University System in England

Colleges within universities in the United Kingdom

Main articles: Colleges of the University of Cambridge and Colleges of the University of Oxford

The two ancient universities of England, Oxford and Cambridge (collectively termed Oxbridge) both started without colleges (in the late eleventh and early thirteenth century respectively). The first college at Oxford, University College was founded in 1249, and the first at Cambridge, Peterhouse followed in 1284. Over the following centuries, the universities evolved into federations of autonomous colleges, with a small central university body, rather than universities in the common sense. While many of the student affairs functions are housed in the colleges, each college is more than a residence hall, but they are far from being universities. While college life and membership is an important part of the Oxbridge experience and education, only the central university body has degree-awarding power. Historically the colleges were created as a way of ensuring discipline among the notoriously unruly students.

In addition to accommodation, meals, common rooms, libraries, sporting and social facilities for its students, each college admits undergraduate students to the University and, through tutorials or supervisions, contributes to the work of educating them, together with the university's departments/faculties. Graduate students do not receive education from their college. Graduate students at Cambridge and Oxford have to name two college choices on their application, which goes to the department/faculty, and if the university accepts them, it guarantees that the applicant will have a college membership, although not necessarily at the favoured college(s).

The faculties at each university provide lectures and central facilities such as libraries and laboratories, as well as examining for and awarding degrees. Academic staff are commonly employed both by the university (typically as lecturer or professor) and by a college (as fellow or tutor), though some may have only a college or university post. Nearly all colleges cater to students studying a range of subjects.

Since the colleges are all fully independent legal entities within the university, owning their own buildings, employing their own staff, and managing their own endowments, colleges vary widely in wealth, although the richer colleges often provide financial support to the poorer ones. It is entirely possible for some colleges to be in better financial health than the universities of which they are a part. Currently about 2/3 of the £4.3 billion endowment of Cambridge University is in the hands of its colleges, and therefore just 1/3 belongs to the central university.

Typically a student or fellow of an Oxbridge college is said to be "living in college" if their accommodation is inside the college buildings. Most colleges also accommodate students, especially graduate students, in houses or other buildings away from the college site.

Durham University[edit]

Durham University is also collegiate in nature, and its colleges hold the same legal status of 'listed bodies' as the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Durham's colleges are (with two exceptions) owned by the University. They are explicitly defined in the University's statutes, meaning that permission of the Privy Council is needed to create (or abolish) colleges.

At the time of Durham's foundation, Oxford and Cambridge were the only two universities in England, thus Durham, following their example, pursued a collegiate model from the start. Two important innovations were, however, made that were later taken up for the colleges of the plate glass universities (below) and the residential colleges of US universities: the colleges at Durham were (starting with the original University College) owned by the University rather than being independent like Oxbridge colleges; and the teaching was done centrally rather than in the colleges, with the colleges being residential and responsible for student discipline, as had originally been the case at Oxford and Cambridge. The Durham model has been described as "a far better model for people at other institutions to look to, than are the independent colleges of Oxford and Cambridge".

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