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Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Oxford University



Oxford University is one of the largest universities in the world and leads the world rankings in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.[1] It’s also one of the most popular: the university receives five applications for each location.

Despite its fame, many of us don’t really know how the university works. Its history, traditions, and achievements are still a mystery, and some of the things we generally believe about Oxford are actually wrong. Prepare to Be Enlightened: Today we’re doing a crash course on Oxford facts.

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10 Had its own police force until 2003

Until recently, the Oxford crime was handled by the university’s own police force. These officers, affectionately known as Bulldogs, were founded in 1829. This made them one of the oldest police forces in Britain.

Not only did they oversee the university, but they also looked after the parents. Before the 1940s, they actually had legal powers over the students, much like having a parent or guardian.

In 2003 this unique Oxford quirk was demolished after a member of the public complained. The university decided that it would cost too much to train them to modern standards and they lost their police status.

However, they haven’t gone away. Now known as Proctors’ Officers, they still administer the discipline of the students, but they can no longer arrest people.[2]

9 No fire in the Bodleian Library


Oxford has over a hundred libraries, but the best known is the Bodleian Library. It was founded in 1602 and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. As such, it comes with its own set of strange traditions.

Most important is the Bodleian Library statement, which all individuals must agree to before they can enter. Traditionally it had to be said aloud, but today students can sign a letter instead. Non-university people still have to pronounce the statement out loud, and Oxford has translated it into over a hundred languages ​​so that visitors can speak it in their mother tongue.

All visitors must promise not to damage or take any of the books, not to smoke, not to break library rules, and “not to bring or light a fire or flame in the library”. We can easily avoid this today because of the electric lighting, but this must have caused great pain to scholars in the past when the only available light source was a lantern or a candle![3]

8th “Soccer” was invented in Oxford


Club football is the most popular sport in the world and is played by over 200 million players. It was named in the 1860s to distinguish it from the many types of football that were played at the time. It is still known as “soccer” in most English-speaking countries, but the term “soccer” is popular in America so it should not be confused with “American football”. Because of this, most people assume that the word “soccer” is an Americanism. That is not true.

In Victorian times, Oxford students began using ‘he’ at the end of a word to form slang terms – such as rugger for rugby, brekker for breakfast and bonner for campfire. For them, association football was either footer or soccer. These slang terms spread across the country and eventually around the world as the sport grew in popularity. Players in America have started using Oxford slang – although we’re not sure why.

Today the British hate the word “soccer” because they think it’s a yank thing, but the word actually comes from Oxford![4]

7th Not the oldest university press


There are many university printing houses, but none are as big or famous as Oxford University Press. Run by 15 academics selected by the Vice Chancellor (no business people involved), the press employs thousands of people and sells books around the world. It has offices in over fifty countries: the first office outside the UK was built in New York at the end of the 19th century. It is of course the largest university press in the world, and undoubtedly one of the most famous.

But despite popular belief, it is not the oldest. That title goes to Cambridge University Press, though people still argue about it. Oxford printed its first book in 1478 – just a few years after the printing works arrived in England. This knocked Cambridge by decades: Oxford did not fully commit to publishing and printing there. It received royal approval in 1586 – much later than Cambridge, which received it in 1534.[5]

6th Not the oldest university in the world


Another misconception: Oxford is famous for being the oldest university in the world. It’s one of the things that draws aspiring students from all over the world, especially from pedigree families: the opportunity to study in the place where it all began. The most legitimate and authentic qualification you can get – recognition from the oldest learning institute in the world. Unless it’s not true.

Oxford is the second oldest university in the world – so it’s not far away. The currently oldest university is not very well known: it is the University of Bologna in Italy (picture). It was also the first place the word universitas was used to refer to its students and teachers![6]

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5 The first public museum in the world


The model for any modern museum comes from one: Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, built in 1683.

It was the work of a great Enlightenment thinker, Elias Ashmole, who a few years earlier donated his large collection of artifacts, books and other important objects – including the world’s first identified dinosaur bone – to the museum. It took 26 large chests to get everything from London to Oxford. It became the world’s first public museum.

He drafted the 18 statutes that determined how the museum would operate, including a promise to conduct an annual audit, catalog all objects, and have a board of governors to run things. These statutes laid the foundation for how modern museums around the world operate.

For Ashmole himself, however, his experiment seems a bit disappointing. Just three years later, he gave up his position in the museum because he was not satisfied with his salary.[7]

4th Punished with alcohol


Oxford is one of the few universities that still has “formal” dinners. There used to be very strict rules about what to do or not to do at the dining table: talking about religion or politics was one thing, while mispronouncing Latin grace was another. If you broke the rules, you got hurt, which back then was a simple fine – you had to hand over some money. But somewhere along the route it turned from a fine to an overall more unusual punishment – you had to drink your drink.

Nowadays every Oxford college has slightly different rules for sconcing – and some don’t at all. Some require you to drink the alcohol out of your shoe, others from someone else’s shoe (although a simple glass will do for most). These days the sconce isn’t really used as a punishment – it’s more of a fancy version of “Have you ever”. Someone will get up and say, “I’m gonna kill everyone who ever did this,” and the guilty guests will have to put their drinks up and down. A strange tradition, but mostly harmless![8]

3 Students eat at lower tables


Oxford is a place of tradition and traditionally the students ate at a physically lower table than the professors and other academics. Nowadays these events no longer have the weight and importance they once had – there were strict rules of conduct at these dinners, while now even at formal dinners it no longer matters what academics wear under their official robes.

Different colleges have their own traditions: some have formal dinners every night, some once a week, and some a few times per semester – if so. Some host a mix of formal and informal dinners where robes and suits are expected only on occasion. But what holds them all together is the fact that students dine at the main tables in the college dining room while academics and professors dine at the high table, where they have access to an entirely different (and more sophisticated) menu. The main exception is Linacre College, which is run by its students and does not have a high table – students and scholars eat together.[9]

2 Oxford time


In the past, every city in Great Britain had its own local time. Since travel and communication can take days, it doesn’t matter whether the time in one place is five or ten minutes faster than in another. However, with electrical communications and high-speed trains, accurate timekeeping became much more important. People were already taking advantage of London time in the 1840s, but in 1880 the government decided that the whole country would switch to London time.

Of course, Oxford, a deeply traditional place, did not exactly obey this rule. Old-fashioned Oxford Time is five minutes behind London time. The bell at Christ Church rang 101 times each evening at 9 p.m. to remind students to go to bed before the gates close. Tradition has been maintained and the Christ Church bell rings at 9:05 p.m. (9 p.m. Oxford time) as the last ring of the day.

In addition, it is common for lectures and other events in Oxford to officially begin at five minutes past the hour – but whether this is tradition or purely practicality is unclear – it is likely a bit of both.[10]

1 Largest employer in Oxfordshire


Oxford is made up of over thirty colleges, each with its own set of students, subjects, and money. Most also run their own dormitories that have to be cleaned, repaired and supplied with food. There is still a lot to be done – without taking into account the other facilities the university operates, such as B. their huge library system, their publishing house and their museums.

Oxford says it provides 30,000 jobs in Oxfordshire, making it the largest employer in the county and adding £ 2.3 billion a year to the economy. When the university teaches around 24,000 people, there are more Oxford employees than students! For comparison: Yale University only employs around 10,000 people.[11]

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