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Oxford or Cambridge?

Oxford or Cambridge? main image

The UK’s two oldest and most famous universities, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have a historic rivalry dating back more than 800 years. These two halves of “Oxbridge” share many elements in common; both are made up of residential colleges, both use tutorial (or supervision) teaching systems, and of course both are steeped in centuries of traditions, stories and stereotypes.

While choosing whether to apply to Oxford or Cambridge is likely to be tricky, applicants do have to choose just one; the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) only allows students to apply to one of the two.

I’ll admit I could be biased here (I studied at one; can you guess which?) – but I’ll do my utmost to present a balanced overview of how Oxford and Cambridge compare, looking at their performance in university rankings, as well as additional considerations such as location and funding. Oxford or Cambridge: which will you choose?  

 

University of Oxford

University of Cambridge

  • Ranked 6th in the world
  • Ranked 3rd in the world by academics and 2nd by employers
  • 6th in the world for faculty/student ratio
  • 63rd for research impact (citations per faculty member)
  • 68th for percentage of international faculty members, and 48th for international students
  • Ranked 4th in the world
  • Ranked 2nd in the world by academics and 3rd by employers
  • 9th in the world for faculty/student ratio
  • 55th for research impact (citations per faculty member)
  • 89th for percentage of international faculty members, and 55th for international students
Subject strengths, based on the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016

Ranked among the world’s best for 36 subjects; in the top 10 for all but three of these.

1st in the world for English language and literature, geography, history (joint with Cambridge), and modern languages.

 

Ranked among the world’s best for 37 subjects; in the top 10 for all but one of these.

1st in the world for history (shared with Oxford), mathematics and archaeology.

 

Location

  • About 60 miles north-west of London (about an hour by train)
  • Generally considered to be a bit livelier 
 

  • About 60 miles north of London (less than an hour by train)
  • Generally considered to be a bit prettier
Tuition fees 

Financial support

 

  • Tuition fee loans for UK/EU undergraduates
  • Wide range of scholarships and grants for both domestic & overseas students 
  • Tuition fee loans for UK/EU undergraduates
  • Wide range of scholarships and grants for both domestic & overseas students 

 

University of Cambridge

QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017

The University of Cambridge outranks Oxford in the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017, but only marginally. It’s important to remember that at this level, the differences between institutions are generally very minor – and as longstanding members of the global top 10, both Oxford and Cambridge are firmly established among the world’s higher education elite.

The Oxbridge brand is extremely strong, with both halves of Oxbridge getting high ratings in QS’s international surveys of academics and employers. In the latest results, Cambridge comes out second in the world for academics and third for employers. Oxford, meanwhile, claims the world’s second-highest rating from graduate employers, and is ranked third by academics. In short: if you want to study at a university with a solid international reputation, a degree from either Oxford or Cambridge is hard to beat.

Cambridge has a slightly stronger score for citations per faculty member – an indicator which aims to reflect the influence attained by research produced at each institution – though Oxford is not too far behind. Meanwhile Oxford takes the lead when it comes to faculty-student ratio (number of students per academic staff member), but both are within the global top 10 here, and are renowned for their commitment to small group teaching and individual supervision.

In terms of international diversity, both Oxford and Cambridge again get high scores; unsurprisingly, both are popular destinations for academics and students from around the world. Oxford takes the lead both for its percentage of international faculty members and percentage of international students, although Cambridge is not far behind in either indicator, placing in the global top 100 for both.

Subject strengths

A look at the QS World University Rankings by Subject confirms that both Oxford and Cambridge are among the world’s leaders across a comprehensive range of fields. In the most recent edition, Oxford features in the subject rankings in a total of 36 out of a possible 42 subjects, while Cambridge makes 37 appearances. As you can see by the table below, both universities boast top-10 positions for the vast majority of the subjects they feature in.

Oxford and Cambridge in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016

 

University of Oxford

University of Cambridge

Accounting & finance

5th

7th

Art & design

15th

--

Archaeology

2nd

1st

Architecture

--

6th  

Anthropology

2nd

3rd

Biological sciences

4th

2nd  

Business & management

8th

7th

Chemistry

6th  

3rd

Computer science

3rd

6th

Development studies

4th

6th

Earth & marine sciences

5th

6th

Economics

8th

10th

Education & training

5th

4th

Engineering (chemical)

10th

4th

Engineering (civil)

Joint 16th

2nd

Engineering (electrical)

11th

4th

Engineering (mechanical)

Joint 8th

3rd

Engineering (mineral and mining)

5th

4th

English language & literature

1st

2nd

Environmental sciences

Joint 6th

8th

Geography

1st

2nd

History

Joint 1st

Joint 1st

Law

2nd

3rd

Linguistics

5th

Joint 3rd

Mathematics

Joint 4th

1st

Materials science

9th

5th

Medicine

2nd

3rd

Modern languages

1st

2nd

Performing arts

Joint 3rd

17th

Pharmacy

3rd

2nd

Philosophy

4th

5th

Physics & astronomy

6th

4th

Politics

2nd

5th

Psychology

2nd

3rd

Social policy & administration

3rd

4th

Sociology

3rd

8th

Statistics

6th

5th

Veterinary science

--

Joint 4th

 

Oxford

Location

Oxford is technically a city and Cambridge a town, but in fact both are relatively small and compact places to live, easily navigable on foot or (as is very popular) by cycling.

Highly picturesque, they’re both characterized by attractive historic architecture and rivers running through the city centers – where you’ll find students in training for inter-college rowing contests or the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race, perhaps the one day each year when Oxbridge rivalry becomes most heated.

Oxford and Cambridge are also both close to the UK capital; London is about an hour on the train from Oxford, and slightly less from Cambridge. In terms of differences between the two locations, there’s a general consensus that Cambridge is a little prettier, while Oxford has a bit more going on – but of course this may depend on who you ask!

Fees & living costs

Both Oxford and Cambridge charge different tuition fees depending on whether students are from within the European Union or not. The result of the UK’s EU referendum has meant that EU students may be concerned about whether their tuition fees may increase during their course. However, both Oxford and Cambridge have stated that current students and students admitted in the 2016-2017 academic year will continue to pay the current home/EU rate for the duration of their program.

The following table gives a rough overview of how much you can expect to pay per year, depending on your study level and nationality. Check the university websites for exact rates, and bear in mind that there is significant variation in the amount charged for postgraduate courses, and for non-EU students on undergraduate courses, depending on the subject.

Annual tuition fees at Oxford and Cambridge (2017/18, full-time)

 

Oxford

 

Cambridge

 

Undergraduate (UK/EU students)

£9,250 (~US$12,000)

 

£9,250 (~US$12,000)

 

Undergraduate (non-EU students)

£15,755- £23,190 (~US$20,450-30,100) for most courses.

£16,608- £25,275 (~US$21,560-32,810) for most courses; £40,200 (~US$52,140) for medicine and veterinary medicine

Graduate (UK/EU students)

£4,250-16,770 (~US$5,510-21,750) for most master’s and doctoral programs; varies depending on the subject; there are a few exceptions with higher fees.

£7,392-13,500 (~US$9,590-17,500) for most master’s and doctoral programs; varies depending on the subject.

Graduate (non-EU students)

£11,075-£19,335 (~US$14,370-25,100) for most master’s and doctoral programs; varies depending on the subject; there are a few exceptions with higher fees.

£21,189-26,613 (~US$27,500-34,540) for most master’s and doctoral programs; varies depending on the subject; there are a few exceptions with higher fees.

 

Overseas students will also be charged an additional “college fee”, which also applies to UK/EU students who are not enrolling on their first publicly funded degree. This is currently £5,670 and £7,980 (depending on the college) per year for overseas undergraduates at Cambridge, and £7,350 per year for overseas undergraduates at Oxford.

In addition to course fees, Oxford advises students to allow between £11,636 and £17,191 per year for living costs, including accommodation, food, study resources, socializing and other items. Cambridge recommends a minimum of £9,570 per year for living expenses.

Cambridge

Financial support

Overall then, the cost of studying at Oxford or Cambridge adds up to a pretty substantial amount, though still coming in below the up-front price of a degree at most top universities in the US. For many students, some kind of financial support is needed.

Undergraduate students from within the UK and from other EU countries can apply for financial support from the UK government, in the form of student loans. These cover tuition fees, are interest-free, and are paid back gradually once the student begins work and starts earning a certain amount (currently the repayment threshold is £17,495 per year). Full-time undergraduate-level UK students can also apply for additional loans and grants to help cover living expenses.

Both Oxford and Cambridge also offer a range of scholarships and financial support schemes. At Cambridge, UK and EU undergraduates can apply for bursaries of up to £3,500 per year, in addition to a range of funding opportunities open to students of various backgrounds. Oxford’s website allows students to search for any scholarships they may be eligible for, based on their course and nationality.

The individual colleges of which the two universities are comprised also offer scholarships and bursaries. Of course, scholarships to study at Oxford or Cambridge are among the most competitive in the world – as is gaining admission to begin with. But if you are successful in your application, you’re likely to be rewarded with an experience which is both academically challenging and aesthetically inspiring.

This article was originally published in October 2013. It was last updated in September 2016.

Written by Laura Bridgestock

The editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversees the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edits the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributes to market research reports including How Do Students Use Rankings?

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1 Comments
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I am a current master's degree research scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology in India.My CGPA is 9.12. I am planning to apply for the Mphil in Finance at the University of Cambridge.So, how good are my chances of getting an offer? what is the UK equivalent of 9.1/10 (91.2%) in terms of the 4 point scale(just an approximate idea would be enough).