Oriental Studies | University of Oxford
Oriental Studies
Matsumoto Castle, Japan.
(Image credit: Shutterstock).

Oriental Studies

Among subjects in the humanities, Oriental Studies is unique in introducing students to civilisations that are different from the Western ones that form the basis of the curriculum in most British schools and colleges. The courses present both the major traditions of the regions studied and, in most cases, their modern developments. All courses include language, literature, history and culture, and there is a wide range of options in such fields as art and archaeology, history, literature, philosophy, religion and modern social studies.


Oriental Studies at Oxford

Oriental Studies has a long history in Oxford. The Bodleian and other libraries have acquired magnificent collections. The Oriental Institute, Institute for Chinese Studies, Bodleian Japanese and Indian Institute Libraries are specialists in their respective fields. Adjacent to the Oriental Institute is the Ashmolean Museum, which houses superb collections. The Sackler Library includes the principal library for Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies.


A degree in Oriental Studies is not a vocational degree, but a wide range of employers appreciate the skills our graduates gain from their studies. Career options exist in finance, the media, commerce, the Civil Service, law, accountancy and the arts. Around 30% of Oriental Studies graduates go on to further study.

Andi, who graduated in 1996 with a BA (OS) in Japanese, is now Director, International Business Development at Ping Identity. He says: ‘My time at Oxford gave me a good foundation for the varied demands of both small and large companies, and the skills required to handle the constant change and learning required in the software industry. I’ve had the opportunity to do business in Japan on several occasions through my career.’

Iason, who graduated in 2001 with a BA (OS) Arabic, is a photojournalist, film-maker and lecturer currently working for the UN in Libya. He says: ‘I have lived in Cairo, Damascus, Sanaa and Tehran, and covered events like the 2011 Arab revolts and the Greek economic crisis. After studying for a Masters in Persian and Contemporary Iranian Studies, I was a Nieman fellow at Harvard.’

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Classics, Modern Languages, Theology and Religion or History of Art.

Work placements/international opportunities

Most courses offer the opportunity to spend time in the region being studied. The Arabic course includes a year in the Middle East, the Persian and Turkish courses a year in Iran     (due to visa restrictions, some students are unable to travel to Iran, in which case separate individual arrangements are made) or Turkey respectively, and the Hebrew course an optional year in Israel. The Chinese and Japanese courses also include a year in China and Japan respectively.

A typical weekly timetable

Arabic and Islamic Studies T601
Arabic with subsidiary language T6T9
Persian T613
Persian with subsidiary language T6TX
Turkish T600
Turkish with Islamic Art and Archaeology* TQP9
Turkish with subsidiary language T6TY
*May not be available for entry from 2016
1st year2nd year3rd and 4th years
  • Elementary language
  • Islamic history and culture


Year abroad: approved course of language instruction


  • Core work on language and literature
  • History
  • Specialisation or subsidiary language

First University examinations after term 3: Three written papers; an oral exam in Arabic


Qualifying examination at the end of the course


Final University examinations:
Oral exam and eight or nine written papers (one of which may be a thesis)

Chinese (T101)  
1st year2nd year3rd and 4th years


  • Elementary language in classical and modern Chinese
  • History and culture



  • Year abroad at Peking University


  • Extended language classes and historical study
  • Options: Ancient history; Literature; Modern society and politics; or subsidiary languages: Tibetan, Japanese or Korean


First University examinations: Three written papers; an oral exam.



Final University examinations: Oral examination; eight written papers; dissertation

Egyptology (Q400), Ancient Near Eastern Studies (Q402), Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies (Q401)
1st year2nd year3rd year


  • Broad survey of civilisations of Egypt and the Ancient Near East
  • Language teaching in Egyptian or Akkadian



  • Addition of second language, or Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Options: Akkadian, Egyptian, Arabic, Aramaic and Syriac, Archaeology, Classical Greek, Coptic, Hebrew (Biblical and Mishnaic), Old Iranian, Sumerian or Hittite (if available)
  • Literary and historical topics through study of texts and essay writing
  • Intensive class work


  • Essay writing and dissertation work
  • Intensive classes in the first and second terms
  • Artefact classes
  • Field of concentration


First University examinations
Four written papers



Final University examinations
Ten units

Hebrew Studies: (primarily languages, literature, culture and history) (Q480)
1st year2nd year3rd and 4th years


  • Intensive study in Hebrew language in all periods
  • Introduction to ancient and modern Jewish history



  • Handling Hebrew texts and developing knowledge of historical and cultural background
  • Choice of options from Jewish Studies

3rd year can optionally be spent abroad


  • Texts
  • Historical and cultural background


First University examinations
Four written papers



Final University examinations
Seven written papers; dissertation
4-year course only: oral examination

Japanese (T201)
1st year2nd year3rd and 4th years


  • Elementary Japanese language
  • History and culture



  • Year abroad at Kobe University


  • Extended language classes
  • Options (five subjects to be chosen): Classical Literature; Modern Literature; Linguistics; History; Politics; Economics; additional language (counts as three subjects): either Chinese, Korean or Tibetan


First University examinations: Three written papers


Test at end of course


Final University examinations: Oral examination; eight written papers; dissertation.

Jewish Studies: (primarily focused on the history, religion and culture of the Jews from biblical to modern times) (QV91)
1st year2nd year3rd year


  • Intensive study in Hebrew language in all periods
  • Introduction to ancient and modern Jewish history



  • Options (three subjects to be chosen)
  • One tutorial a week, with essay


  • Options (two subjects to be chosen)
  • One tutorial a week, with essay


First University examinations
Four papers



Final University examinations
Six written papers; dissertation

Sanskrit (Q450)
1st year2nd year3rd and 4th years


  • Intensive language teaching



  • Preparation for Final University examinations in final year
  • Study of Sanskrit grammar
  • Subsidiary language options: Hindi, Old Iranian, Pali, Prakrit and Tibetan


  • Sanskrit literature
  • Special subject


First University examinations: Three written papers



Final University examinations:
Nine papers: seven in Sanskrit and two in subsidiary languages

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

Students are not expected to have studied any Oriental language before. A language to A-level, Advanced Higher, or Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent can be helpful to students in completing this course, although they are not required for admission.

Some candidates must also take the Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT) as part of their application. See how to apply for further details.

Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)


These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2016.

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

(Channel Islands
& Isle of Man)

For more information please refer to our tuition fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Living costs

Despite what you may have heard, it's no more expensive to study at Oxford than at any other university. In fact, our world-class resources and college provision can help you to lower your living costs.

Living costs for 2016/17 are estimated to be between £970 and £1,433 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.

Financial support


A full loan is available from the UK government to cover tuition fees for students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your tuition fees up front.

In 2016 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to those from households with incomes of £16,000 or less.  This support is available in addition to the government grants and loans.  See further details.

(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.

Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man


Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford support page.

*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

Additional Fees and Charges Information for Oriental Studies

Students taking Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Persian or Turkish will take the third year abroad. Student of Hebrew can choose to take a year abroad, but it is not compulsory.

During the year abroad, students pay significantly reduced fees. For students who started an undergraduate course from 2012, who are going on their year abroad in 2015, the tuition fees are:

  • Home/EU/Islands students, studying their first degree: £1,350 for the year.
  • International students: £7,425 for the year.

These fees are subject to annual increases, so the tuition fees for students going abroad in later years may be higher. Please note that International students do not pay a college fee during their year abroad. (Home/EU and Islands students do not pay the college fee in any year of their course.) Living costs will vary according to the destination.

The Oriental Institute covers the cost of language tuition abroad, but not living costs and flights. Students who are eligible for government maintenance support will also be assessed for an Oxford Bursary during their year abroad.

Some bursaries and scholarships are currently available for students of Chinese and Japanese, and a number of colleges have funds to support their students’ period of study abroad.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in applying to Oxford. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work

All candidates must also submit two pieces of marked writing in English by 10 November 2015.

The particular topic of your essay and the A-level (or equivalent) subject from which it is drawn are not important; it is intended to show how you construct an argument and express your ideas in English. If you do not have any recent marked work written in English (for example, because of the combination of subjects you are currently studying), you may submit a separate piece of work, such as an essay in English on one of the topics you have been studying for your A-level (or equivalent).

It may be helpful to seek guidance from your teachers in devising a suitable title. In such circumstances, it would not normally be expected for this piece to have been marked, as it will not have been done in the normal course of your studies. If you have any further questions about what to submit, please contact the Tutor for Admissions at the college which is considering your application (see college contact details).

For more information, and to download a cover sheet, please see our further guidance on the submission of written work.

Written test

Candidates for course combinations which include Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew and Persian will need to take the Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT), normally at their own school or college on 4 November 2015. Candidates must make sure they are available to take the test at this time. Separate registration for this test is required and the final deadline for entries is 15 October 2015. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test. See www.olatoxford.org.uk for further details.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Oriental Studies.

Suggested reading

Suggested reading for Oriental Studies can be found on the Oriental Studies website by following the relevant links below:

Suggested reading lists for BA Egyptology and Near Eastern Studies, BA Hebrew Studies and BA Jewish Studies are currently in development and will hopefully be available in the near future.


Ed Scrivens, 2nd year

Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.

Will, 1st year

'I chose Oxford because apart from just learning the language, the Arabic and Islamic Studies course gives a solid introduction to many different areas relating to the Middle East, before moving on to focus on particular areas in more depth and becoming really flexible, allowing me to explore my interests.

I am looking forward to being able to read literature in Arabic rather than having to study it in translation. Spending the second year in Cairo or Beirut (rather than the third year as with most other language courses) will help me achieve this as I will reach a very high level of proficiency in Arabic quickly.'

Iason, who graduated in 2001 with a BA (OS) Arabic

He is a photojournalist, film-maker and lecturer currently working for the UN in Libya. He says:  

‘I have lived in Cairo, Damascus, Sanaa and Tehran, and covered events like the 2011 Arab revolts and the Greek economic crisis. After studying for a Masters in Persian and Contemporary Iranian Studies, I was a Nieman fellow at Harvard.’

Click on the UCAS code list to the right to see KIS data for each subject option.

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college