Despite all the ground-breaking research to come out of Oxford University, no one has managed to discover the official date for when it was founded. Records do show that teaching occurred at Oxford in 1096, in some form, but it wasn’t until the 12th Century that the University entered a significant period of growth.

Photo of dining hall
Oxford College Dining Room

At that point, well-respected minds started to lecture at the University and high-calibre students began their own educational and intellectual journeys. 

When Henry II put a ban on English students moving to France to attend the University of Paris in 1167, the number of students rose quicker still. 

Town and Gown Riots

With a burgeoning student population, there was notable friction with the townspeople. During one of the recurring Town and Gown riots, things got so bad that a crowd of students fled to Cambridge, where they set up their own institution in 1209. 

Oxford Town & Gown Riots

We’ve got a blog post looking into the history of the rivalry between these two academic powerhouses, which you can read here

Oxford Colleges

In the 13th Century, after many years of students lodging with the townsfolk, the first colleges were founded. Living there was an attractive concept: each had its own buildings and vibrant, well-kept land. As college-living became more commonplace, lodging in the homes of Oxford-dwellers fell out of fashion. In 1410, a new rule was introduced: in order to attend Oxford University, one had to take up lodging in the college’s halls of residence. One by one, the colleges added to the University’s culture, and today, there are 38 different colleges. 

In 1878, women were welcomed into new, gendered academic halls. It wasn’t until 1920 that women were able to become full members of the University; and in 1974, 5 all-male colleges started to admit women. Gendered halls have become a thing of the past and now, all 38 colleges are open to people regardless of their gender or sex. 

College Traditions

Some of the college residents’ more unique traditions include the wearing of subfusc, which is full academic dress, when they take exams. Formal dress is also required for sit-down meals, and at the colleges’ white tie and black tie balls. 

Oxford Students in Subfusc

Today, the colleges of Oxford University collectively receive over 19,000 applications from students across the globe every year. Thanks to their contributions to teaching, learning and research, these colleges represent some of Oxford’s most culturally significant curiosities. 

Learn how the colleges have shaped the history of Oxford on our free 2-hour walking tour