Forget the gown - casual wear will do for Oxford exams now

February 2, 2007

Reform of Oxford University's ancient governance structures may have faltered, but modernisation is in the air for some of the institution's business students, who no longer have to wear the traditional academic gown for their exams.

Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world, is breaking with a centuries-old tradition by relaxing the rules on academic dress for those taking a new masters-level qualification at its Said Business School.

Eleven students taking the Oxford diploma in financial strategy have just sat their final exams in the more informal environs of the business school, instead of the university's examination schools, where exams are traditionally taken.

The course is one of a new kind being developed by the business school. It has been designed in a module format for busy executives. Uniquely, they can also take academic "credit" from the course and use it to upgrade to a full MBA in future, if they choose.

Kathy Harvey, business development manager, said the decision on academic dress had been for purely practical reasons.

She said: "The traditions of Oxford are part of its charm and are there for a reason - but it is also important that we make sure we can provide an examination system that is practical and fits in around (students') visits to the business school.

"The Said is trying to give students the Oxbridge experience, but also to make sure that we look ahead and look at new ways of developing forward-thinking courses," she added.

The diploma is aimed at those business people in finance roles who see themselves as potential finance director or board-level material but who do not want to commit to an MBA at this stage in their career, or see it as too much of a general management qualification for their immediate needs.

A spokeswoman for the university said students taking degree courses still had to wear gowns and subfusc - the clothes worn with full academic dress in Oxford, which usually consist of a suit.

In a vote last year, students voted overwhelmingly against making the wearing of subfusc voluntary in examinations.

Gowns derive from the ordinary clothing of medieval times and were once a means of distinguishing members of the university from residents of the town. In the past, undergraduates also wore gowns for tutorials, and they had to be worn on the streets of the city after dark.

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