Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions

pp 1-6

Date: Latest Version

British University Traditions

  • Robert AndersonAffiliated withSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh Email author 


The complex of traditions which came together to shape the modern British university.


In a comparative context, the distinctive English contribution to university ideals is usually seen as the collegiate, residential form of elite education characterized by Oxford and Cambridge, which emphasized socialization and character formation as much as intellectual training (Charle 2004). But this was not the only British tradition. Scotland had four universities with a professorial rather than a collegiate structure, and in the nineteenth century, new university colleges were founded on the professorial pattern, first in London, then in the large provincial cities of England. Yet another model was the “examining university,” starting with the University of London in 1836, which administered examinations and awarded degrees to students in independent colleges, but did not itself provide teaching.

There were thus several British university traditions, developing and interacti ...

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