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Arms of the University of Cambridge (left) and the University of Oxford (right)

Oxbridge is a portmanteau of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the two oldest, wealthiest, and most famous universities in the United Kingdom. The term is used to refer to them collectively, in contrast to other British universities, and more broadly to describe characteristics reminiscent of them, often with implications of superior social or intellectual status or elitism.[1]



Although both universities were founded more than eight centuries ago, the term Oxbridge is relatively recent. In William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Pendennis, published in 1850, the main character attends the fictional Boniface College, Oxbridge. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the word was by Virginia Woolf, who, citing William Makepeace Thackeray, referenced it in her 1929 essay "A Room of One's Own." The term was used in the Times Educational Supplement in 1957,[2][3] and the following year in Universities Quarterly.[4]

When expanded, the universities are almost always referred to as "Oxford and Cambridge", the order in which they were founded. A notable exception is Tokyo's Cambridge and Oxford Society; this probably arises from the fact that the Cambridge Club was founded there first, and also had more members than its Oxford counterpart when they amalgamated in 1905.[5]


Percentage of state school students at Oxford and Cambridge[6][7]
Oxford and Cambridge Club

In addition to being a collective term, Oxbridge is often used as shorthand for characteristics the two institutions share:

  • They are the two oldest universities in continuous operation in the UK. Both were founded more than 800 years ago,[8][9] and continued as England's only universities (barring short-lived foundations, such as those at Northampton and Durham) until the 19th century. Between them, they have educated a large number of Britain's most prominent scientists, writers, and politicians, as well as noted figures in many other fields.[10][11]
  • Each has a similar collegiate structure, whereby the university is a cooperative of its constituent colleges, which are responsible for supervisions/tutorials (the principal undergraduate teaching method, unique to Oxbridge), accommodation and pastoral care.
  • They have established similar institutions and facilities such as leading publishing houses (Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press), botanical gardens (University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Cambridge University Botanic Garden), museums (the Ashmolean and the Fitzwilliam), legal deposit libraries (the Bodleian and the Cambridge University Library), debating societies (the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union), and notable comedy groups (The Oxford Revue and The Cambridge Footlights).
  • Rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge also has a long history, dating back to around 1209, when Cambridge was founded by scholars taking refuge from hostile Oxford townsmen,[12] and celebrated to this day in varsity matches such as The Boat Race.
  • They are usually the top-scoring institutions in cross-subject UK university rankings,[13][14][15] so they are targeted by ambitious pupils, parents and schools. Entrance is extremely competitive and some schools promote themselves based on the achievement Oxbridge offers. Combined, the two universities award over one-sixth of all English full-time research doctorates.[16]
  • Oxford and Cambridge have common approaches to undergraduate admissions. Until the mid-1980s, entry was typically by sitting special entrance exams.[17] Applications must be made at least three months earlier than to other UK universities (the deadline for applications to Oxbridge is mid-October whereas the deadline for all other universities, apart from applicants for medicine, is in January).[18] Additionally, candidates may not apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year,[19] apart from a few exceptions (e.g. organ scholars).[20] Most candidates achieve, or are predicted to achieve, outstanding results in their final school exams, and consequently interviews are usually used to check whether the course is well suited to the applicant's interests and aptitudes,[21] and to look for evidence of self-motivation, independent thinking, academic potential and ability to learn through the tutorial system.[22]
  • Membership of the Oxford and Cambridge Club is largely restricted to those who are members of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.


Eton College is one of a number of schools that send a disproportionately large percentage of students to Oxbridge.[23]

The word Oxbridge may also be used pejoratively: as a descriptor of social class (referring to the professional classes who dominated the intake of both universities at the beginning of the twentieth century),[24] as shorthand for an elite that "continues to dominate Britain's political and cultural establishment"[10][25] and a parental attitude that "continues to see UK higher education through an Oxbridge prism",[26] or to describe a "pressure-cooker" culture that attracts and then fails to support overachievers "who are vulnerable to a kind of self-inflicted stress that can all too often become unbearable"[27] and high-flying state school students who find "coping with the workload very difficult in terms of balancing work and life" and "feel socially out of [their] depth".[28]

The Sutton Trust maintains that the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge "recruit" disproportionately from eight schools (Westminster School, Eton College, Hills Road Sixth Form College, St Paul's School, Peter Symonds College, St Paul's Girls' School, King's College School, and Magdalen College School).[29] They examined published admissions data from 2015 to 2017 and found that, out of the 19,851 places during the three years, the eight schools accounted for 1,310, whereas 2,900 other schools with historically few admissions to Oxbridge accounted for 1,220.[30]


Other portmanteaus have been coined that extend the term Oxbridge, with different degrees of recognition.

The term Loxbridge[31][32][33][34] is also used referring to the golden triangle of London, Oxford, and Cambridge. It was also adopted as the name of the Ancient History conference now known as AMPAH.[35]

Doxbridge is another example of this, referring to Durham, Oxford and Cambridge.[36][37][38] Doxbridge was also used for an annual inter-collegiate sports tournament between some of the colleges of Durham, Oxford, Cambridge and York.[39]

Woxbridge is the name of the annual conference between the business schools of Warwick, Oxford and Cambridge.[40]

When the University of St Andrews topped the 2023 UK universities ranking in The Guardian, the top three institutions were labelled Stoxbridge to reflect the new order.[41]

Thackeray's Pendennis, which introduced the term Oxbridge, also introduced Camford as another combination of the university names – "he was a Camford man and very nearly got the English Prize Poem" – but this term has never achieved the same degree of usage as Oxbridge. Camford is, however, used as the name of a fictional university city in the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Creeping Man (1923).

See also



  1. ^ "Oxbridge". oed.com (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. 2005. Originally: a fictional university, esp. regarded as a composite of Oxford and Cambridge. Subsequently also (now esp.): the universities of Oxford and Cambridge regarded together, esp. in contrast to other British universities. adj Of, relating to, characteristic of, or reminiscent of Oxbridge (freq. with implication of superior social or intellectual status
  2. ^ G.D. Worswick (3 May 1957). "The anatomy of Oxbridge". Times Educational Supplement.
  3. ^ G.D. Worswick (6 June 1958). "Men's Awards at Oxbridge". Times Educational Supplement.
  4. ^ A. H. Halsey (1958). "British Universities and Intellectual Life". Universities Quarterly. 12 (2). Turnstile Press: 144. Retrieved 22 March 2009.
  5. ^ Giro Koike (5 April 1995). "Why The "Cambridge & Oxford Society"?". Retrieved 8 September 2008.
  6. ^ "Oxbridge 'Elitism'" (PDF). Parliament of the United Kingdom. 9 June 2014.
  7. ^ "Acceptances to Oxford and Cambridge Universities by previous educational establishment". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  8. ^ "A brief history of the University". ox.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 11 April 2008. Retrieved 29 March 2008.
  9. ^ "A Brief History – Early Records". cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 27 June 2008.
  10. ^ a b Cadwalladr, Carole (16 March 2008). "Education: It's the clever way to power – Part 1". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 March 2009.
  11. ^ Cadwalladr, Carole (16 March 2008). "Education: It's the clever way to power – Part 2". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 March 2009.
  12. ^ "A Brief History: Early records". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 22 March 2009.
  13. ^ Watson, Roland. "University Rankings League Table 2009". Good University Guide. London: Times Online. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
  14. ^ "University Rankings League Table". The Sunday Times University Guide. London: Times Online. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
  15. ^ Bernard Kingston (28 April 2008). "League table of UK universities". The Complete University Guide. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
  16. ^ "Research degree qualification rates". Higher Education Funding Council for England. July 2010.
  17. ^ Walford, Geoffrey (1986). Life in Public Schools. Taylor & Francis. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-416-37180-2. Retrieved 2 February 2009.
  18. ^ "UCAS Students: Important dates for your diary". Archived from the original on 1 February 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2009. 15 October 2008 Last date for receipt of applications to Oxford University, University of Cambridge and courses in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science or veterinary medicine.
  19. ^ "UCAS Students FAQs: Oxford or Cambridge". Archived from the original on 1 October 2009. Retrieved 23 November 2009. Is it possible to apply to both Oxford University and the University of Cambridge?
  20. ^ "Organ Awards Information for Prospective Candidates" (PDF). Faculty of Music, University of Oxford. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 August 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2009. It is possible for a candidate to enter the comparable competition at Cambridge which is scheduled at the same time of year.
  21. ^ "Cambridge Interviews: the facts" (PDF). University of Cambridge. Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  22. ^ "Interviews at Oxford". University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 28 January 2013. Retrieved 2 February 2009.
  23. ^ "Eton and Westminster among eight schools dominating Oxbridge". The Guardian. 7 December 2018. Retrieved 15 December 2021.
  24. ^ Robert David Anderson (2004). European universities from the Enlightenment to 1914. Oxford University Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-19-820660-6. Retrieved 22 March 2009.
  25. ^ Carole Cadwalladr (16 March 2008). "Oxbridge Blues". The Guardian.
  26. ^ Eric Thomas (20 January 2004). "Down but not out". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 August 2009.
  27. ^ Elizabeth Davies (21 February 2007). "The over-pressured hothouse that is Oxbridge". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2009. Two recent deaths have brought the issue of Oxbridge students' mental health back to the surface
  28. ^ Charlie Boss (2 December 2006). "Why so many state school pupils drop out of Oxbridge". The Spectator. Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 20 January 2024 – via Bnet Business Network.
  29. ^ "Oxbridge 'over-recruits from eight schools'". BBC News. 7 December 2018. Retrieved 24 October 2020.
  30. ^ Coughlan, Sean (2018). "Oxbridge 'over-recruits from eight schools'". BBC News. Retrieved 1 March 2009.
  31. ^ Anon (2018). "The Loxbridge Triangle: Integrating the East-West Arch into the London Mega-region". talks.cam.ac.uk. University of Cambridge.
  32. ^ "Loxbridge Limited". companieshouse.gov.uk. London: Companies House.
  33. ^ "Loxbridge tutoring". loxbridge.com. Archived from the original on 10 August 2020. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  34. ^ Morgan, K. J. (2004). "The research assessment exercise in English universities, 2001". Higher Education. 48 (4): 461–482. doi:10.1023/B:HIGH.0000046717.11717.06. JSTOR 4151567. S2CID 145505001.
  35. ^ "AMPAH 2003: Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient History (formerly also known as LOxBridge)". Archived from the original on 11 July 2007. Retrieved 13 April 2008.
  36. ^ "Doxbridge: a chip on our collective shoulders?". Palatinate. 6 November 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  37. ^ "Debate: Rather be at Oxbridge than Doxbridge?". thetab.com. The Tab. 16 January 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  38. ^ "Is Doxbridge a thing? We asked Oxbridge students". The Tab. 16 October 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  39. ^ "The University Sports Tour for Easter 2008". Archived from the original on 2 April 2008. Retrieved 13 April 2008.
  40. ^ "Woxbridge 2011". Conference Website.
  41. ^ "Forget Oxbridge: St Andrews knocks top universities off perch". The Guardian. 24 September 2022. Retrieved 9 December 2022.