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The tranquillity of an Oxbridge college glimpsed through an open wicket gate in the outside oak door. Paving stones lead to a grass quadrangle in front of an old two-storey building in yellow-pink stone, with sash windows on the upper floor above a passage entrance decorated with rococo carving and painted crest, leading to another grassed quadrangle. A male and female student, similarly dressed in short black coats, are walking in step away from the gate and into the depths of the college carrying their bags and holding hands.
An Oxbridge college seen from the outside

Oxbridge is a portmanteau (morphological blend) of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. The term is used to refer to them collectively in contrast to other British universities and more broadly to describe characteristics reminiscent of them, often with implications of superior social or intellectual status.[1]


  • Origins 1
  • Meaning 2
  • Related terms 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • External links 6


Although both universities were founded more than eight centuries ago, the term Oxbridge is relatively recent. 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[2][3] and in Universities Quarterly by 1958.[4]

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.[5]


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 the UK. Both were founded more than 800 years ago,[6][7] 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.[8][9]
  • 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 Garden and Cambridge University Botanic Garden), museums (the Ashmolean and the Fitzwilliam), legal deposit libraries (the Bodleian and the Cambridge University Library), debating societies (the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union) and notable comedy groups (The Oxford Revue and Footlights).
  • 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,[10] 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 undergraduate teaching method) and pastoral care.
  • Both universities have many buildings of great beauty and antiquity, and are 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,[11][12][13] so they are targeted by ambitious pupils, parents and schools. Entrance is extremely competitive and some schools promote themselves based on their achievement of Oxbridge offers. Combined, the two universities award over one-sixth of all English full-time research doctorates.[14]
  • Oxford and Cambridge have common approaches to [20] and to look for evidence of self-motivation, independent thinking, academic potential and ability to learn through the tutorial system.[19], interviews are usually used to check whether the course is well suited to the applicant's interests and aptitudes,A level Because most candidates are predicted to achieve top grades at [18] are mutually exclusive for first undergraduate degrees so, in any one year, candidates may only apply to Oxford or Cambridge, not both.[17]

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),[21] as shorthand for an elite that "continues to dominate Britain's political and cultural establishment"[8][22] and a parental attitude that "continues to see UK higher education through an Oxbridge prism",[23] 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"[24] 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".[25]

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. Camford was also used in the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Creeping Man.

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 Durham, Oxford, York and Cambridge,[26] while Woxbridge is seen in the name of the annual Woxbridge conference between the business schools of Warwick, Oxford and Cambridge.[27] The term Loxbridge (referring to London, Oxford, and Cambridge) is sometimes seen,[28] and was also adopted as the name of the Ancient History conference now known as AMPAH.[29] However, such terms are only employed for specific groups, and none has achieved widespread recognition.

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.).  
  2. ^ G.D. Worswick (3 May 1957). "The anatomy of Oxbridge".  
  3. ^ G.D. Worswick (6 June 1958). "Men's Awards at Oxbridge".  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ Giro Koike (5 April 1995). "Why The "Cambridge & Oxford Society"?". Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  6. ^ "A brief history of the University". Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  7. ^ "A Brief History – Early Records". Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  8. ^ a b Carole Cadwalladr (16 March 2008). "It's the clever way to power – Part 1". (London). Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  9. ^ Carole Cadwalladr (16 March 2008). "It's the clever way to power – Part 2". (London). Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  10. ^ "A Brief History: Early records".  
  11. ^ Watson, Roland. "University Rankings League Table 2009". Good University Guide (London: Times Online). Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  12. ^ "University Rankings League Table". The Sunday Times University Guide (London: Times Online). Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  13. ^ Bernard Kingston (28 April 2008). "League table of UK universities". The Complete University Guide. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  14. ^ "Research degree qualification rates".  
  15. ^ Walford, Geoffrey (1986). Life in Public Schools. Taylor & Francis. p. 202.  
  16. ^ "UCAS Students: Important dates for your diary". Retrieved 2009-02-02. 15 October 2008 Last date for receipt of applications to Oxford University, University of Cambridge and courses in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science or veterinary medicine. 
  17. ^ "Organ Awards Information for Prsospective Candidates". Faculty of Music,  
  18. ^ "UCAS Students FAQs: Oxford or Cambridge". Retrieved 2009-11-23. Is it possible to apply to both Oxford University and the University of Cambridge? 
  19. ^ "Cambridge Interviews: the facts" (PDF). University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  20. ^ "Interviews at Oxford". University of Oxford. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  21. ^ Robert David Anderson (2004). European universities from the Enlightenment to 1914.  
  22. ^ Carole Cadwalladr (16 March 2008). "Oxbridge Blues". The Guardian. 
  23. ^  
  24. ^ Elizabeth Davies (21 February 2007). "The over-pressured hothouse that is Oxbridge".  
  25. ^ Charlie Boss (2 December 2006). "Why so many state school pupils drop out of Oxbridge".  
  26. ^ "The University Sports Tour for Easter 2008". Archived from the original on 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
  27. ^ "Woxbridge 2011". Conference Website. 
  28. ^ Morgan, K. J. (2004). "The research assessment exercise in English universities, 2001". Higher Education 48 (4): 461–482.  
  29. ^ "AMPAH 2003: Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient History (formerly also known as LOxBridge)". Retrieved 2008-04-13. 

External links

  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Oxford
  • The Boat Race
  • The Varsity Match
  • Cambridge Nobel Laureates
  • Oxford Nobel Laureates
  • Oxford University Famous Members
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