The importance of rail

Extension and the rail network

Oxford Extension was an idea which was put forth prior to 1850; and yet the first Extension Lecture did not take place until more than 25 years later. H.L. Mackinder and M.E. Sadler, writing in 1891, offer an explanation:

One circumstance alone... was sufficient to cause any elaborate scheme for the extension of University teaching in large towns to be, at the time, regarded as premature. The University Extension system as we now understand it, depends on our railway system. It would be impossible for it to work without our modern service of quick and frequent trains.

Anyone who compares the Bradshaw of today with the Bradshaw of 1855 will see at once a sufficient reason why the idea of University extension did not strike root when [early] proposals appeared.

Under changed conditions University Extension is thus realising some of the ideals of the past; the present scheme is not so much to bring to the Universities the modern representatives of those great multitudes who in old days flocked to it. its aim is rather to take some of the opportunities of University education to them, in the belief that, by adjusting their arrangements to the various needs of the different classes of the community, the Universities, without losing any part of their present dignity and usefulness, will more and more comform to the ideal of truly national institutions.

From University Extension: Past, Present and Future, by H.L. Mackinder and M.E. Sadler, published 1891.

The map below shows the locations of Extension centres in 1893-4.

It's worth noting that for the Department of today, the creation of the Internet in the latter years of the 20th century has had much the same effect that the innovation of rail had on 19th century efforts.

Today we teach students from 120 countries around the world, who take part in our online classes, part-time degree programmes - students who would not otherwise be able to benefit from Oxford teaching.

Find out more about the history of the Department