For 800 years Oxford and Cambridge universities have competed in everything from Nobel prizes to boat races. The academic rivalry runs deep: Oxford has tutored 25 British prime ministers, while Cambridge claims Darwin and Newton as its own. But today the venerable institutions launch into battle on iTunes, taking their ancient competition into the 21st century.
The universities are simultaneously publishing about 450 hours of free audio and video podcasts of lectures, films and admissions guides for people to download to a computer or MP3 player. They will be available from iTunesu, the download provider's university portal, where American institutions have been broadcasting their academic wares for some years. Both universities will provide podcasts advising students on applications, how to choose a college, and how to prepare for an interview.
They deny today's simultaneous launch is designed to start an iTunes race, instead claiming it is a sign they are opening up to a wider audience. Both were happy to provide a rollcall of the great and the good who will be available for all under their respective university brands. It will inevitably invite accusations of a new battleground for the famous foes.
After eight centuries the competition between the institutions is fairly even: Oxford has produced more prime ministers but Cambridge claims more Nobel laureates. Oxford's podcast includes Michael Palin of Monty Python fame in a documentary filmed to promote the university's £1.25bn fundraising drive. Lectures come from Prof Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, Craig Venter, who led the private effort to sequence the human genome, Sir Nicholas Stern, the climate change academic, and the philosopher Julian Savulescu.
John Hood, Oxford's vice-chancellor, said: "We hope that this service will make Oxford's diverse range of audio and video material more widely accessible to applicants, alumni, supporters of the university, and the intellectually curious." Cambridge features podcasts from the historian David Starkey, who presents a history of the university and town, and the foreign secretary, David Miliband, and downloads from St John's College choir.
"It's not just for students and potential students but for the wider public," said Greg Hayman, head of communications at Cambridge.
In a further sign that the internet is now all-encompassing, the left-leaning thinktank Demos yesterday called for blogging to be made part of the national curriculum. While it may be second nature to schoolchildren, teachers are failing to capture the changing technological world in their lessons in schools, its report said.
A quick perusal of the Cambridge offerings includes Cambridge Codebreakers and British Intelligence, which I suspect must have some Classics connection. Oxford offers Oliver Taplin on Classics and Bryan Ward-Perkins on the End of the Roman Empire.