Your mind on fire: summer programs at Cambridge, Oxford, and the Sorbonne

Whether you are an Ivy Leaguer who missed the chance to be a Rhodes Scholar or a graduate of a state university who worked your way through school, the dream of having that Oxford or Cambridge experience may still be with you. Or maybe you always fancied sitting at a sidewalk café, smoking a cigarette that may well be the death of you—but it’s so French! —while practicing the subjonctif before your class at the Sorbonne. Well, pack your bags, because it’s not too late.

These three preeminent institutions open their doors to the public each summer with adult ed programs that explore subjects ranging from art history and architecture to creative writing to history and economic thought. (We were somewhat amused that Oxford offers a course on the Cambridge spies.) For the perpetual student, the prospect of spending a bright sunny day in a classroom is nirvana—plus it keeps your mind alert and alive.  So much better than another night of Sudoku.

The other attraction, of course, is location, location, location. The universities are steeped in history, are architecturally beautiful, and the towns and cities offer opportunities to set out into the surrounding countryside or wander through neighborhoods filled with shops and restaurants and museums.

“But isn’t this an expensive proposition?,” you ask. Not necessarily. One day programs can cost as little as €25/$27. Fees for one week programs start at €405/$430 and can be as much as £1,055/$1,305.* Longer programs—up to six weeks—will cost more. Special rates for some classes are offered to “pensioners” (seniors) so it’s worth asking whether you qualify.  Summer programs begin in late June/early July and are offered through August at Oxford and Cambridge.

Act now if you are interested: early enrollment, with the attendant discounted fees, is April 30th in some cases, although registration remains open until June. Because these classes are held in small groups some are already full, another reason to act quickly. If it doesn’t work out this year, now is a good time to start planning for next summer.

University of Cambridge: International Summer Programme
Credit: Roberto Lo Savio

Located in the Fens of eastern England, Cambridge University was founded first by immigrant scholars from Paris in the 12th century, then fortified in the early 13th century by a group of disaffected scholars from Oxford. It is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world, the world’s third-oldest surviving university, and consistently ranks in the top four of the world’s greatest universities.

East Anglia, the region in which the University is situated, was settled by the Angles, a tribe from northern Germany, in the 5th century and was once the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England. Cambridge is noted for its green spaces, including the Victorian-era Christ’s Pieces, known for its lovely ornamental trees and flowerbeds. The Cam River flows by some of the most famous of the University’s 31 colleges, including King’s College and Trinity College, seen to advantage from a punt (flat boat) moving slowly through the Backs. There are plenty of other sights to see in Cambridge.

Summer program students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including teachers, scientists, writers, journalists, researchers, executives, professionals, and retirees, who have the time to pursue lifelong interests in more depth.

The 2017 program includes courses in ancient civilization and medieval cultures, British and European history; literature and creative writing, and Shakespeare’s plays. Or you can take advantage of the expertise of senior Cambridge academics who offer courses in a broad variety of scientific fields including (take a deep breath) astronomy, cryptography, evolution, forensic archaeology, immunology, manufacturing, psychology, quantum mechanics, spectroscopy, and zoology.

Program fees begin at £750/$928. Accommodations are available at several of the colleges starting at £405/$501 for one week; the fee includes breakfast, evening meals, and a closing dinner.

The University offers optional weekend excursions, a good way to explore England and British culture. In 2017 the excursions include visits to Hampton Court Palace, Medieval Oxford and Ewelme—once a hotbed of watercress cultivation (which possibly gave rise to the delicate tea sandwich), and Blenheim Palace (the only residence permitted to be called a palace that is not a property of the monarchy); theatre trips to see Shakespeare plays at The Globe in London and the Royal Shakespeare Company theaters in Stratford-upon-Avon; and Cambridge walking tours through the beautiful city and Colleges. And naturally there are the pubs (about which we might be too well acquainted from our youth).

While you decide whether you want to join the likes of Charles Darwin, Oliver Cromwell, Vladimir Nabokov, Sir Isaac Newton, Thandie Newton, Emma Thompson, and Steven Hawking in treading these grounds, peruse the Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education’s robust website for the International Summer Programmes, which provides everything you need to know to register.

Oxford University Summer School for Adults
Image Copyright: Creative Commons (TejvanPettinger)

In his poem ‘Thyrsis,’ the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold called Oxford ‘the city of dreaming spires’, referring to the dramatic architecture of the University of Oxford. Oxford’s beautiful historic center has starred in many films and television series. Scenes from the Harry Potter films were shot here, but Oxford is perhaps most firmly associated with British TV channel ITV’s ‘Inspector Morse’.

The University of Oxford is a leading research university. It was likely founded in the 11th century, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest university in continuous operation. Oxford is known for its excellence in literature: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, T.E. Lawrence, John Le Carré, V.S. Naipul, Graham Greene, and Oscar Wilde either studied or taught here. Other notables include 27 British Prime Ministers, 30 international leaders, 50 Nobel Prize winners, and 120 Olympic medal winners.

Oxford offers three different summer school programs of between one and four weeks’ duration. Some classes are accredited; others require no coursework, and are non-assessed. There are over 100 summer courses offered each year.

Oxford International Summer Schools are intensive accredited programs taught at the graduate level. Participants normally attend daily lectures and small group seminars. Applicants are expected to have an academic or professional background in the relevant subject.  Courses in this program include English literature, history and politics, international law, music, and theology. Within those disciplines a variety of topics is offered, from which students select two. Fees for one week begin at £1,300/$1,608 for tuition only to £3,225/$3,990 with the addition of room and board.

The Oxford Experience is a residential summer program providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week, from a roster of 60 different courses, over a period of six weeks. The program is designed for an international audience of all ages and gives everyone a taste of a true “Oxford experience,” where you stay in typical Oxford student accommodations at historic Christ Church in buildings which range in age from the 18th to the 20th century. Bedrooms are arranged vertically on a staircase of four or five floors, rather than the horizontal floor plan more typical of dormitories in the US. Christ Church possesses an important collection of Old Master paintings and drawings making it unique among the Oxford and Cambridge colleges.

The cost of The Oxford Experience, which includes the program fee, meals, and accommodation, is £1,310/$1,620 for a standard single room, £1,490/$1,843 for an en-suite single room, per week, per person.  In 2017, the programs take place from July 2 to August 12.

Oxford University Summer School for Adults offers a selection of 40 accredited one-week non-assessed courses in a variety of subjects, ranging from archaeology, art history, creative writing, economics, history, literature, music, philosophy, politics and religious studies. Classes are held in small groups of 10 students taught by tutors with a proven background in adult education. There are four one-week sessions, from July 8 to August 5, held at Rewley House in central Oxford. Courses look thoroughly enjoyable. Many are booked already, but courses are still available as of publication, including “The Cambridge Spies: Fact and Fiction,” “Writing Your Novella,” and “Music, Politics and Piety in Tudor England.”

Tuition varies. One week, for example, can cost anywhere from £765/$946 for program and meals only up to £1,435/$1,775 for a superior room, meals, and program fee. The OUSSA program website has detailed information about course selection, class composition, accommodations, and more.

The program websites have all the details.

Sorbonne Université: Université d’été en Sorbonne
Photo credit: Kiev.Victor

Sorbonne University, with campuses in the heart of Paris, covers all major disciplinary fields. The school began in 1150 as an annex of the Notre Dame cathedral school and was considered the second oldest university in Europe until it was suspended following the French Revolution. Reinstated in the late 1800s, the Sorbonne Universities is currently made up of 11 member universities. Paris-Sorbonne, one of the members, is internationally renowned for its academic excellence in the humanities, especially theology and philosophy; its sister schools are academic leaders in law, medicine, and natural sciences. Its list of Nobel Prize winners and other notable alumni includes Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, Honoré de Balzac, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Luc Godard, Albert Schweitzer, Michel Foucault, Pope Benedict XVI, St. Francis Xavier, and Jean-Paul Sartre (who refused his prize).

Paris-Sorbonne is located on the Left Bank of the Seine in the Latin Quarter (5th and 6th arrondissements), perfectly situated to give you the total Paris experience. Within a few minutes’ walk are the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Luxembourg Gardens, the Louvre and d’Orsay museums, Saint Germain des Pres and the cafes made famous by Hemingway and Gertrude Stein—Les Deux Magots, Café de Flor—and endless winding streets filled with shops and patisseries. The Eiffel Tower is visible from almost anywhere.

The summer program at Paris-Sorbonne offers a small selection of courses in French and English compared with Cambridge and Oxford (but hey, you’re in Paris—have another glass of wine). Learn to speak French, or polish your passable French in a two-week French language course held from June 26 to July 7. Three levels are offered: A1, B2 and C1; testing is mandatory unless you are a beginner. In addition to listening, speaking, and written expression, the courses provide an overview of French culture, history, literature, and art.  The price is €1,200/$1,270.

The other track of summer program courses, under the umbrella of “multi-disciplinary courses,” are focused on the humanities—like antiquity, French literature, and the Age of Enlightenment; and culture—French gastronomy, the culture of Paris, French identity, and the role of women in French history.  There are 11 week-long courses altogether, scheduled over a four-week period from June 26 to July 21.

For a course of 15 hours per week the price is €405/$428 before April 30 and €450/$475 after May 1.  You can have the total student experience by staying in one of the University’s residence halls, quite a bargain at €400/$423 for one week (minimum). Or you can choose from the universe of Parisian hotels, or rent an apartment and pretend you live there.

The Université d’été en Sorbonne website describes the courses in more detail.

* Currency conversions to US dollars are estimates based on exchange rates on April 9, 2017.  Fees are paid in the local currency, so the actual cost may vary.

Header photo source: Cambridge University  


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