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. :)