“Those that Have Most Money Must Have Least Learning”: Undergraduate Education at the University of Oxford in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries

  • Robert WellsEmail author
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 309)


In the University of Oxford’s history, much of the eighteenth century has marked a low point in the university’s reputation. By reading it as a precursor to widespread changes the university underwent in the nineteenth century, historians have often characterized the eighteenth century as a convenient ‘dark age’ that later reforms dispelled. But patterns emerge from the testimonies of students and ex-students that point toward a very specific problem in this period, namely that the tutorial and lecture systems functioning at Oxford combined with the formal student hierarchy to undermine the quality of undergraduate instruction. Wealthy individuals entered into the top two categories of students who had access to private tutors and the heads of their colleges, but were also excused from most academic requirements needed to complete a degree. Individuals who fell into the lower classes of students had actual examinations and assignments to complete and more incentive to work hard. They had to share a few public tutors with the other students, however, meaning they received less individual attention and had less flexibility to pursue subjects that interested them. Thus, students with the most access to academic resources often had the least incentive to actually study and vice versa. As a result of money determining the quality of education a student received, rather than his desire to learn, instruction and discipline suffered across all ranks of students.


Britain Oxford University Education College Eighteenth century Nineteenth century Tutor Gentleman Hierarchy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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