Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Oxford and Cambridge "Universities" You Say?

While this does not have any direct connection to physics, these two institutions have been historically significant in producing some of the most important milestones in the history of physics. While I've chatted with a few people from across the pond about these two institutions, and read up a bit about them, it is still a bit of a mystery to me of how they are run or made up. The "colleges" that together make up each of these institutions appears rather confusing to me. Maybe it is just because I don't understand or "get it" in how they function.

Still, this is a rather brief article that describes a bit about the historical origin (it appears they all came out of Al-Azher University in Cairo). While it does clarify a few things, I still don't get the colleges thing. :)



Will said...

Hi - I did a random search for physics blogs on the internet and it came up with this. I am a 3rd year undergraduate at Cambridge, specialising in Physics, so I figured I'd reply. (By the way, I'm glad I came upon this blog, it looks interesting.)

The colleges together form the university. They are almost glorified halls of residence! The colleges look after the pastoral needs of the students, provide accommodation, food, libraries etc and arrange small group (usually 2 students to 1 academic) teaching to supplement teaching from the departments. The senior academics tend to all be members of colleges as well as their respective departments - though the departments themselves are under the jurisdiction of the university. Indeed, to be a member of a college is to be a member of the university. The departments, as part of the university as a whole, arrange lectures and examinations for students.

This may sound as though the lines between college and university are blurred - they are not really. At undergraduate level, since the colleges provide food and a roof over your head, the colleges are important. There is little direct university contact, except for perhaps the departments and student societies. Higher up the academic tree, it is the university as a whole that matters - research occurs in the department, and that is where most of the academics seem to spend their time.

The colleges were founded at different times, and with different interests. Many placed emphasis on theological studies (though it should be emphasised that there was a time when a mathematics exam was mandatory to leave Cambridge with a degree). With time, this has evolved into the unique system. Trinity college, Cambridge still specialises in mathematics.

Sorry - this appears to be a rather long comment. Still, hope it helps clear stuff up. If it doesn't, www.cam.ac.uk/colleges/ can be quite useful...

m.h. said...

I have a physics degree from this university-Alazhar at Cairo :)