In the 1850s Oxford and Cambridge were institutional anomalies which differed markedly from other universities, virtually all of which adopted the professorial system.
The professorial university was geared towards the transmission of knowledge and preparation for the professions, as well as the expansion of knowledge through research, but provision for residential living was not viewed as an essential part of its mission.
The collegiate foundations of a medieval university, on the other hand, contributed to the stability of society and religion by nurturing upright citizens through the study of classical literature with the aid of a tutor. An Oxbridge college was a place of residence where a student would find himself under the guidance and instruction of college tutors and others who would oversee his personal interests, both moral and intellectual.
The standard university teaching method was the hour-long lecture to large groups, with little attention being given to individual needs and ability. At the two English universities the practice of small-group tuition based around directed private study had become the predominant form of instruction.
Newman’s preference was to combine the advantages of the professorial and the tutorial (i.e. collegiate) university: ‘It would seem as if a University seated and living in Colleges, would be a perfect institution, as possessing excellences of opposite kinds.’ (Rise and progress of universities)
‘The Professorial system fulfils the strict idea of a University, and is sufficient for its being, but it is not sufficient for its well-being. Colleges constitute the integrity of a University.’
Mark Pattison of Lincoln College argued strongly in favour of the tutorial system and against the professorial. He told the Royal Commission Oxford (1852) that ‘the mischief of the Professorial System is that it implies a different idea of Education; that it aims at, and is the readiest and easiest way to, a very inferior stamp of mental cultivation, but a cultivation, which from its showy, available, marketable character, is really an object of ambition in an age like the present.’