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 of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in England, and the term is now used to refer to them collectively, often with implications of perceived superior social status.[1] Oxbridge can be used as a noun referring to either or both universities or as an adjective describing them or their students.



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,[2][3] 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.[4][5]
  • 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), and debating societies (the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union).
  • 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,[6] 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 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,[7][8][9] so they are targeted by ambitious pupils, parents and schools. Undergraduate entrance is very 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.[10]
  • Oxford and Cambridge have common approaches to undergraduate admissions. Until the mid-1980s, entry was typically by sitting special entrance exams.[11] Applications must be made at least three months early,[12] and, with only minor exceptions (e.g., Organ Scholars),[13] are mutually exclusive for first undergraduate degrees so, in any one year, candidates may only apply to Oxford or Cambridge, not both.[14] 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,[15] and to look for evidence of self-motivation, independent thinking, academic potential and ability to learn through the tutorial system.[16]

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),[17] as shorthand for an elite that "continues to dominate Britain's political and cultural establishment"[4][18] and a parental attitude that "continues to see UK higher education through an Oxbridge prism",[19] 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"[20] 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".[21]


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[22][23] and in Universities Quarterly by 1958.[24]

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.[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.

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, 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. Oxford University Press. 2002). http://books.google.com/?id=YGi5GwAACAAJ. "Originally: a fictional university, esp. regarded as a composite of Oxford and Cambridge. Subsequently also (now esp.): the universities of Oxford and Cambridge regarded together, esp. in contrast to other British universities. adj Of, relating to, characteristic of, or reminiscent of Oxbridge (freq. with implication of superior social status" 
  2. ^ "A brief history of the University". http://www.ox.ac.uk/about_the_university/introducing_oxford/a_brief_history_of_the_university/index.html. Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  3. ^ "A Brief History - Early Records". http://www.cam.ac.uk/univ/history/records.html. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  4. ^ a b Carole Cadwalladr (2008-03-16). "It's the clever way to power - Part 1". EducationGuardian.co.uk (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/mar/16/highereducation.news. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  5. ^ Carole Cadwalladr (2008-03-16). "It's the clever way to power - Part 2". EducationGuardian.co.uk (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/mar/16/highereducation.careers. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  6. ^ "A Brief History: Early records". University of Cambridge. http://www.cam.ac.uk/univ/history/records.html. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  7. ^ Watson, Roland. "University Rankings League Table 2009". Good University Guide (London: Times Online). http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/tol_gug/gooduniversityguide.php. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  8. ^ "University Rankings League Table". The Sunday Times University Guide (London: Times Online). http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/stug/universityguide.php. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  9. ^ Bernard Kingston (2008-04-28). "League table of UK universities". The Complete University Guide. http://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/single.htm?ipg=6524. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  10. ^ "Research degree qualification rates". Higher Education Funding Council for England. July 2010. http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2010/10_21/#exec. 
  11. ^ Walford, Geoffrey (1986). Life in Public Schools. Taylor & Francis. p. 202. ISBN 9780416371802. http://books.google.com/?id=Ms8OAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA202&lpg=PA202. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  12. ^ "UCAS Students: Important dates for your diary". http://www.ucas.com/students/importantdates. 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." 
  13. ^ "Organ Awards Information for Prsospective Candidates". Faculty of Music, University of Oxford. http://www.music.ox.ac.uk/assets/files/Chor_Org_Downloads/OrgAwards2009.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-22. "It is possible for a candidate to enter the comparable competition at Cambridge which is scheduled at the same time of year." 
  14. ^ "UCAS Students FAQs: Oxford or Cambridge". http://www.ucas.com/students/applying/faqs/eligibility/faq1. Retrieved 2009-11-23. "Is it possible to apply to both Oxford University and the University of Cambridge?" 
  15. ^ "Cambridge Interviews: the facts" (PDF). University of Cambridge. http://www.cam.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/publications/interviews.pdf. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  16. ^ "Interviews at Oxford". University of Oxford. http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate_courses/how_to_apply/interviews/index.html. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  17. ^ Robert David Anderson (2004). European universities from the Enlightenment to 1914. OUP. p. 135. ISBN 9780198206606. http://books.google.com/?id=Sf6NeT3045IC&pg=PA135. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  18. ^ Carole Cadwalladr (16 March 2008). Oxbridge Blues. The Guardian. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/carole_cadwalladr/2008/03/oxbridge_blues.html 
  19. ^ Eric Thomas (2004-01-20). "Down but not out". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2004/jan/20/oxbridgeandelitism.schools. Retrieved 2009-08-28. 
  20. ^ Elizabeth Davies (2007-02-21). "The over-pressured hothouse that is Oxbridge". The Independent (London). http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/elizabeth-davies-the-overpressured-hothouse-that-is-oxbridge-437155.html. Retrieved 2009-02-02. "Two recent deaths have brought the issue of Oxbridge students' mental health back to the surface" 
  21. ^ Charlie Boss (2006-12-02). "Why so many state school pupils drop out of Oxbridge". The Spectator. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3724/is_/ai_n17191156. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  22. ^ G.D. Worswick (1957-05-03). "The anatomy of Oxbridge". Times Educational Supplement. 
  23. ^ G.D. Worswick (1958-06-06). "Men's Awards at Oxbridge". Times Educational Supplement. 
  24. ^ A. H. Halsey (1958). "British Universities and Intellectual Life". Universities Quarterly (Turnstile Press.) 12 (2): 144. http://books.google.com/?id=c3cuAAAAIAAJ&dq=Halsey+%22BRITISH+UNIVERSITIES+AND+INTELLECTUAL+LIFE%22&q=Oxbridge. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  25. ^ Giro Koike (1995-04-05). "Why The "Cambridge & Oxford Society"?". http://www.camford.org/Whycamford.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  26. ^ "The University Sports Tour for Easter 2008". Archived from the original on 2008-04-02. http://web.archive.org/web/20080402051845/http://www.doxbridge.co.uk/index.html. Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
  27. ^ "Woxbridge 2011". Conference Website. http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/wbs/conf/woxbridge2011/. 
  28. ^ Morgan, K. J. (2004). "The research assessment exercise in English universities, 2001". Higher Education 48 (4): 461–482. doi:10.1023/B:HIGH.0000046717.11717.06. http://www.springerlink.com/content/k601035744543035/. 
  29. ^ "AMPAH 2003: Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient History (formerly also known as LOxBridge)". http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/classics/postgraduate/ampah/. Retrieved 2008-04-13. 

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  • Oxbridge — UK [ˈɒksˌbrɪdʒ] / US [ˈɑksˌbrɪdʒ] the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, considered to be among the best in the UK Oxbridge students • Cultural note: The Oxbridge colleges have a good educational reputation and high social status, and provide… …   English dictionary

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