Learn more about Oxbridge rivalry
The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, collectively known as Oxbridge, are the two oldest and most famous universities in Britain. Both were founded more than 750 years ago, and between them have produced a large number of Britain's most prominent scientists and politicians, as well as noted figures in many other fields. The competition between Oxford and Cambridge also has a long history, dating back to the days when Cambridge was founded by dissident scholars from Oxford.
 Oxbridge image and stereotypes
Oxford and Cambridge are very well-known inside the UK, and are generally familiar to people in other countries. Their fame stems from a variety of factors, including an association with a long line of distinguished historical figures, as well as knowledge of them spread through the influence of the British Empire and the worldwide prominence of the English language. For a number of years, Oxford and Cambridge have been a magnet for scholars from the United States and elsewhere under the Rhodes, Marshall and now Gates scholarship programs. Oxbridge is often compared to the Ivy League of U.S. universities, but this comparison can be misleading: for example, both Oxford and Cambridge are public universities (where fees for undergraduates are funded by the government), whereas none of the Ivy League institutions are (with the exception of some colleges at Cornell University) state-supported statutory colleges.
Oxford and Cambridge have been careful to preserve many parts of their history, retaining a number of traditions that can seem archaic and bizarre to outsiders, and even to insiders. Oxbridge students and academics have variously been stereotyped as very intelligent, resourceful, and ambitious, as well as pretentious, arrogant, and inward-looking. The institutions themselves are often seen as quaint and charming, but also slow to change. There are sometimes accusations in Britain that students from less affluent backgrounds are at a disadvantage when applying to Oxbridge, and that the two universities have kept their traditional reputation of being socially exclusive and elitist. This is strongly denied by both universities.
One significant change Oxbridge has made in the last century to broaden its intake is the increase in the number of women students. Until the late 19th century, only men were allowed to be students at the two universities and women were not allowed to attain degrees until the 20th century. At the undergraduate level, the male:female ratio at both Oxford and Cambridge is now roughly equal. Despite this, there are generally fewer women holding higher positions, although the current Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, Alison Richard, is an exception.
 Similarities between Oxford and Cambridge
Oxford and Cambridge both have well-regarded printing houses (Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press), botanical gardens (University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Cambridge University Botanic Garden), museums (the Ashmolean and the Fitzwilliam), legal deposit libraries (the Bodleian and the Cambridge University Library), business schools (the Saïd and the Judge), and debating societies (the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union).
Oxford and Cambridge also have a collegiate structure in common: each university is composed of more than 30 autonomous colleges, which provide environments for groups of students to live, work and sleep in. Applicants must choose a specific college when applying to Oxford or Cambridge, or allow the university to select one for them, as all undergraduate students must be a member of one of the university colleges. All Oxbridge colleges are part of the greater university however, and students reading the same subject are given lectures together, irrespective of which college they attend.
Colleges within each university regularly compete with each other in a variety of tournaments (e.g. rugby, rowing and chess), but will happily pool their talent to form university teams for competitions against the greater "enemy" (Oxford, or Cambridge as the case may be). This attitude is reflected in the fact that both Oxford and Cambridge refer to each other as "the other place". In both places, students enjoy punting.
All Oxbridge colleges supplement university lectures with "supervisions", or "tutorials" (the latter term is used at Oxford, and the former at Cambridge, but they both refer to the same thing). These are usually hour-long sessions where small groups of students, typically pairs, meet with a member of the university's teaching staff or a doctoral student (i.e. a graduate student undertaking research for a DPhil (Oxford), or PhD (Cambridge)) to discuss work and clear up confusion about the work presented in lectures. The number of supervisions/tutorials a student receives each week may vary, although two or three is not unusual. This type of teaching is not unique to Oxford and Cambridge (despite their claims that it is), but no other universities in Britain have the resources to support a supervision system on the same scale as Oxbridge, although there have been attempts to reduce the number of tutorials offered to students at Oxford (e.g. cuts to the number of tutorials given to students of English Literature, starting in the 2005-06 academic year).
The cities of Oxford and Cambridge contain campuses of other large universities: Oxford Brookes University and Anglia Ruskin University respectively. There are also a number of English language schools for non-native speakers based in the two cities. These institutions are generally popular with students, who, for honest reasons and otherwise, like to claim that they have studied at either Oxford or Cambridge.
 Differences between Oxford and Cambridge
The city of Oxford is slightly larger, busier and more industrial than Cambridge. Oxford is associated with the motor industry (BMW currently produce the MINI in Oxford), whereas the area surrounding Cambridge is known as Silicon Fen and has more high technology manufacturers.
Oxford is more often featured in the cinema; recent films with scenes shot in Oxford include the Harry Potter movies, and there are plans to use Oxford for the movie His Dark Materials: Northern Lights. The architecture of the city has made it a popular location with film-makers and tourists, and the His Dark Materials trilogy was partly set in Oxford. Cambridge also has a number of major tourist attractions, including the King's College Chapel, one of the most famous buildings in England.
There are differences in the terminology used at the two universities. For example, the undergraduate student body is referred to as the "JCR" in both universities, but in Oxford this stands for "Junior Common Room", whereas in Cambridge it is "Junior Combination Room". At Oxford, the three terms of the academic year are called Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity, whereas at Cambridge they are Michaelmas, Lent and Easter. The large enclosed squares of grass found in most colleges are referred to as "courts" in Cambridge and "quadrangles" (or "quads") in Oxford. College cleaners in the two Universities go by different names: in Oxford they are 'scouts' and in Cambridge they are 'bedders'.
Choice of college at Oxford is more important than at Cambridge, since few Oxford colleges admit students in all the subjects available at the university (hence choice of college might be limited depending on which subject applicants wish to study), whereas most Cambridge colleges do give their students the option to study any subject offered by the university. Although both universities interview applicants in early or mid-December (or occasionally November), the admissions process is slightly different, with Oxford generally interviewing applicants at more than one college, and asking them to stay in the city for longer during interviews; the decision-making process is quicker, with applicants generally being notified of their acceptance/rejection before Christmas. Cambridge tends to have shorter interviews, normally only calling candidates back for interview at a second college if they have been rejected by their first-choice college; applicants are notified of their success or failure at the end of December or beginning of January.
Traditions also vary between the two universities. For example, it is still compulsory at Oxford to wear formal academic dress (sub fusc) to all university examinations, although this is not the case at Cambridge. Incidentally, the students of Oxford voted 81% in favour of keeping formal academic dress (sub fusc) in Hilary term 2006. Cambridge has a rule called "keeping Term": all undergraduates must reside a certain number of nights each term within four miles of the University Church in the city centre unless they are granted special permission to do otherwise (this is given to students on exchange programmes or studying overseas as part of their degree). Oxford's version of this requirement has no set traditional name, but is occasionally referred to as the "Six Mile Rule", under which undergraduates must reside within six miles of the Carfax Tower unless they have received special dispensation. Traditions and the seriousness with which they are taken tend to vary widely amongst the different colleges in each university, more so than between the two universities as a whole.
 Indirect competition between the two universities
There has been much direct and indirect competition between the two universities for a number of years. Indirect competition can perhaps be measured by the success of the alumni of each university. Oxford has a greater political heritage: all but two of the British Prime Ministers since Winston Churchill's second term have been Oxford graduates (the exceptions are James Callaghan and John Major, neither of whom received university educations). Oxford has a high profile in the United States for its Rhodes Scholars program, which have included influential US figures such as Bill Clinton. Oxford is also famous for its dictionary, which is generally regarded as the definitive record of the English language.
Cambridge's reputation is more impressive in the sciences and technology: it has been associated with the majority of Britain's most famous scientists, including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking (though Hawking was an Oxford physics graduate) and James Clerk Maxwell. Science-related Nobel Prizes make up the bulk of the Cambridge's 81 (as of 2005) officially recognized list of Nobels won by affliates — more than any other university in the world and ~70% more than Oxford. Cambridge alumni have been involved with developing some of the most important scientific ideas of the last few hundred years, including the theory of gravity, the theory of evolution and the structure of DNA, as well as technological innovations, including the construction of the EDSAC (one of the world's first computers), and Frank Whittle's jet engine. While Cambridge is less commonly known of than Oxford in the United States, Cambridge has a slightly higher profile in Asia, partly due to the perception that it is the stronger science & technology university. In 2000, the Gates Cambridge Scholarships were founded, partly inspired by the Rhodes Scholarships. Although its dictionaries are less famous than Oxford's, Cambridge is better known internationally for its EFL qualifications and for its examinations subsidiary, Cambridge Assessment.
It is easy to stereotype the two institutions as having different strengths, and specifically associate (for example) Oxford with politics and Cambridge with science. However, Cambridge has also produced distinguished politicians like Prime Ministers Balfour, Baldwin and Campbell-Bannerman, and Oxford graduates include noted scientists such as Edmond Halley and Robert Hooke (and more recently Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web).
There is of course no winner of the "alumni battle", as graduates from both universities have been successful in many different walks of life (not just politics and science, although these are two areas where Oxbridge graduates have traditionally dominated Britain). This is only to be expected from institutions so old, and many students have been associated with both Oxford and Cambridge in any case (such as Stephen Hawking, mentioned above).
 Direct competition between the two universities
Many annual competitions are held between Oxford and Cambridge. The most famous of these is the Boat Race: a rowing event that started in 1829, although for various reasons it has not been held on some years. The first Boat Race was won by Oxford, but Cambridge currently leads the series with 78 wins to Oxford's 73, with one dead heat in 1877. Recent races have become extremely intense: Oxford won by the shortest ever margin of 1 foot in 2003. Cambridge won the 150th Boat Race in 2004, with the umpire denying an Oxford claim of a foul arising from an incident early on in the race in which Oxford rowed into Cambridge's water, resulting in the unseating of Oxford's bowman. Oxford won the Boat Race in 2005 and again in 2006.
The other major Oxbridge competition is The Varsity Match, a rugby union game played annually at Twickenham stadium. Cambridge currently has 58 wins (including the most recent win in December 2005), Oxford has 52, and 14 games have ended in draws. The Rugby Football Union chose to advertise the 2006 match with a campaign promoting inter-university rivalry: their advertising agency Lowe London produced posters showing the number of Prime Ministers produced by the universities, with the tagline "It's time to get even".
All other significant sports have their own varsity match at some point during the year. The vast majority of varsity matches (in particular those of minor sports) are played on the same weekend in mid-February, under the title of 'The Varsity Games'. The results of all the varsity matches in The Varsity Games are aggregated and each year one university wins the Varsity Games title. Recently however, 'The Varsity Games' has had problems raising necessary funds. Sportsmen who have competed at a Varsity Match in the prestigious Full Blue sports are eligible for an Oxford Blue or Cambridge Blue respectively.
 League tables
Over the last few years, British universities have been subjected to the increasing popularity of national university league tables, which rank universities based on the inspected quality of their teaching and research, as well as other criteria, such as spending on facilities and dropout rates. Oxford and Cambridge have been a constant presence at the top end of the tables, never appearing outside the overall top five and rarely not holding the first and second places, but their dominance in individual subjects is often challenged by other institutions.
Cambridge topped more league tables than Oxford when they were first published in the early 1990s, although Oxford has nudged Cambridge into second place in recent years, notably in the league tables of The Times newspaper, where it has been first for the last four years. The accuracy and reliability of many of these tables is disputed however: some rely on research assessments that are several years old; others have rankings which fluctuate because of differences in the way they are calculated each year. Cambridge tends to benefit from its greater emphasis on science, whilst Oxford tends to benefit from its more centralised funding system.
International league tables of universities have also favoured Oxbridge. There are two such publicised surveys - Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2005 ranked Cambridge as 2nd in the world, and Oxford as 10th ; while in 2006, The Times Higher Education Supplement ranked Oxford 3rd and Cambridge 2nd overall in the world. The year before, Oxford had been 5th and Cambridge 6th.
 Oxbridge cooperation
Despite the impassioned rivalry between the two universities, there is also much cooperation when the need arises. Most Oxford colleges have a sister college in Cambridge (but because Oxford has more colleges than Cambridge, not all Oxford colleges have a "sister"); Oxford and Cambridge have several colleges with the same name, and some of these are sisters: for example, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. However, Trinity College, Oxford is the sister college of Churchill College, Cambridge, while Trinity College, Cambridge is the sister college of Christ Church, Oxford, so namesakes are not always paired up.
An old Oxbridge myth about the individual colleges' wealth has it that it was once possible to walk from Oxford to Cambridge without leaving land owned by either Trinity College, Oxford or Trinity College, Cambridge (some versions of the myth use the two St John's colleges). Both versions are certainly untrue.
Concerns are often raised that Oxford and Cambridge admit a disproportionate number of students from wealthy backgrounds, usually on the basis of the relative numbers of state-school and private-school students at the universities. The two universities have made combined efforts in recent years to project a socially-inclusive image to potential applicants, with the aim of increasing the number of state school applicants. Further information regarding this cooperative Oxbridge access project can be found at: