The University of Oxford (formally The Chancellor Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford) is a collegiate research university located in Oxford, England. It has no known date of foundation, but there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge where they established what became the University of Cambridge (see "town versus gown"). The two "ancient universities" are frequently jointly referred to as "Oxbridge". The history and influence of the University of Oxford has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
The university is made up of a variety of institutions, including 38 constituent colleges and a full range of academic departments which are organised into four divisions. All the colleges are self-governing institutions within the university, each controlling its own membership and with its own internal structure and activities. Being a city university, it does not have a main campus and instead its buildings and facilities are scattered throughout the city centre. Most undergraduate teaching at Oxford is organised around weekly tutorials at the colleges and halls, supported by classes, lectures, seminars, and laboratory work provided by university faculties and departments.
Oxford is ranked first in the world in the THE World University Rankings, and is consistently ranked as one of the world's best universities by three other university ranking tables. The university operates the world's oldest university museum, as well as the largest university press in the world and the largest academic library system in Britain. Oxford has educated many notable alumni, including 29 Nobel laureates, 27 prime ministers of the United Kingdom and many heads of state and government around the world. Sixty-nine Nobel Prize winners, 4 Fields Medalists, and 6 Turing Award winners have studied, worked, or held visiting fellowships at the University of Oxford. Oxford is the home of the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world's oldest international scholarships.
The University of Oxford has no known foundation date. Teaching at Oxford existed in some form as early as 1096, but it is unclear when a university came into being. It grew quickly in 1167 when English students returned from the University of Paris. The historian Gerald of Wales lectured to such scholars in 1188 and the first known foreign scholar, Emo of Friesland, arrived in 1190. The head of the university had the title of chancellor from at least 1201, and the masters were recognised as a universitas or corporation in 1231. The university was granted a royal charter in 1248 during the reign of King Henry III.
The students associated together on the basis of geographical origins, into two "nations", representing the North (northerners or Boreales, who included the English people from north of the River Trent and the Scots) and the South (southerners or Australes, who included English people from south of the Trent, the Irish and the Welsh). In later centuries, geographical origins continued to influence many students' affiliations when membership of a college or hall became customary in Oxford. In addition, members of many religious orders, including Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites and Augustinians, settled in Oxford in the mid-13th century, gained influence and maintained houses or halls for students. At about the same time, private benefactors established colleges as self-contained scholarly communities. Among the earliest such founders were William of Durham, who in 1249 endowed University College, and John Balliol, father of a future King of Scots; Balliol College bears his name. Another founder, Walter de Merton, a Lord Chancellor of England and afterwards Bishop of Rochester, devised a series of regulations for college life; Merton College thereby became the model for such establishments at Oxford, as well as at the University of Cambridge. Thereafter, an increasing number of students lived in colleges rather than in halls and religious houses.
In 1333–34, an attempt by some dissatisfied Oxford scholars to found a new university at Stamford, Lincolnshire, was blocked by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge petitioning King Edward III. Thereafter, until the 1820s, no new universities were allowed to be founded in England, even in London; thus, Oxford and Cambridge had a duopoly, which was unusual in large western European countries.