A tale of two Oxfords

Everywhere you go in Oxford there are symbols of the university. It’s influence marking the cityscape with its colleges and we took the opportunity to visit one of the oldest institutions, Balliol college.

The older colleges stand as a testament to an elitest view of education. For students and lecturers they provide a grand space to devote to the topic of learning. Whilst strong walls separate the world of the everyman from the protected space of the educated and the privileged (I should note here I’m referring to how Oxford University used to operate, not how it operates today — I’m not qualified to talk about that).

For those on the outside, those walls send a simple message. The happenings on the inside are not to be disturbed by those who do not understand them. It gives the college an air of mystery, which is added to by the various rituals enacted inside (dressing for dinner being a case in point).

There is another university in Oxford, called Oxford Brookes. This is very much a modern institution, taking an open inclusive approach to education. This shouldn’t be confused with a lowering of education standards. It’s possible to be inclusive and still demand the highest standards from students.

(Earlier this year, Clare completed her MBA through part-time correspondence studying with Oxford Brookes University, and her graduation ceremony was the our reason for visiting the city.)

The two universities sit several hundred years apart. The campus for Oxford Brookes is open, no walls prevent access from the street it sits on. No restrictions stop an outsider observing the educational pursuits taking place within the buildings.

Oxford Brookes was designed after the educational walls came tumbling down and learning was opened out, gradually, though the social classes. Bringing greater benefits to individuals, and society as the educated base widened.

Seldom are changes in cultural thinking so clearly identified through building design. Should you visit Oxford make sure you see both universities, to understand how much things have changed.

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