Computer Science at Oxford
From Computer Science at Oxford
You may already know you want to study Computer Science at university, but be wondering what distinctive features the Oxford course has. Many of the advantages of Oxford are the same for every subject:
- the excellent facilities both for academic work and for sporting, artistic, creative and social activities;
- the unsurpassed support that you will enjoy by joining an Oxford college;
- the outstanding mix of people you will meet: both the world-leading academics who will teach you, and the talented students in every subject who you will live and work with, and who will become your friends for life.
- the internationally recognised quality of an Oxford education.
Let's focus on the features that make the Computer Science course in particular into a unique preparation for future leaders in the computing profession.
Computer Science from the start
The Oxford Computer Science course allows you to concentrate on studying Computer Science from the start of the course. Naturally, some of the lectures during the first year are designed to lay the mathematical foundations for the work you will do later in the course, but we don't require you to spend 50% or more of your first year on other subjects outside Computer Science. If you do want to blend Mathematics and Computer Science, then there's a joint course that allows you to do precisely that.
Our course assumes no prior knowledge of computing, and teaches everything from first principles. That may seem like a disadvantage if you already know a lot about computing, but the fact is that a university-level approach to the subject goes much deeper than an A level course ever can, and most people find it fascinating to see how familiar ideas relate to each other in a fresh way.
Principles behind the technology
Our course concentrates on teaching you the principles that lie behind current computing technology, not the technology as an end in itself. Our students rapidly become highly competent at using technology to solve problems, but more than that, they develop the ability to adapt their skills to new technology. That's because when you know the principles, it becomes easier to understand the technology and to learn new technology for yourself when you need it. And principles have the potential to stand the test of time, remaining stable even when the technology that's built on them goes through rapid evolution.
The best example of this is the way we teach you about programming from the start of our degree. Instead of picking a mainstream language and showing you how to write programs in it, we begin with a way of understanding programs that has a basis in mathematics. It happens that there is a powerful programming language – it's called Haskell – that directly embodies this way of understanding, and you will use it to try out your programming ideas on a computer. But the real point is that this way of approaching computer programs lets you see the links between many apparently different things: databases and the design of computer hardware, artificial intelligence and the meanings of different programming languages.
In our part-time Masters degree programme, experienced programmers from industry come and learn about functional programming in the same way you will learn it as a first year student. Hardly any of them will ever write a program in Haskell after they finish their course, but they tell us that just knowing about this way of programming revolutionises the way they think about the other programs they work with, allowing them to see beyond the details of what those programs do line by line. We offer the same benefits to you as an undergraduate student.
Personally tailored tuition
Like all Oxford degrees, our teaching of Computer Science revolves around the Oxford tutorial, where (typically) two students get together with a tutor to discuss their work for an hour. Together with lectures and practical classes, this is the principal means of teaching in the first year of our course, with students typically having two tutorials a week with the Computer Science tutor in their college. Few other universities can match this level of personal tuition, which is designed to allow all students with the right potential, whatever their school background, to reach the same level of study in their subject.
In later years of the degree, tutorials continue to play a part, particularly for project work and for revision before exams. We also use small classes of up to ten or twelve students to teach the specialized topics that are offered as options in the degree. These small classes allow students to be taught by tutors with special knowledge in the topic concerned, including experts with a world-wide reputation and enthusiastic young researchers.
Taken together, these attributes of the Oxford Computer Science course will give you a unique opportunity to deepen and enrich your understanding, and a unique preparation for a successful career, whether in computing or outside it.
About the Department of Computer Science
The Department of Computer Science at Oxford is one of the longest-established Computer Science departments in the country. During the past 60 years, it has evolved from looking after the University’s only computer into its present role as the hub of a network of teaching and research activities that encompass core Computer Science, as well as numerical analysis, computational biology, quantum computing, computational linguistics, information systems and software verification.
The Department offers three- and four-year first degrees in Computer Science, in Mathematics and Computer Science and Computer Science and Philosophy. In addition it offers one-year postgraduate Masters courses and opportunities for Doctoral Research.
Before June 1st 2011, the Department of Computer Science was known as the Computing Laboratory.