Collegiate university

A collegiate university is a university in which functions are divided between a central administration and a number of constituent colleges. Historically, the first collegiate university was the University of Paris and its first college was the. The two principal forms are residential college universities, where the central university is responsible for teaching and colleges may deliver some teaching but are primarily residential communities, and federal universities where the central university has an administrative role and the colleges may be residential but are primarily teaching institutions. The larger colleges or campuses of federal universities, such as University College London and University of California, Berkeley, may be effectively universities in their own right and often have their own student unions.
For universities with residential colleges, the principal difference between these and non-collegiate halls of residence is that "colleges are societies, not buildings". This is expressed in different ways in different universities; commonly students are members of a college, not residents of a college, and remain members whether they are living in the college or not, but this is not universal and the distinction may be drawn in other ways. Residential colleges also commonly have members drawn from the university's academic staff in order to form a whole academic community. Students in residential colleges are often organised into a junior common room, with postgraduate students in a middle common room, and academic staff forming a senior common room.


The development of the collegiate university in western Europe followed shortly after the development of the medieval university itself. The first college to be established was the at the University of Paris, founded in 1180 by John of London shortly after he had returned from Jerusalem. This has led to the suggestion that the college was inspired by madrasas he saw on his travels, although this has been disputed, particularly as, unlike madrasas, the early Paris colleges did not teach. Other colleges appeared in Paris shortly after this, including the College of St Thomas du Louvre and the College of the Good Children of St Honore – although these may both have had more of the character of grammar schools than colleges of the university – various monastic colleges starting with the Dominicans in 1217, and the College of Sorbonne for non-monastic theology students in 1257. From Paris, the idea spread to Oxford, where William of Durham, who had been a Regent Master of Theology at Paris, left a legacy to found University College, Oxford in 1249. Although this is taken as the foundation date of University College, it was not until after 1280 that the college actually began operating. At around the same time Balliol College was founded by John de Balliol via a grant of land in 1263 as a penance imposed by the Bishop of Durham, and Merton College was founded with an endowment by Walter de Merton in 1264.
These original Oxford colleges were "merely endowed boardinghouses for impoverished scholars", and were limited to those who had already received their Bachelor of Arts degree and were reading for higher degrees. It was not until 1305 that teaching started in the College of Navarre in Paris, an innovation that reached Oxford in 1379 with the foundation of New College - also the first college there to take undergraduate students. In Bologna and other Italian universities, the colleges, as Rashdall put it, "remained to the last eleemosynary institutions for the help of poor students, boarding-houses and not places of education" and never acquired the same importance as the colleges of Oxford or Paris.
Colleges evolved in different directions in different places, but many European universities lost their colleges in the early 18th century. At the University of Coimbra, for example, many colleges were established in the 16th century, although these were limited to the study of theology with the other faculties remaining non-collegiate. These colleges, joined by others in the 17th and 18th centuries, persisted until 1834, when they were suppressed following the Portuguese civil war. The colleges of Paris were closed along with the university itself and the rest of the French universities after the French Revolution, as were the colleges of the University of Salamanca.
While the continental universities retained control over their colleges, in England it was the colleges that came to dominate the universities. The Hebdomadal Board was established by William Laud at Oxford in 1631 with the intent of diluting the influence of Congregation and Convocation. This led to criticism in the 19th century, with William Hamilton alleging that the colleges had unlawfully usurped the functions of the universities as the tutors had taken over the teaching from the professors. Royal Commissions in the 1850s led to Acts of Parliament in 1854 and 1856 that, among other measures, limited the power of the colleges.
Prior to these reforms, however, the first two new universities in England for over 600 years were established, both offering new versions of the collegiate university. The University of Durham was founded in 1832, taking Oxford for its model, and University College, Durham was created at the same time. This college, unlike those of Oxford and Cambridge, was not legally distinct from the university and nor was it responsible for teaching, which was carried out by university professors rather than college tutors. This restored the teaching role of the central university that had been lost at Oxford and Cambridge and the original role of the college as a residential rather than educational institution. It also pioneered the concept of residential colleges being owned by the university rather than being established as independent corporations, which provided a useful model for modern institutions looking to establish colleges. Unlike the earlier foundation of Trinity College Dublin, which had been established as "the mother of a university" but to which no other colleges had ever been added, the Durham system allowed for the university itself to found further colleges, which it did with the establishment of Hatfield College in 1846.
The University of London, founded in 1836, was very different. It was, in its original form, an examining body for affiliated colleges. The first two of these - University College London and King's College London were already in existence and resembled non-collegiate 'unitary' universities, as found in Scotland and continental Europe, except in their lack of degree-awarding powers. There had been much dispute over UCL's attempt to gain recognition as a university, and the University of London was designed as a political solution to put an end to this dispute and to enable the students at both UCL and King's to receive degrees. It was modelled to a certain extent on Cambridge, where the senate of the university was responsible for examinations and the colleges for the teaching, and also took on some features of the University of France, an institution established under Napoleon in 1808 that had absorbed the formerly independent French universities as "academies" within a single university structure. Unlike Oxford and Cambridge, the affiliated colleges of London were not constituent parts of the university and had no say in its running. Another major difference was that both UCL and King's were non-residential, providing teaching but not accommodation. This would provide the model for the civic colleges that were established in the major English cities, which later became the redbrick universities. After 1858 the requirement for colleges to be affiliated was dropped and London degrees were available to anyone who could pass the examinations. It was not until 1900 that London, after a period of sustained pressure from the teaching institutions in London, became a federal university. The London pattern spread the idea of the examining university with affiliated colleges around the British Empire, in particular to Canada where the University of Toronto was refounded as an examining university, its teaching arm becoming University College, Toronto, which federated other colleges in the region, and to India, where the universities of Calcutta, Madras and Mumbai were founded in 1857, and New Zealand, where the federal University of New Zealand was established in 1874.
A modification of the University of London plan was used for the Queen's University of Ireland, established in 1850. This took in three newly established colleges: the Queen's Colleges of Belfast, Cork and Galway. This was more federal than London, but proved inflexible and was replaced in 1880 by the Royal University of Ireland, which was an examining university based more directly on London. Also in 1880 another federal university, the Victoria University, was established in the north of England to solve the problem of Owen's College, Manchester, seeking university status. This originally just took in Owen's College, but grew to take in university colleges in Leeds and Liverpool. However, it unravelled in 1903-4 after Birmingham successfully became England's first unitary university, with the three colleges all becoming universities in their own right.
The federal University of Wales was created in 1893 as a national university for Wales, taking in pre-existing colleges in Aberystwyth, Cardiff and Bangor that had been preparing students for London degrees. It lasted as a federal university until 2007, when it became a confederal non-membership degree-awarding body. The University of Durham became a very curious federal institution in 1908 – its Durham division was itself collegiate, while its Newcastle division had two independent colleges. The two colleges of the Newcastle division were merged in 1937, and Newcastle finally became an independent university in 1963. Similarly, the university college in Dundee, founded 1881, became a college of the University of St Andrews in 1897 before becoming an independent university in 1967.
The idea of the residential college spread to America in the early 20th century, with Harvard and Yale both establishing colleges in the 1930s. Like the Durham colleges, these were colleges established and owned by the universities with only limited involvement in teaching. The American state university systems also developed federal-style universities with autonomous campuses. As these systems often developed from a single original campus, this often became identified as the 'flagship' campus of the state system.

Types of collegiate university

An early typology of British university institutions by the Principal of the University of Edinburgh in 1870 divided them into three types: collegiate, professorial and non-teaching examination boards. However, even at that time drawing hard lines was difficult: Oxford had, until a few years prior to this, been an examination board for its colleges, and Trinity College Dublin combined elements of the collegiate and professorial styles. More recently, the collegiate and federal traditions have been seen as separate in Britain, although both inspired by different aspects of the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, e.g. "With the partial exception of Durham there has been no serious attempt to create in Britain a collegial tradition in the mode of Oxbridge, but the federal principle has been widely emulated." Similarly a conference on The Collegiate Way in 2014 concentrated entirely on universities with residential colleges, making no mention of federal universities. This was in keeping with the idea that "The collegiate way is the notion that a curriculum, a library, a faculty, and students are not enough to make a college. It is an adherence to the residential scheme of things."
Yet the federal principle has also been called the "Cambridge principle", and is sometimes seen as essential to a collegiate university. There is also dispute as to what is meant by a federal university: some writers have argued that the distinct feature of a federal system is the separation of teaching and examination, but others see the distinction as being one of governance and distribution of authority. A distinction is sometimes made between federal universities, collegiate universities and universities that have residential colleges but where these do not participate in teaching. One definition of a collegiate university states that "it’s the sense of community within a big environment that’s the common feature".

Collegiate universities with centralised teaching

In many collegiate universities, the teaching is centrally organised through departments and faculties on a university-wide basis. The level of participation in teaching of colleges in such universities varies: they may provide no formal teaching, may provide some teaching to their own students, may provide some teaching that is available university or faculty-wide, or may be responsible for delivering centrally organised, university-wide teaching. Whatever their role in teaching, almost all are residential communities and they will often have their own halls for meals, libraries, sports teams and societies; such colleges are thus sometimes termed residential colleges. Monash University in Australia has, however, developed a non-residential college model, and New York University has similar "learning communities" to support non-residential students. The specifics of how the collegiate system is organised - whether college membership is necessary for students, whether colleges are legally independent, the role colleges play in admissions, etc. - vary widely between different universities.
While the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge consist of independent colleges that supplement the university's teaching with their own tutorials, some universities have built colleges that do not provide teaching but still perform much of the housing and social duties. Such colleges are planned, built and funded entirely by the central administration and are thus dependent on it, however they still retain their own administrative structures and have a degree of independence. This system was pioneered at Durham University in the United Kingdom in the 1830s, and has been described as "a far better model for people at other institutions to look to, than are the independent colleges of Oxford and Cambridge". This has been widely followed in the US, where the colleges at universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton are entirely owned by the central university. Some universities, such as the University of Otago in New Zealand, Durham University in the UK and the University of Pavia in Italy have a mix of independent and university-owned colleges.
In many collegiate universities, following the pattern of Oxford and Cambridge, membership of a college is obligatory for students, but in others it is either not necessary or only necessary for students in particular faculties, e.g. at the University of Toronto, where the colleges are all associated with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Non-centralised teaching collegiate universities

Sometimes, as noted above, referred to as federal universities, these are universities where the teaching function is entirely carried out by constituent colleges, which will often have their own faculties and departments. This is represented by examples such as Oxford and Cambridge up to the mid 19th century, the University of Wales from 1893 to 2007, and the University of London from 1900. The level of legal separation - e.g. whether the colleges are separate corporate bodies - varies between universities. As the colleges are primarily teaching institutions, they may not always be residential communities and many are effectively universities in their own right.
Some colleges are part of loose federations that allow them to exercise nearly complete self-governance, and even award their own degrees. Other colleges are not legally separate from their parent university, e.g. the University of the Arts, London in the UK and many state university systems in the US. In some US state systems, a "flagship campus" may be identified - often the original campus of the system - which is considered to stand above the other campuses in the system.
Some universities may have centralised teaching but also have colleges that do not access that centralised teaching. Historically, this was the case at Durham University for the medical school and Armstrong College in the late 19th and early 20th century and for University College Stockton from 1994 to 2001. The two colleges of Queen's University Belfast, which is for the main part a unitary university, currently operate in this manner. This should not be confused with the situation where courses at an independent college are validated by a university but the college does not become part of that university, e.g. the relationship between the New College of the Humanities and Southampton Solent University.
Over time, the level of federation may evolve, particularly as independent colleges grow and seek to establish themselves as universities in their own right. University College London and King's College London were for much of the 20th century dependent colleges of the central university, without separate legal identities, and all London colleges received funds through the University of London rather than directly. The trend since the latter half of the 20th century has been for increased decentralisation; taken to its ultimate, this has led some colleges to formally end their relations with the parent university to become degree-awarding universities. Examples include Cardiff University and Imperial College London. Similarly Newcastle University was part of the federal University of Durham until 1963 and the University of Dundee was a college of the University of St Andrews until 1967. A number of autonomous universities in South Africa were formerly colleges of the University of South Africa. Many of the US state systems started as single campuses but have evolved to become federal systems, and the University of the Philippines similarly started as one campus but is now a system of "constituent universities".

Collegiate universities around the world

There are around 80 universities around the world with residential college systems.


In Australia, many universities have residential college systems, often combining independent and university-owned colleges. Some universities also have non-collegiate residences. Collegiate universities include the University of Queensland, the University of Tasmania, the University of Western Australia, the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales. Monash University run an unusual "non-residential college" system for students living off-campus.


In Canada the University of Toronto has a collegiate system for students in the faculty of Arts and Sciences on its St George campus that took form from the mid 19th century, originally modelled after that of Oxford. Toronto has a mix of independent and dependent colleges, all of which offer academic programmes that are available faculty-wide rather that just to members of that college. While all students of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on the St George campus are members of one of the colleges, students in other undergraduate faculties are only members of colleges if they live in a college residence, and the University of Toronto Mississauga and University of Toronto Scarborough are non-collegiate.
Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario also has a collegiate model, with five colleges on the Peterborough campus. All students are affiliated to a college.


Notable collegiate universities include Fudan University, Xi'an Jiaotong University, East China Normal University in China.


The number of collegiate universities in France has increased over the past years. These include the PSL University, with its constituent colleges including, the École normale supérieure, Collège de France, Université Paris-Dauphine, Observatoire de Paris and the École pratique des hautes études; and Institut Mines-Télécom with its 10 dependent Grandes Écoles.

Hong Kong

The University of Hong Kong has an affiliated Anglican college, St John's College, which was founded in 1912 and has its own charter. The university also established Robert Black College in 1967 as a university guesthouse. Over the past decade some of the new residential halls were named colleges, including the Lap-Chee College, the Shun Hing College and the Chi Sun College. Centennial College, a provider of post-secondary education, is affiliated with the university.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong has 9 colleges which provide pastoral support and non-formal learning opportunities to supplement the formal teaching from the central administration of the university. Any full-time undergraduate at the university may apply for affiliation to a college. The three original colleges were founded as separate institutions which federated to found the university in 1963, and over the first two and a half decades teaching departments were merged as the university became more centralised.
The City University of Hong Kong has a Community College, similar to HKU's Centennial College, which been in a partnership arrangement with the University of Wollongong since 2014.


's only ancient university is the University of Dublin. Created during the reign of Elizabeth I, it is modelled on the collegiate universities of Cambridge and Oxford. However, only one constituent college was ever founded, hence the curious position of Trinity College, Dublin today. All of the teaching is provided by the college, with degrees being awarded by the university. The four constituent universities of the federal National University of Ireland are, for all essential purposes, independent universities.


In Italy, the only collegiate university is the University of Pavia with four independent colleges and 12 public colleges. Students do not have to be members of colleges.


The University of Macau has moved to a residential college system since 2010, when two pilot colleges were established. Further colleges have been founded since, and the university became collegiate in 2014, with 10 colleges in operation.

New Zealand

In New Zealand the University of Otago has 15 residential colleges, of which one is postgraduate-only, nine are undergraduate-only and five take both postgraduate and undergraduate students. Most of the colleges are owned and managed by the university, but there are five independent "affiliated colleges". Membership of a college is not obligatory for students, and only students in residence count as college members. The colleges manage admission to the college and provide academic tutorials to students.

United Kingdom

There are a number of British universities with colleges of different types. Some are listed bodies under the Education Reform Act 1988 legally recognised as "Institutions of a University", while others are not; colleges of the University of London are recognised bodies under the 1988 act that have the right to award degrees of the University of London and their own degrees. Some colleges are legally independent of their parent university, while others are not.
Collegiate universities with centralised teaching and undergraduate teaching in colleges:
Collegiate universities with centralised teaching and residential-only colleges:
Collegiate universities with centralised teaching carried out by the colleges:
Collegiate universities where all teaching is carried out in the colleges:
Unitary universities with centralised teaching and associated colleges that carry out their own teaching:
The US has a wide variety of systems. There are a number of universities with residential colleges, most of which are owned by the central university, which may be referred to as residential colleges or as houses. These do not normally participate in formal teaching, although there are exceptions to this. Most collegiate universities in the US were previously non-collegiate but have established residential colleges in the 20th or 21st century. There were around 30 universities with residential colleges in the US in 2010, examples include:
Many state university systems consist of campuses that are legally part of a single corporate body, but are operationally independent. Examples of such institutions include the University of California, the State University of New York, the University of Michigan, the University of Texas System, and the University System of Maryland.
The Claremont Colleges in California operate a hybrid federal-constituent system. All 7 colleges are independently governed: Pomona College, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College as undergraduate colleges as well as Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences as graduate universities. Their founding model was based on that of the University of Oxford and they are linked through the Claremont University Consortium, though, unlike other constituent college systems, degrees are conferred separately by the seven constituent institutions and they exist as universities and liberal arts colleges in their own right. The colleges are spread over a square mile site and share certain departmental, library and research facilities. In addition, the five undergraduate colleges operate two intercollegiate athletic programs, with Claremont, Harvey Mudd, and Scripps forming one program and Pomona and Pitzer the other.

Former collegiate universities

Some universities that once featured collegiate systems have lost them to mergers or suppression, due to financial, political or other reasons, or the individual colleges becoming independent universities. Examples include the following:

Former residential college systems