Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"The Stamford Oath": How Oxbridge's dominance was maintained

It's not just that Oxford and Cambridge are the dominant English universities: until surprisingly recently they were the only English universities.

The third English university, Durham, was not established until 1832 and even at the the end of the 19th century there were only three more: Kings' College and University College in London and Victoria University, which became the University of Manchester.

As an article in History Today by William Whyte says:
This was in sharp contrast to the European experience. Just as Oxford and Cambridge were establishing and policing their unique right to produce graduates, ever growing numbers of universities were being founded across the Continent. In the 14th century new institutions appeared in towns from Pisa to Prague; from Kraków to Cahors.  
In the years that followed, the gap in numbers between English universities and those on the Continent grew even greater, with over 100 founded or refounded in Europe after 1500. Oxford and Cambridge remained the only universities in England. Indeed, even as Morton’s teaching career began in the mid-17th century, universities were springing up in such unlikely places as the small towns of Prešov in Slovakia and Nijmegen in the Netherlands.  
The English experience was also very unlike that of the Scots, who acquired five universities between 1451, when Glasgow opened, and 1582, when Edinburgh was established.
And this Oxbridge duopoly in England was rigidly enforced. From 1334 until 1827 the graduates of the two universities had to swear an oath not to teach anywhere else.

I have mentioned this oath before in my post on the legend of Stamford University, but it turns out that it did not just apply to Stamford.

The Stamford Oath, as it was known, obliged graduates of Oxford and Cambridge not to give lectures outside those universities.

You could argue that we are still struggling with the effect of this enforced Oxbridge dominance today.


Laurence Cox said...

I seem to remember David Willetts pointing this out on Peston on Sunday last year; he even got a "Geek of the Week" badge for it. Also University College London was founded in 1826 and King's College London in 1829. It was only in 1836 that they became the two founding colleges of the University of London, which is why I guess Durham likes to claim precedence.

Jonathan Calder said...

Thanks for that.

I did my first degree at York. There were attempts to found a university there in the 17th century, but it was not established until the 1960s.

Tom Barney said...

The Victoria University was a federal university with colleges at Liverpool and Leeds as well as Manchester, which became the universities of those cities - 1904 in the case of Leeds. They continued for many years to have common entrance requirements: this was the origin of the Joint Matriculation Board - these three plus Sheffield and Birmingham - which was also a school examining board.

Jonathan Calder said...

That's right, though it was eventually subsumed into the University of Manchester. I believe there was a move to have a Victoria University college in York, but it came to nothing.

I took my O levels and A levels with the JMB, God bless it.