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Oxford: Past, Present and Future

Giugno 2014
Secondo alcuni quest’anno l’Università di Oxford compirebbe gli 8 secoli di vita, ma la tradizione dell’insegnamento in questa città è molto più antica e nessuno sa dire con certezza quando l’ateneo fu fondato. Poco importa, perché Oxford, nonostante gli edifici medievali, è proiettata verso il futuro. Soprattutto nella ricerca scientifica.

di Julian Earwaker

File audio:

The 18th century Radcliffe Camera
The 18th century Radcliffe Camera
Loren Griffith
Loren Griffith

Speaker: Derek Allen (Standard British accent)

The streets of Oxford are filled with people from every country of the world. Tourists come for the unique heritage and history of this city located on the River Thames 96 kilometres west of London. Students come from across the globe to attend the oldest and probably most famous university in the English-speaking world.


Despite Oxford’s proud industrial heritage, it’s the “dreaming spires” and honey-coloured stone of the University's colleges that people remember best. And although the city has a long tradition of car manufacturing, there are probably more bicycles here than any other vehicle. Step away from the busy shopping streets and it’s like travelling back in time: quiet cobbled lanes, medieval buildings and an ancient Saxon street pattern. The oldest and most impressive architecture belongs to the University. No one knows for certain when it was first founded – only that teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096, and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.


Today a large percentage of students here come from overseas. Oxford is home to both Harry Potter and Nobel Prize winners. It is a quintessentially English city where foreign languages fill the air. “It’s a place that is very proud of its British traditions, but also makes a home for people from all over the world,” explains Loren Griffith of the University of Oxford. As  Director of International Strategy, he is one of the people responsible  for Oxford's global reach. "Internationalisation," he says, "is an established part of the University’s identity."


Closer to home, relations between "town and gown" –  the ordinary townspeople and university students  – have improved considerably since the riots of the 13th century. In recent years, the prosperity and success of the city have become more strongly linked with the University – which is now the county’s largest employer. Oxford has the highest per capita concentration of students anywhere in the UK. It gives the city a youthful, vibrant – and international feel. The architecture might make the city appear old-fashioned, but the research is cutting edge, and puts Oxford amongst world leaders in medicine, social sciences and business innovation. Researchers seek answers to the big questions of the 21st century: climate change, migration, ageing and health.




Speaker: Derek Allen (Standard British accent)

The English city of Oxford is home to one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities. And Loren Griffith, an American who moved there to take up the post of Director of International Strategy at the University, certainly enjoys it:

Loren Griffith (Standard American accent)

 Oh, this is a great place to live and to work. I think the balance that Oxford strikes so nicely for me, that makes it a special place almost above any other in the world, is that it’s both a very small, compact town where you can get around by bike. For a long time I didn’t even own a car here, and still today I bike back and forth to work every day – and at the same time it’s an incredibly cosmopolitan and exciting place where you’ll find people from all around the world doing world-leading research, and have the sort of conversations  that might otherwise only be possible in some of the world’s biggest, most hectic cities, here you get without the craziness that comes from being in London or New York or Shanghai!


We then asked him about the challenges facing the university in the 21st century:

Loren Griffith

One of the things that we’re working on a lot these days is reinforcing connections between disciplines at Oxford. So here, as at many universities, we’ve focused for a long time on building excellence within disciplines, within political science, within engineering, within medicine, and we recognise that today most of the world’s biggest challenges are interdisciplinary in nature: climate change, ageing, migration, even a topic like cancer, which would seem to be within medicine, has important elements that relate to social science, for instance, the behaviour of individuals that contribute to their likelihood of getting cancer. And therefore we need to create new research clusters that break down the barriers between these disciplines, and we’ve done that through something called the Oxford Martin School, which provides a lot of funding for research projects focused on these great challenges of the 21st century.


Getting a place at Oxford University is extremely difficult, but foreign students are more than welcome, as long as they have the right academic qualifications:

Loren Griffith

More than a third of our students come from outside the UK; about one in six at the undergraduate level, and more than three in five among our postgraduates. So we take very seriously the need to be open, and that entails a lot of work to understand the qualifications that students from different parts of the world bring, it takes a lot of work to ensure affordability for students from around the world, and, you know, in recent years we have raised a great deal more money, mostly from philanthropic sources, for scholarships than we ever had before, that means that we now have more than a thousand fully-funded scholarships at the postgraduate level, almost all of them available to students from wherever around the world they may come, and that will be a continuing focus for us, to ensure that those who are able to make it through a very demanding admissions process are able to come, and (are) not barred for financial reasons from attending.


• Women only gained full membership of the University in 1920. Five all-male colleges first admitted women in 1974. St Hilda’s College, which was originally for women only, was the last of Oxford’s single-sex colleges and has admitted male students since 2008.
• Oxford has one of the lowest drop-out rates in the UK: only 1.2% of Oxford students drop out of their courses, compared with the national average of 6.7%
• 94% of Oxford leavers are employed or in further study within six months of graduating www.ox.ac.uk


The University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world – and the word "university"originates from its foundation.


Many of the locations from the Harry Potter movies, especially those with gothic architecture, were filmed in Oxford, including:
• Christ Church dining hall was used as that of Hogwarts
• Duke Humfrey’s Library (which is part of the famous Bodleian Library, and has more than 80 miles (128 km of bookshelves) was used as Hogwarts library
• The Divinity School (which is also  part of the Bodleian Library) was used as the Hogwarts Sanatorium.

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Town and gown. Città e toga. Si usa questo termine (che fa rima) per descrivere il rapporto spesso teso tra gli studenti e i cittadini, ad esempio a Oxford, Cambridge, Edimburgo e St. Andrews (l'università scozzese dove Kate e William si sono conosciuti).

I bike back and forth to work every day.
Vado avanti e indietro dal lavoro in bici ogni giorno. Per esprimere il concetto di “avanti e indietro” in inglese si usa quest’espressione un po’ arcaica: back and forth.

Undergraduate level. A livello di laurea. Nelle università anglofone ci sono due tipi di studenti: quelli che stanno preparando la laurea, gli undergraduates (letteralmente i “sottolaureati”), e quelli che stanno facendo il Master’s, oppure il Ph. D (che a Oxford si chiama D. Phil), i postgraduates.

A very demanding admissions procedure.
Una procedura di registrazione molto difficile. Le università inglesi sono a numero chiuso e Oxford e Cambridge sono particolarmente selettive.