandmarker, and the term is now used to refer to them collectively, often with implications of perceived superior intellectual or social status. Oxbridge can be used as a noun referring to either or both universities or as an adjective describing them or their students.

Meaning

In addition to being a collective term, Oxbridge is often used as shorthand for characteristics that the two institutions share:

  • They are the two oldest universities in continuous operation in England. Both were founded more than 800 years ago, and continued as England's only universities until the 19th century. Between them they have educated a large number of Britain's most prominent scientists, writers and politicians, as well as noted figures in many other fields.
  • Because of their age, they have established similar institutions and facilities such as printing houses (Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press), botanical gardens (University of Oxford Botanic Gardenmarker and Cambridge University Botanic Gardenmarker), museums (the Ashmoleanmarker and the Fitzwilliammarker), legal deposit libraries (the Bodleianmarker and the Cambridge University Librarymarker), and debating societies (the Oxford Unionmarker and the Cambridge Unionmarker).
  • Rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge also has a long history, dating back to around 1209 when Cambridge was founded by scholars taking refuge from hostile Oxford townsmen, and celebrated to this day in varsity matches such as the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.
  • Each has a similar collegiate structure, whereby the University is a co-operative of its constituent colleges, which are responsible for supervisions/tutorials (the principal teaching method) and pastoral care.
  • Both universities comprise many buildings of great beauty and antiquity, sited on level terrain ideal for cycling, near slow-moving rivers suitable for rowing and punting.
  • They are the top-scoring institutions in cross-subject UK university rankings, so they are targeted by ambitious pupils, parents and schools. Entrance is competitive and some schools promote themselves based on their achievement of Oxbridge offers.
  • Oxford and Cambridge have common approaches to undergraduate admissions. Until the mid-1980s, entry was typically by sitting special entrance exams. Applications must be made at least three months early, and, with only minor exceptions (e.g. Organ Scholars), are mutually exclusive for first undergraduate degrees so, in any one year, candidates may only apply to Oxford or Cambridge, not both. Because most candidates are predicted to achieve top grades at A level, interviews are usually used to check whether the course is well suited to the applicant's interests and aptitudes, and to look for evidence of self-motivation, independent thinking, academic potential and ability to learn through the tutorial system.


The word Oxbridge may also be used pejoratively: as a descriptor of social class (referring to the professional classes who dominated the intake of both universities at the beginning of the twentieth century), as shorthand for an elite that "continues to dominate Britain's political and cultural establishment" and a parental attitude that "continues to see UK higher education through an Oxbridge prism", or to describe a "pressure-cooker" culture that attracts and then fails to support overachievers "who are vulnerable to a kind of self-inflicted stress that can all too often become unbearable" and high-flying state school students who find "coping with the workload very difficult in terms of balancing work and life" and "feel socially out of [their] depth".

Origins

Although both universities were founded more than seven centuries ago, the term Oxbridge is relatively young. In William Thackeray's novel Pendennis, published in 1849, the main character attends the fictional Boniface College, Oxbridge. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this is the first recorded instance of the word. Virginia Woolf used it, citing Thackeray, in her 1929 essay A Room of One's Own. By 1957 the term was used in the Times Educational Supplement and in Universities Quarterly by 1958.

When expanded, the universities are almost always referred to as "Oxford and Cambridge", the order in which they were founded. A notable exception is Japan's Cambridge and Oxford Society, probably arising from the fact that the Cambridge Club was founded there first, and also had more members than its Oxford counterpart when they amalgamated in 1905.

Related terms

Thackeray's Pendennis also introduced the term Camford as another combination of the university names — "he was a Camford man and very nearly got the English Prize Poem" — although this term has never achieved the same degree of usage as Oxbridge.

Other words have been derived from the term Oxbridge. One example is Doxbridge, an annual inter-collegiate sports tournament between some of the colleges of Durhammarker, Oxford, and Cambridge. The term Loxbridge (referring to London, Oxford, and Cambridge) is sometimes seen, and was also adopted as the name of the Ancient History conference now known as AMPAH. However, such terms are only employed for specific groups, and none has achieved widespread recognition.

See also



Notes

  1. Famous alumni and students of Cambridge University


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