Oxford Visitors' Guide: Non-Tripadvisor Top Ten Tips (Part II)

As the Entrepreneurial Leaders Programme is drawing near, this year from August 14th – 20th, I reflected on some of the unique aspects of Oxford, the university, and the town.

The university is generally ranked among the top handful of universities in the world. Apart from academic credentials, the University of Oxford is situated in likely the world’s most charming, unique, and storied university town. There is history and tradition around every corner—something that can’t be purchased or contrived. 

Here is “Part II” of a list of interesting things about Oxford from a Vancouver/Canadian/North American perspective that likely won't appear on Tripadvisor.

11. Oxford has survived and thrived when other late medieval universities didn't.  In the 16th century, other centres of learning included Alcala, Wittenberg, and Bourges.  These other European universities are names which are now unknown and unrecognizable—yet Oxford, in an out-of-the-way town, has continued to prosper and keep reinventing itself. 

12. Oxford’s system is unique with 38 colleges and 6 permanent private halls. Students apply centrally through the university but designate their preferred halls. The life of the student then largely revolves around the hall with they live and study and build community. 

13. Oxford is a tutor-based system in which the majority of courses are taught one on one by a tutor (sometimes there will be two students per tutor). So, instead of sitting in large lecture halls, the student is generally sitting across from the professor, the actual authority in the field. 

14. The tutor-based approach is, of course, massively labour intensive—but it creates a powerful learning dynamic. The tutor will ask the student to read a number of books, address certain questions, and then write papers. The format can be intense, and the students are expected to be able to debate their views. An undergrad at Oxford may write over 200 papers during the course of their degree. 

15. The undergrad tuition is about GBP15,000 and then room and board can be the same amount on top of that. UK students can get loans for tuition. They pay off the loans when they start making money from a job. If they never make money, they never have to pay it off.   So, cost is not a barrier. 

16. Oxford can only charge tuition on the same scale as any other university in the UK. 

17.There is an understated British approach. Despite the big brand of Oxford, it still seems undermarketed—at least from a North American perspective. There are a smattering of gift stores with Oxford merchandise—but not a large central university store. If marketing was run with American prowess and pizzazz, there would likely a multistory complex with an army of cashiers. 

18. There are three terms within the school year: Michelmas, Hilary, and Trinity. There are five week-long reading breaks and then three months break in the summer. I asked, how do students get jobs for those short periods? They don’t. Those are times that they are doing extensive reading and possibly writing exams.   In Canada a one-week reading break is actually a break from reading, rather than to do reading. Students are generally planning their skiing adventures or other forms of leisure.

19. Sports don’t define or contribute to the identity of the University of Oxford. Of course, there is the famous rowing competition with “the other place,” but besides that, there are no varsity teams. In other words, there is no circuit (or “Ivy League”) where Oxford competes. Oxford is not famous for its soccer/football team! 

20. The university has its own museum—the "Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology"—founded in 1683, with world-famous collections ranging from Egyptian mummies to modern art. This museum could likely surpass most major North American city museums, due to its stunning collection accumulated by researchers over hundreds of years. Not many new universities plan on incorporating a museum in their midst.     

Categories: Oxford