Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day Three: The Oxbridge System

As I understand it now, the "Oxbridge" (Oxford and Cambridge combined) System is unique in the world for many reasons.

I've mentioned the college system (see "Day Two").  This is unique with the exception of one other English university that escapes me at the moment (perhaps Durham?).   On top of the college system is the University itself, which manages things like examinations, lectures (somewhat similar to what we understand in the states), matriculation, and graduation.  From what I've been told, the governance of the entire system is something like our federal government: independent, strong states (colleges), with an over-arching federal structure.  Both the colleges and the university independently fundraise.

The University over-arching structure includes the various faculties, or what is known in the States as departments.  I belong to the Faculty of History.  Unlike the undergraduates, I applied to this faculty rather than to a college, and they issued my offer and visa letter.

Added to this structure are bodies like Graduate Studies, the Oxford Union, University of Oxford Computing Services (delightful organization), and permanent, private halls, which are somehow distinct from colleges, although I'm not yet sure how.

This byzantine structure has pros and cons.  On the positive side, each can act somewhat autonomously and each has separate funding (how nice it would have been during my undergraduate at BYU to have been able to fund raise without university and church approval!).  The cons include rules and procedures which may seem duplicative for the student- separate contracts and agreements, separate databases (I changed my name with the University and faculty, but the College was unaware and therefore my mail was misdirected), and separate student-run organizations.  It also complicates competition: there is inter-college competition and competition between Oxford and Cambridge generally.

One wonderful aspect of this system is the proliferation of libraries.  A library to academics is like treasure trove to pirates.  Academics and pirates collect valuables, and pride themselves in their holdings verses the rest of the world.  This creates a delightful situation for the student: the college, the University, and the faculties each have a library.  I was given a tour and orientation of the LMH library today, and was very pleased with its holdings.  Because LMH was so long a women's college wherein its students were not allowed access to the main library, its college collection is vast.  Some 67,000 volumes adorn its shelves, making it, according to the assistant librarian, second or third largest among all Oxford colleges.  Its foci are law, history, and music.  Perfect for me, a would-be constitutional legal historian and music hobbyist.

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