It’s never too late to get an elite Oxbridge education. The ancient universities’ summer and short courses open its academic offerings up for all.

There are many excellent universities in the UK, but it is Oxford and Cambridge whose names tend to be spoken with a hushed reverence. Both operating under collegiate systems – upon which some newer universities have subsequently modelled themselves – they are the oldest academic institutions in the country. Oxford was founded in 1096, making it the oldest in the English-speaking world, and grew quickly when Henry II forbade students from studying at the University of Paris. Cambridge was founded in 1209 after a handful of Oxford scholars fell into a dispute with the townspeople, upped sticks and took their considerable brains off to East Anglia – along with many of the traditions established at Oxford.

And while many excellent universities have built their own fearsome reputations in the centuries since, none can quite match the cachet of the two most ancient seats of learning in the land. But with that cachet, of course, comes exceptionally high standards for acceptance, high fees and incredibly stiff competition.

But did you know, there are more ways than one to study at Oxbridge? Short courses, online courses and summer courses at Oxbridge are all possibilities – some of which students emerge from with respected certificates of education, others of which are for the sheer pleasure of being taught by brilliant minds in historic buildings in two of the most beautiful cities in the country.


‘In spite of Keble College, and the tramways, and the sporting prints, Oxford still remains the most beautiful thing in England, and nowhere else are life and art so exquisitely blended, so perfectly made one.’ So said Oscar Wilde, whose alma mater was Magdalen College, arguably the most beautiful in the university. To experience that meeting of art and life for yourself, why not try one of these courses?

Short And Online Courses

Did you know that there is a myriad of courses at Oxford for which you don’t need a stellar set of A Levels to access? What you will need, instead, is access to a computer, the fees (typically around £324) and a burning interest in the topic. You can earn CATS points (part of the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme which enables you to transfer your credits between higher education institutions) too, as well as, in some cases, earning concrete qualifications. There are tons to choose from: do explore them all here, where you can search on the basis subject or course format – whether online, weekly, a lecture series, face-to-face or weekend. Most are flexible.

Whether you want to learn about Greek mythology; Exploring The Universe; An Introduction To Ethics; The Culture of The English Country House; or gain an MSc in Cognitive Behavourial Therapy (amongst a dizzying other array of options), there is something intellectually enriching for all curious minds.

Summer Courses

For those who would prefer to get the full Oxford experience in the hallowed halls of learning, why not apply for a summer course? The dates may not be flexible but then nothing quite beats basking in the knowledge of esteemed dons amid the atmosphere of academia.

This year, courses are thrillingly varied. Who doesn’t cast their eyes down a list of courses that includes Rome, Florence and Venice: Three Crucibles of the Renaissance; Human Genes and Their Roles in Developing Diseases; Sex and Sin in the Seventeenth Century;
The Moral Brain: Neuroscience Meets Philosophy; The Elements of Your Novel;
Tutankhamun: A Century of Investigation; and The Victorian Sensation Novel without wanting to take up the study of all of them at once? Or, if you fancy coming for the whole summer and really channeling the spirit of Brideshead, why not enrol in The Oxford Experience, via which you will sample life at the ultra grand Christ Church College (alma mater of Waugh’s fictional Sebastian Flyte), be invited to receptions and dinners and attend small tutorial groups.


‘Cambridge is heaven, I am convinced it is the nicest place in the world to live. As you walk round, most people look incredibly bright, as if they are probably off to win a Nobel prize.’ That’s according to novelist Sophie Hannah. And should you wish to join the throngs of people who dash around like the Nobel Prize is dangling on the near horizon, do consider enrolling on one of these courses.

Online Courses

As Ice – Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education – says, ‘Online courses have made distance learning more accessible than ever – all you need is a computer linked to the internet, and you can study at the University of Cambridge from anywhere in the world.’ Indeed, its offering of seven-week courses is ever-changing and yet one thing remains constant: the excellent quality of teaching, as one would expect from a Cambridge education. And yet, brilliantly and democratically, you need no previous qualifications to study.

Like at Oxford, Cambridge’s short online courses are like nectar for enquiring minds. Would you like, for example, to study Saving Planet Ocean: An Introcution to Marine Biology? Or how about Creative Writing: An Introduction To Comic Fiction? Gloriana: The Life And Times Of Elizabeth I; Julius Caesar: A Life; and The Neuropsychology of Decision Making are all options available too, starting at £295.

You can explore the full range of online courses here.

Short Courses

In addition to the selection of online courses, Cambridge also arranges residential weekend courses, with residential and non-residential places available (fees are roughly £325 for tuition, with B&B charged separately). No academic qualifications are required, but they are taught at roughly first year undergrad level. Current courses include Creating Innovative Ideas; Serving Queen And King: Sir Walter Raleigh And Court Politics In England 1580 – 1621; The Geological History of Britain; and French Baroque Music. Explore the full schedule here.

Summer Courses

If you, like many of us, are revelling in a post lockdown world and would prefer to explore the face-to-face options in Cambridge amidst the achingly beautiful architecture and punt gliding by on the River Cam, summer courses are a great place to start.

No matter your academic interest, there is a course to suit every intellectual curiosity. These range from Spies And Assassins In Fiction Through The Ages; and Dangerous Books For Girls? Fairy Tales Past And Present; to An Introduction To The Bloomsbury Group; and Medieval Science I: The not-so-Dark Ages? Explore the full gamut of courses here.

By Nancy Alsop
July 2022

Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.