Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 156: Oxford University's Federal System

Today I had my first interaction with Oxford University since matriculation. Now, mind you, I've been attending Oxford for six months. But it has a byzantine structure similar to the federal structure of U.S. governments: semi-autonomous and self-governing colleges (states) and faculties (perhaps something more akin to semi-sovereign Indian territories? :-)). These two entities run most of my school-related life - fees, accommodation, student loans, social activities, and all other such stuff, and the faculty runs the academic portion (this is true for graduate students – for undergrads, tutoring, or teaching, is done by the colleges and lectures by either the faculty or University). This means that I don't interact with the University at all on a day-to-day basis. What keeps Oxford's federal structure together, however, is that the University runs matriculation, examinations, and graduation.

And today I had two “extended examination essays” due. If Oxford had grades (instead, they have three marks – pass, fail, and distinction), these two 5,000 word essays would account for a third. To figure out how to turn my essays in, I had to reference four sources, including the faculty website, the three-inch thick “Exam Regulations” given me upon matriculation, a classmate, and one of my tutors. There was a form I needed to fill out with my course of study, the titles of my essays, number of words, and a unique numbered identifier so this essay, reviewed by two of eight faculty members in my specific “stream” who all know me and my interests well, will be “anonymous.” Once the form was filled out and two copies of each essay printed, I needed to put all of this in a sealed envelope with only my unique number and “address it” “to the Chairman of the Examiners for the Master of Studies in US History” on the outside.

My examination envelope finally needed to be hand-delivered to “Examination Schools” (often just called “schools”) on Oxford High street, where I stood in line to hand-fill out a receipt, signed by the receptionist.

10,000 words down, a 15,000 word dissertation and an “examination paper,” not to be confused with “extended examination essays,” to go.

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