Afternoon Tea with the Vice-Chancellor

10 October 2018

There are many ways in which you can participate in University and College life and the more you participate, the more you will make of the opportunity of studying at Oxford. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, holds a series of afternoon teas to enable her to meet with a range of student members from the colleges. The teas take place throughout the academic year. They are organised by undergraduate, graduate taught and graduate research groupings, with colleges nominating students to attend. We will email all current students when the next opportunity arises so keep an eye on your Kellogg inbox. Here, we hear from Cathy Jewison (DPhil Literature and Arts) who writes about her experience last term of taking tea with the Vice-Chancellor.  

Cathy Jewison (DPhil Literature and Arts)

How well does the admissions system work? Does college affiliation improve the Oxford experience? What can the university do to better support students? These were just a few of the questions under consideration by a group of graduate students who were invited to tea with Oxford Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson one afternoon in early June.

Perched on chairs and couches in the Vice-Chancellor’s living room, with some seated on the floor, representatives from most of the Oxford colleges drank tea, nibbled sandwiches, and discussed the realities of student life. Aware that many letters for college places went out late last year, Professor Richardson started the conversation by asking how the delay affected people. The response was mixed – while some found it difficult to plan for a quickly upcoming starting term, one student used the extra time to (successfully) shop around for a college scholarship. Some students were specific about the college they wished to join, while others were randomly allocated and generally pleased with their serendipitous assignment. There was no clear verdict as to the overall value of the college experience, with some people well immersed in college life and others more focused on relationships within their department.

The group reflected the international nature of the Oxford graduate community, with participants from Mongolia, Afghanistan, Georgia, Canada, and the United States, along with students from the United Kingdom. One of the international students suggested that, as the collegiate system is unfamiliar for many, there be some practical support in understanding the role of colleges, along with advice on how to choose a college.

Funding is a preoccupation for post-secondary students, and the conversation quickly turned to the challenges of financing a graduate degree. Discrepancies among the rent charged by colleges was highlighted, with a suggestion that there be a central source of information listing the cost of living for all colleges, including rent, so students can make better-informed decisions. Ways to improve financial support across all departments was also discussed. The question arose of whether it is better to provide full funding to a small group of students, or partial funding to many. One person pointed out that in many countries, it is easier to leverage funding from home governments and third parties if a student receives financial support – even modest financial support – from the university itself. Yet another spoke about the difficulties of finding and financing child care as an Oxford graduate student.

Given the wide-ranging nature of the questions asked by the Vice-Chancellor, many remained unresolved at the end of the hour-long event. Even so, Professor Richardson made it clear that she considered this just the beginning of a conversation, and encouraged students to follow up with her via e-mail with their concerns and suggestions for the future.