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University of Cambridge
Latin: Academia Cantabrigiensis
Motto Hinc lucem et pocula sacra (Latin)
Motto in English Literal: From here, light and sacred draughts
Non-literal:From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge
Established c. 1209
Type Public
Endowment £4.1 billion (2006, incl. colleges)[1]
Chancellor HRH The Duke of Edinburgh
Vice-Chancellor Alison Richard to 2010, Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz from 2010.
Staff 8,614[2]
Students 18,396[3]
Undergraduates 12,018[3]
Postgraduates 6,378[3]
Location Cambridge, England, UK
Colours      Cambridge Blue[4]
Athletics The Sporting Blue
Affiliations Russell Group
Coimbra Group
Website Official Website

The University of Cambridge (informally Cambridge University, or simply Cambridge) is the second oldest university in England and the fourth oldest in Europe. In post-nominals the university's name is abbreviated as Cantab., a shortened form of Cantabrigiensis (an adjective derived from Cantabrigia, the Latinised form of Cambridge).

The university grew out of an association of scholars in the city of Cambridge that was formed, early records suggest, in 1209 by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute with townsfolk.[5] The two "ancient universities" have many common features and are often jointly referred to as Oxbridge. In addition to cultural and practical associations as a historic part of British society, the two universities have a long history of rivalry with each other.

Academically, Cambridge is consistently ranked in the world's top five universities and as the leading university in Europe by numerous media and academic rankings.[6][7][8][9] The University's alumni include 87 Nobel Laureates as of 2010.[10] The University is a member of the Russell Group of research-led British universities, the Coimbra Group, the League of European Research Universities and the International Alliance of Research Universities.



Roger of Wendover wrote shortly after its foundation that the University of Cambridge could trace its origins to a crime committed in 1209. Although not always a reliable source, the detail given in his contemporaneous writings lends them credence.

Two Oxford scholars were convicted of the murder or manslaughter of a woman and were hanged by the town authorities with the assent of King John. In protest at the hanging, the University of Oxford went into voluntary suspension, and scholars migrated to a number of other locations, including the pre-existing school at Cambridge (Cambridge had been recorded as a “school” rather than as a university when John Grim held the office of Master there in 1201). These exile Oxford scholars (post-graduate researchers by present day terminology) started Cambridge’s life as a university in 1209.

Cambridge’s status was enhanced by a charter in 1231 from King Henry III of England which awarded the ius non trahi extra (a right to discipline its own members) plus some exemption from taxes, and a bull in 1233 from Pope Gregory IX that gave graduates from Cambridge the right to teach everywhere in Christendom.

After Cambridge was described as a studium generale in a letter by Pope Nicholas IV in 1290, and confirmed as such in a bull by Pope John XXII in 1318, it became common for researchers from other European medieval universities to come and visit Cambridge to study or to give lecture courses.[11]

Clare College (left) and King’s College Chapel (centre), built between 1441 and 1515.

Foundation of the colleges

Cambridge’s colleges were originally an incidental feature of the system. No college is as old as the university itself. The colleges were endowed fellowships of scholars. There were also institutions without endowments, called hostels. The hostels were gradually absorbed by the colleges over the centuries, but they have left some indicators of their time, such as the name of Garret Hostel Lane.

Hugh Balsham, Bishop of Ely, founded Peterhouse in 1284, Cambridge’s first college. Many colleges were founded during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but colleges continued to be established throughout the centuries to modern times, although there was a gap of 204 years between the founding of Sidney Sussex in 1596 and Downing in 1800. The most recent college established is Robinson, built in the late 1970s. However, Hughes Hall only achieved full university college status in April 2007, making it the newest full college.[12]

In medieval times, colleges were founded so that their students would pray for the souls of the founders. For that reason they were often associated with chapels or abbeys. A change in the colleges’ focus occurred in 1536 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries. King Henry VIII ordered the university to disband its Faculty of Canon Law and to stop teaching “scholastic philosophy”. In response, colleges changed their curricula away from canon law and towards the classics, the Bible, and mathematics.

As Cambridge moved away from Canon Law so too did it move away from Catholicism. As early as the 1520’s, the continental rumblings of Lutheranism and what was to become more broadly known as the Protestant Reformation were making their presence felt in the intellectual discourse of the university. Among the intellectuals involved was the theologically influential Thomas Cranmer, later to become Archbishop of Canterbury. As it became convenient to Henry VIII in the 1530’s, the King looked to Cranmer and others (within and without Cambridge) to craft a new religious path that was wholly different from Catholicism yet also different from what Martin Luther had in mind.

Nearly a century later, the university was at the center of another Christian schism. Many nobles, intellectuals and even common folk saw the ways of the Church of England as being all too similar to the Catholic Church and moreover that it was used by the crown to usurp the rightful powers of the counties. East Anglia was the center of what became the Puritan movement and at Cambridge, it was particularly strong at Emmanuel, St. Catherine’s Hall, Sidney Sussex and Christ’s College.[13] They produced many “non-conformist” graduates who greatly influenced, by social position or pulpit, the approximately 20,000 Puritans who left for New England and especially the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Great Migration decade of the 1630’s.

Newton was a student of the University of Cambridge


From the time of Isaac Newton in the later 17th century until the mid-19th century, the university maintained a strong emphasis on mathematics. Study of this subject was compulsory for graduation, and students were required to take an exam for the Bachelor of Arts degree, the main first degree at Cambridge in both arts and science subjects. This exam is known as a Tripos.

Students awarded first-class honours after completing the mathematics Tripos were named wranglers. The Cambridge Mathematical Tripos was competitive and helped produce some of the most famous names in British science, including James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, and Lord Rayleigh. However, some famous students, such as G. H. Hardy, disliked the system, feeling that people were too interested in accumulating marks in exams and not interested in the subject itself.

Although diversified in its research and teaching interests, Cambridge today maintains its strength in mathematics. The Isaac Newton Institute, part of the university, is widely regarded as the UK’s national research institute for mathematics and theoretical physics. Cambridge alumni have won eight[citation needed] Fields Medals and one Abel Prize for mathematics, while individuals representing Cambridge have won four Fields Medals.[14] The University also runs a special Certificate of Advanced Studies in Mathematics course.

Trinity Lane in the snow, with King's College Chapel (centre) and Clare College Chapel (right).

Contributions to the advancement of science

Many of the most important scientific discoveries and revolutions were made by Cambridge alumni. These include:

Women’s education

Initially, only male students were enrolled into the university. The first colleges for women were Girton College (founded by Emily Davies) in 1869 and Newnham College in 1872 (founded by Anne Clough and Henry Sidgwick) followed by New Hall in 1954. The first women students were examined in 1882 but attempts to make women full members of the university did not succeed until 1947. Although Cambridge did not give degrees to women until 1921, women were in fact allowed to study courses, sit examinations, and have their results recorded from 1881; for a brief period after the turn of the twentieth century, this allowed women to receive ad eundem degrees from the University of Dublin (see steamboat ladies). Later, women could be given a “titular degree”; although they were not denied recognised qualifications, without a full degree they were excluded from the governing of the university. Since students must belong to a college, and since established colleges remained closed to women, women found admissions restricted to colleges established only for women. Starting with Churchill College, all of the men’s colleges began to admit women between 1972 and 1988. One women’s college, Girton, also began to admit male students from 1979, but the other women’s colleges did not follow suit. As a result of St Hilda's College, Oxford ending its ban on male students in 2008, Cambridge is now the only remaining United Kingdom University with colleges which refuse to admit males, with three such institutions in total.[15][16][17] In the academic year 2004–5, the university’s student gender ratio, including post-graduates, was male 52%: female 48%.[18]

The Mathematical Bridge over the river Cam (at Queens’ College).

Myths, legends and traditions

As an institution with such a long history, the University has developed a large number of myths and legends. The vast majority of these are untrue, but have been propagated nonetheless by generations of students and tour guides.

A discontinued tradition is that of the wooden spoon, the ‘prize’ awarded to the student with the lowest passing grade in the final examinations of the Mathematical Tripos. The last of these spoons was awarded in 1909 to Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse, an oarsman of the Lady Margaret Boat Club of St John’s College. It was over one metre in length and had an oar blade for a handle. It can now be seen outside the Senior Combination Room of St John's. Since 1909, results were published alphabetically within class rather than score order. This made it harder to ascertain who the winner of the spoon was (unless there was only one person in the third class), and so the practice was abandoned.

Each Christmas Eve, BBC radio and television broadcasts The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge. The radio broadcast has been a national Christmas tradition since it was first transmitted in 1928 (though the festival has existed since 1918). The radio broadcast is carried worldwide by the BBC World Service and is also syndicated to hundreds of radio stations in the USA. The first television broadcast of the festival was in 1954.[19][20]

Great Court of King's College.


Cambridge is a collegiate university, meaning that it is made up of self-governing and independent colleges, each with its own property and income. Most colleges bring together academics and students from a broad range of disciplines, and within each faculty, school or department within the university, academics from many different colleges will be found.

The faculties are responsible for ensuring that lectures are given, arranging seminars, performing research and determining the syllabi for teaching, overseen by the General Board. Together with the central administration headed by the Vice-Chancellor, they make up the entire Cambridge University. Facilities such as libraries are provided on all these levels: by the University (the Cambridge University Library), by the departments (departmental libraries such as the Squire Law Library), and by the individual colleges (all of which maintain a multi-discipline library, generally aimed mainly at their undergraduates).

View over Trinity College, Gonville and Caius, Trinity Hall and Clare College towards King’s College Chapel, seen from St John’s College chapel. On the left, just in front of Kings College chapel, is the University Senate House.


All students and many of the academics are attached to colleges, where they socialise. It is also the place where students may receive their small group teaching sessions, known as supervisions. Each college appoints its own teaching staff and fellows in each subject; decides which students to admit, in accordance with university regulations; provides small group teaching sessions, for undergraduates (though lectures are arranged and degrees are awarded by the university); and is responsible for the domestic arrangements and welfare of its own undergraduates, graduates, post-doctoral researchers, and staff in general.

The University of Cambridge currently has 31 colleges, of which three, Murray Edwards, Newnham and Lucy Cavendish, admit only women. The other colleges are now mixed, though most were originally all-male. Darwin was the first college to admit both men and women, while Churchill, Clare and King's colleges were the first previously all-male colleges to admit female undergraduates in 1972. Magdalene was the last all-male college to become mixed in 1988.[21] Clare Hall and Darwin admit only postgraduates, and Hughes Hall, Lucy Cavendish, St Edmund’s and Wolfson admit only mature (i.e. 21 years or older on date of matriculation) and graduate students. All other colleges admit both undergraduate and postgraduate students with no age restrictions. Colleges are not required to admit students in all subjects, with some colleges choosing not to offer subjects such as architecture, history of art or theology, but most offer close to the complete range. Some colleges maintain a bias towards certain subjects, for example with Churchill leaning towards the sciences and engineering,[22] while others such as St Catharine's aim for a balanced intake.[23] Costs to students (accommodation and food prices) vary considerably from college to college.[24][25] Others maintain much more informal reputations, such as for the students of King's College to hold left-wing political views,[26] or Robinson College and Churchill College's attempts to minimise its environmental impact.[27]

There are also several theological colleges in Cambridge, including Westcott House, Westminster College and Ridley Hall Theological College, that are affiliated to the university and are members of the Cambridge Theological Federation.

Department of Engineering at Cambridge University


The principal method of teaching at Cambridge colleges is the supervision. These are typically weekly hour-long sessions in which small groups of students – usually between one and three – meet with a member of the university's teaching staff or a doctoral student. Students are normally required to complete an essay or assignment in advance of the supervision, which they will discuss with the supervisor during the session, along with any concerns or difficulties they have had with the material presented in that week's lectures. Lectures at Cambridge are often described as being almost a mere 'bolt-on' to these supervisions. Students typically receive two or three supervisions per week. This pedagogical system is often cited as being unique to Cambridge and Oxford (where “supervisions” are known as “tutorials”)

The concept of grading students' work quantitatively was developed by a tutor named William Farish at the University of Cambridge in 1792.[28]

Schools, faculties and departments

In addition to the 31 colleges, the university is made up of over 150 departments, faculties, schools, syndicates and other institutions. Members of these are usually also members of one or more of the colleges and responsibility for running the entire academic programme of the university is divided amongst them.

A 'School' in the University of Cambridge is a broad administrative grouping of related faculties and other units. Each has an elected supervisory body – the 'Council' of the school – comprising representatives of the constituent bodies. There are six schools:[29]

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Biological Sciences
  • Clinical Medicine
  • Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Physical Sciences
  • Technology

Teaching and research in Cambridge is organised by faculties. The faculties have different organisational sub-structures which partly reflect their history and partly their operational needs, which may include a number of departments and other institutions. In addition, a small number of bodies entitled 'Syndicates' have responsibilities for teaching and research, e.g. Cambridge Assessment, the University Press, and the University Library.

Academic year

The academic year is divided into three terms, determined by the Statues of the University.[30] Michaelmas Term lasts from October to December; Lent Term from January to March; and Easter Term from April to June.

Within these terms undergraduate teaching takes place within eight-week periods called Full Terms. These terms are shorter than those of many other British universities.[31] Undergraduates are also expected to prepare heavily in the three holidays (known as the Christmas, Easter and Long Vacations).

Central administration

Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor

The current Chancellor of the University is the Duke of Edinburgh. The current Vice-Chancellor is Alison Richard. The office of Chancellor, which is held for life, is mainly ceremonial, while the Vice-Chancellor is de facto the principal academic and administrative officer. The University's internal governance is carried out almost entirely by its own members,[32] with very little external representation on its governing body, the Regent House (though there is external representation on the Audit Committee, and there are four external members on the University's Council, who are the only external members of the Regent House).[33]

Senate and the Regent House

The Senate consists of all holders of the MA degree or higher degrees. It elects the Chancellor and the High Steward, and elected two members of the House of Commons until the Cambridge University constituency was abolished in 1950. Prior to 1926, it was the University's governing body, fulfilling the functions that the Regent House fulfils today.[citation needed]

The Regent House is the University's governing body, a direct democracy comprising all resident senior members of the University and the Colleges, together with the Chancellor, the High Steward, the Deputy High Steward, and the Commissary.[34] The public representatives of the Regent House are the two Proctors, elected to serve for one year, on the nomination of the Colleges.

Council and the General Board

Although the University Council is the principal executive and policy-making body of the University, therefore, it must report and be accountable to the Regent House through a variety of checks and balances. It has the right of reporting to the University, and is obliged to advise the Regent House on matters of general concern to the University. It does both of these by causing notices to be published by authority in the Cambridge University Reporter, the official journal of the University. Since January 2005, the membership of the Council has included two external members,[35] and the Regent House voted for an increase from two to four in the number of external members in March 2008,[36][37] and this was approved by Her Majesty the Queen in July 2008.[38]

The General Board of the Faculties is responsible for the academic and educational policy of the University,[39] and is accountable to the Council for its management of these affairs.

Faculty Boards are responsible to the General Board; other Boards and Syndicates are responsible either to the General Board (if primarily for academic purposes) or to the Council. In this way, the various arms of the University are kept under the supervision of the central administration, and thus the Regent House.


In late 2006, the total financial endowment of the university and the colleges was estimated at £4.1 billion (US$8.2 billion): £1.2 billion tied directly to the university, £2.9 billion to the colleges.[1] Oxford (including its colleges) is possibly ranked second, having reported an endowment valued at £3.9bn in mid-2006.[40] Each college is an independent charitable institution with its own endowment, separate from that of the central university endowment.

If ranked on a US university endowment table using figures reported in 2006, Cambridge would rank sixth or seventh (depending on whether one includes the University of Texas System – which incorporates nine full scale universities and six health institutions), or fourth in a ranking compared with only the eight Ivy League institutions.[41]

Comparisons between Cambridge's endowment and those of other top US universities are, however, inaccurate because being a state-funded public university, Cambridge receives a major portion of its income through education and research grants from the British Government. In 2006, it was reported that approximately one third of Cambridge’s income comes from UK government funding for teaching and research, with another third coming from other research grants. Endowment income contributes around 6%.[42]

Benefactions and fundraising

In 2000, Bill Gates of Microsoft donated US$210 million through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to endow the Gates Scholarships for students from outside the UK seeking postgraduate study at Cambridge.[43] The University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, which taught the world’s first computing course in 1953, is housed in a building partly funded by Gates and named after his father, William Gates.[citation needed]

In 2005, the Cambridge 800th Anniversary Campaign was launched, aimed at raising £1 billion by 2012 – the first US-style university fund-raising campaign in Europe. £800 million of funds have been secured to date.[44]


The Fitzwilliam Museum, the art and antiquities museum of the University of Cambridge.
Degree ceremony at the Senate House
Great Court of Trinity College, dating back to the 17th Century.


Cambridge University has research departments and teaching faculties in most academic disciplines. All research and lectures are conducted by University Departments. The colleges are in charge of giving or arranging most supervisions, student accommodation, and funding most extracurricular activities. During the 1990s Cambridge added a substantial number of new specialist research laboratories on several University sites around the city, and major expansion continues on a number of sites.[45]

Cambridge is a member of the Russell Group, a network of research-led British universities; the Coimbra Group, an association of leading European universities; the League of European Research Universities; and the International Alliance of Research Universities. It is also considered part of the "Golden Triangle", a geographical concentration of UK university research.

Building on its reputation for enterprise, science and technology, Cambridge has a partnership with MIT in the United States, the Cambridge – MIT Institute.



The application system to Cambridge and Oxford often involves additional requirements, with candidates typically called to face-to-face interviews.

How applicants perform in the interview process is an important factor in determining which students are accepted.[46] Most applicants are expected to be predicted at least three A-grade A-level qualifications relevant to their chosen undergraduate course, or equivalent overseas qualifications. However, it has been confirmed that the new A* A-level grade (to be introduced in 2010) will play a part in the acceptance of applications.[47] Due to a very high proportion of applicants receiving the highest school grades, the interview process is crucial for distinguishing between the most able candidates.[46] In 2006, 5,228 students who were rejected went on to get 3 A levels or more at grade A, representing about 63% of all applicants rejected.[48] The interview is performed by College Fellows, who evaluate candidates on unexamined factors such as potential for original thinking and creativity.[46] For exceptional candidates, a Matriculation Offer is sometimes offered, requiring only two A-levels at grade E or above – Christ's College is unusual in making this offer to about one-third of successful candidates, in order to relieve very able candidates of some pressure in their final year.[citation needed]

Graduate admission is first decided by the faculty or department relating to the applicant’s subject. This effectively guarantees admission to a college - though not necessarily the applicant’s preferred choice.[49]


Public debate in the United Kingdom continues over whether admissions processes at Oxford and Cambridge are entirely merit based and fair; whether enough students from state schools are encouraged to apply to Cambridge; and whether these students succeed in gaining entry. In 2007-08, 57% of all successful applicants were from state schools.[50] However, the average qualifications for successful applicants from state schools are slightly lower than the average qualification of successful applicants from private schools.[citation needed] Critics have argued that the lack of state school applicants with the required grades applying to Cambridge and Oxford has had a negative impact on Oxbridge’s reputation for many years, and the University has encouraged pupils from state schools to apply for Cambridge to help redress the imbalance.[citation needed] Others counter that government pressure to increase state school admissions constitutes inappropriate social engineering.[51][52] The proportion of undergraduates drawn from independent schools has dropped over the years, and such applicants now form only a significant minority (43%)[50][53] of the intake. In 2005, 32% of the 3599 applicants from independent schools were admitted to Cambridge, as opposed to 24% of the 6674 applications from state schools.[54] In 2008 the University of Cambridge received a gift of £4m to improve its accessibility to candidates from maintained schools.[55] Cambridge, together with Oxford and Durham, is among those universities that have adopted formulae that gives a rating to the GCSE performance of every school in the country to “weight” the scores of university applicants.[56]


Results for the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos are read out inside Senate House and then tossed from the balcony.

In the last two British Government Research Assessment Exercise in 2001 and 2008 respectively,[57] Cambridge was ranked first in the country. In 2005, it was reported that Cambridge produces more PhDs per year than any other British university (over 30% more than second placed Oxford).[58] In 2006, a Thomson Scientific study showed that Cambridge has the highest research paper output of any British university, and is also the top research producer (as assessed by total paper citation count) in 10 out of 21 major British research fields analysed.[59] Another study published the same year by Evidence showed that Cambridge won a larger proportion (6.6%) of total British research grants and contracts than any other university (coming first in three out of four broad discipline fields).[60]

The university is also closely linked with the development of the high-tech business cluster in and around Cambridge, which forms the area known as Silicon Fen or sometimes the “Cambridge Phenomenon”. In 2004, it was reported that Silicon Fen was the second largest venture capital market in the world, after Silicon Valley. Estimates reported in February 2006 suggest that there were about 250 active startup companies directly linked with the university, worth around US$6 billion.[61]

In 2009, the marketing consultancy World Brand Lab rated Cambridge University as the 50th most influential brand in the world, and the 4th most influential university brand, behind only Harvard, MIT and Stanford University.[62]

League tables of British universities

In the 2009 Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings[89], Cambridge was ranked 2nd amongst world universities, behind Harvard. It came in first in the international academic reputation peer review, first in the natural sciences, first in biomedicine, first in the arts & humanities, fourth in the social sciences, and sixth in technology. In the 2008 Academic Ranking of World Universities compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Cambridge was placed 4th amongst world universities. A 2006 Newsweek ranking which combined elements of the THES-QS and ARWU rankings with other factors that purportedly evaluated an institution's global "openness and diversity" suggested that Cambridge was ranked 6th in the world overall.[90]

In the 2008 Sunday Times University Guide, Cambridge was ranked first for the 11th straight year since the guide's first publication in 1998. In the 2008 Times Good University Guide, Cambridge topped 37 of the guide's 61 subject tables, including Law, Medicine, Economics, Mathematics, Engineering, Physics, and Chemistry and has the best record on research, entry standards and graduate destinations amongst UK universities. Cambridge was also awarded the University of the Year award.

In the 2009 The Times Good University Guide Subject Rankings, Cambridge was ranked top (or joint top) in 34 out of the 42 subjects which it offers.[91] The overall ranking placed Cambridge in 2nd behind Oxford. The 2009 Guardian University Guide Rankings also placed Cambridge 2nd in the UK behind Oxford.


The University’s publishing arm, the Cambridge University Press, is the oldest printer and publisher in the world.[citation needed]

Public examinations

The university set up its Local Examination Syndicate in 1858. Today, the syndicate, which is known as Cambridge Assessment, is Europe’s largest assessment agency and it plays a leading role in researching, developing and delivering assessments across the globe.[citation needed]

Student Life


Cambridge maintains a long tradition of student participation in sport and recreation. Rowing is a particularly popular sport at Cambridge, and there are competitions between colleges, notably the bumps races, and against Oxford, the Boat Race. There are also Varsity matches against Oxford in many other sports, ranging from cricket and rugby, to chess and tiddlywinks. Athletes representing the university in certain sports entitle them to apply for a Cambridge Blue at the discretion of the Blues Committee, consisting of the captains of the thirteen most prestigious sports. There is also the self-described “unashamedly elite” Hawks’ Club, which is for men only, whose membership is usually restricted to Cambridge Full Blues and Half Blues.

Student Organisations

The Cambridge Union serves as a focus for debating. Drama societies notably include the Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC) and the comedy club Footlights, which are known for producing well-known showbusiness personalities. Student newspapers include the long-established Varsity and its younger rival, The Cambridge Student. In the last year, both have been challanged by the emergence of The Tab, Cambridge's fist student tabloid. The student-run radio station, CUR1350, promotes broadcast journalism.

The Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra explores a range of programmes, from popular symphonies to lesser known works. Membership of the orchestra is composed of students of the university and it has also attracted a variety of conductors and soloists, including Wayne Marshall, Jane Glover, and Nicholas Cleobury.[citation needed]

Notable alumni and academics

Cambridge University has over the course of its history built up a sizeable number of alumni who are notable in their fields, both academic, and in the wider world. Depending on criteria, affiliates of the University of Cambridge have won between 84 and 87 Nobel prizes, more than any other institution according to some counts. Former undergraduates of the university have won a grand total of 61 Nobel prizes, 13 more than the undergraduates of any other university. Cambridge academics have also won 8 Fields Medals and 2 Abel Prizes (since the award was first distributed in 2003).

Perhaps most of all, the university is renowned for a long and distinguished tradition in mathematics and the sciences.

Among the most famous of Cambridge polymaths is Sir Isaac Newton, who spent the majority of his life at the university and conducted many of his now famous experiments within the grounds of Trinity College. Sir Francis Bacon, responsible for the development of the Scientific Method, entered the university when he was just twelve, and pioneering mathematicians John Dee and Brook Taylor soon followed in his wake.

Other ground-breaking mathematicians to have studied at the university include Hardy, Littlewood and De Morgan, three of the most renowned pure mathematicians in modern history; Sir Michael Atiyah, arguably the most important mathematician of the last half-century; William Oughtred, the inventor of the logarithmic scale; John Wallis, the inventor of modern calculus; Srinivasa Ramanujan, the self-taught genius who made incomparable contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions;

and, perhaps most importantly of all, James Clerk Maxwell, who is also considered to have brought about the second great unification of Physics (the first being accredited to Newton) with his classical electromagnetic theory.

Another Cambridge scholar responsible for major developments in scientific understanding was Charles Darwin, the biologist who first suggested the theory of evolution. Later Cambridge biologists include Francis Crick and James D. Watson, who developed a model for the three-dimensional structure of DNA whilst working at the university's Cavendish Laboratory along with Maurice Wilkins and leading female X-ray chrystallographer Rosalind Franklin. More recently, Sir Ian Wilmut, the man who was responsible for the first cloning of a mammal with Dolly the Sheep in 1996, was an undergraduate at Darwin College.

The university is also the essential birthplace of the computer with mathematician Charles Babbage having designed the world's first computing system as early as the mid-1800s. Alan Turing went on to invent what is essentially the basis for the modern computer and Maurice Wilkes later created the first programmable computer. The webcam was also invented at Cambridge University, somewhat infamously, as a means for scientists to avoid interrupting their research and going all the way down the to the laboratory dining room only to be disappointed by an empty coffee pot.

Ernest Rutherford, the man generally regarded to be the father of nuclear physics spent much of his life at the university, where he worked closely with the likes of Niels Bohr, a major contributor to the understanding of the structure and function of the atom, J. J. Thompson, discoverer of the electron, Sir James Chadwick, discoverer of the neutron, and Sir John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, the partnership responsible for first splitting the atom. J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhatten Project and de facto inventor of the atomic bomb, also studied at Cambridge under Rutherford and Thompson.

Major astronomers John Herschel and Sir Arthur Eddington both spent much of their careers at Cambridge, as did Paul Dirac, the discoverer of antimatter and one of the pioneers of Quantum Mechanics; Stephen Hawking, the founding father of the study of singularities and the university's long-serving Lucasian Professor of Mathematics; and Lord Martin Rees, the current Astronomer Royal and Master of Trinity College.

A number of other significant Cambridge scientists include Henry Cavendish, the discoverer of Hydrogen; Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine; Lord Kelvin, who formulated the original Laws of Thermodynamics; William Fox Talbot, who invented the camera, Alfred North Whitehead, Einstein's major opponent; Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the man dubbed the “the father of radio science”; Lord Rayleigh, one of the most pre-eminent physicists of the 20th century; Georges Lemaître, who first proposed the Big Bang Theory; and Frederick Sanger, the last man to win two Nobel prizes.

Other Cambridge academics include major economists such as John Maynard Keynes, Thomas Malthus, Alfred Marshall, Milton Friedman, Piero Sraffa and Amartya Sen, another former Master of Trinity College.

Significant Philosophers Desiderius Erasmus, Sir Francis Bacon, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, George Santayana, Sir Karl Popper, Allama Iqbal and G. E. Moore were all Cambridge scholars, as were renowned historians such as Lord Acton, E. H. Carr, Hugh Trevor-Roper, E. P. Thompson and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Religious figures at the university have included Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury and many of his predecessors; William Tyndale, the early biblical translator responsible for much of the King James "Authorised Version"; William Paley, the Christian philosopher known primarily for formulating the teleological argument for the existence of God; William Wilberforce, the man responsible for the abolition of the slave trade; and six winners of the prestigious Templeton Prize, the highest accolade for the study of religion since its foundation in 1972.

Composers Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Charles Villers Stanford, William Sterndale Bennett, Orlando Gibbons and, more recently, George Benjamin, Alexander Goehr, Thomas Adès and Julian Anderson were all at Cambridge.

Artists Quentin Blake, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell also attended as undergraduates.

Acclaimed writers such as E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Charles Kingsley, C. S. Lewis, Christopher Marlowe, Vladmir Nabokov, Samuel Butler, W. M. Thackeray, Lawrence Sterne, Sir Hugh Walpole, Jin Yong, Sir Kingsley Amis, C. P. Snow, J. G. Ballard, John Fletcher, E. R. Braithwaite,

Iris Murdoch, J. B. Priestley, Patrick White, M. R. James and A. A. Milne were all at Cambridge.

More recently A. S. Byatt, Douglas Adams, Sir Salman Rushdie, Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith, Robert Harris, Sebastian Faulks, Stephen Poliakoff, Michael Frayn, Alan Bennett and Sir Peter Shaffer all studied at the university.

Poets A. E. Houseman, Robert Herrick, William Wordsworth, John Donne, Alfred Tennyson, Lord Byron, Rupert Brooke, John Dryden, Siegfried Sassoon, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, John Milton, George Herbert, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Gray, Edmund Spenser and Sir Muhammad Iqbal

are all associated with Cambridge, as are renowned literary critics F. R. Leavis, Sir William Empson, Lytton Strachey, I. A. Richards, Christopher Isherwood and Peter Ackroyd. Furthermore, at least nine of the Poet Laureates graduated from Cambridge.

Actors and directors such as Lord Richard Attenborough, Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir Michael Redgrave, James Mason, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Simon Russell Beale, Tilda Swinton, Thandie Newton, Rachel Weisz and Sacha Baron Cohen all studied at the university, as did recently acclaimed directors such as Mike Newell, Sam Mendes, Stephen Frears, Paul Greengrass and John Madden.

The University is also known for its prodigious sporting reputation and has produced many fine athletes, including more than 50 Olympic medalists (6 in 2008 alone); the legendary Chineese six-time world table tennis champion Deng Yaping; the sprinter and athletics hero Harold Abrahams; the inventors of the modern game of Football, Winton and Thring; and George Mallory, the famed mountaineer and possibly the first man ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Notable educationalists to have attended the university include the founders and early professors of Harvard University, including John Harvard himself; Emily Davies, founder of Girton College, the first residential higher education institution for women, and John Haden Badley, founder of the first mixed-sex school in England.

Cambridge also has a strong reputation in the fields of politics and governance, having educated:

Cambridge also maintains a certain pride in the fact that, up until now, nobody affiliated with the university has ever won the infamous Ig Nobel Prize.

Literature and popular culture

See also


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  • Leedham-Green, Elisabeth (1996). A concise history of the University of Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43978-7. 
  • Leader, Damien (1988–2004). A history of the University of Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-32882-1. 
  • Stubbings, Frank (1995). Bedders, bulldogs and bedells: a Cambridge glossary. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-47978-3. 
  • Smith, J.; Stray, C. (2001). Teaching and Learning in 19th century Cambridge. Boydell Press. ISBN 978-0-851-15783-2. 
  • Willis, Robert (1988). John Willis Clark. ed. The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge and of the Colleges of Cambridge and Eton. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-35851-4. 
  • Deacon, Richard (1985). The Cambridge Apostles: A History of Cambridge University’s Elite Intellectual Secret Society. Cassell. ISBN 978-0-947-72813-7. 
  • A history of the University of Cambridge, by Christopher N.L. Brooke, Cambridge University Press, 4 volumes, 1988–2004, ISBN 0-521-32882-9, ISBN 0-521-35059-X, ISBN 0-521-35060-3, ISBN 0-521-34350-X
  • "Japanese Students at Cambridge University in the Meiji Era, 1868–1912: Pioneers for the Modernization of Japan". Retrieved 2009-08-08. , by Noboru Koyama, translated by Ian Ruxton,"A Translation from a Japanese Original". Lulu Press. 2004.  This book includes information about the wooden spoon and the university in the 19th century as well as the Japanese students.
  • Webb, Grayden (2005). The History of the University of Cambridge and Education in England. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32882-9. 
  • Anonymous (2009) [1790]. A Concise and Accurate Description of the University, Town and County of Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-00065-9. 

External links

Coordinates: 52°12′11″N 0°07′12″E / 52.203°N 0.120°E / 52.203; 0.120


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