An academic perspective

It is relatively straightforward to outline the academic life of the early days of Kellogg. Those of us who were part of the college in its first years could still name not only the courses that our first students were following, but also most of the students following them. Our first matriculated students included those studying Education, English Local History and Software Engineering and, together with the Fellows from all their disciplines, they formed a close community built out of a unique variety of interests and backgrounds in a spirit of interdisciplinarity and mutual respect that still characterises the academic culture of the college today.

Twenty five years is, of course, a fairly short period of time, especially within the lifespan of Oxford University, and the time between those early years and now was spent most productively by the College’s academics and administrators, in terms of seeking to expand our academic activities and population of both students and Fellows to the scale that we can see today. The achievement as reflected in our present state of College academic life is quite remarkable, and all the more so for having been accomplished whilst staying true to our original mission to connect our academic endeavours with the outside world, and to provide access to high level academic study to the best students, whatever their backgrounds or age.

In most respects, the academic life of Kellogg as it has become today is no different from that to be found in any Oxford college: Fellows engaged in their own particular projects of ground-breaking research in their own fields, students from all over the world engaged in the intensive and demanding study of many different disciplines. For all its informal and apparently easy-going style, the main preoccupations of the College’s students and academics are the pursuit of academic excellence, above all else.

The scale of this achievement by such a young college is, nonetheless, impressive. We currently have well over 800 students studying for research degrees and taught Master’s, following modes of study that are certainly far more varied than is the norm in other colleges: many, of course, are studying whilst continuing to work at high level professional jobs; many are based in different parts of the world, studying at a distance for some of the year, and coming to Oxford for intensive periods of study together on occasions throughout the year; and many, of course, study in rather more conventional ways, working away in the library and their college rooms, based in Oxford throughout the year. The College matriculates students from departments all across the university and right across the academic range from the traditional to the highly innovative.

There are too many to name all, but the flavour of the College’s academic scope can be seen in the following examples from departments across the university: History of Art and Visual Culture, Interdisciplinary Women’s Studies, English, Film Aesthetics, Child Development and Education, Software and Systems Security, Applied Linguistics, and History. At the same time, and crucial to the innovative and interdisciplinary nature of academic life at Kellogg, are exciting new areas of study pioneered by the Department for Continuing Education. These include Creative Writing, Literature and Arts, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, International Human Rights Law, Sustainable Urban Development, Applied Landscape Archaeology, Architectural History and, as important as ever to the college, English Local History. Each of these offers a distinctive mode of study that is designed to accommodate the professional lives of its students, whose academic achievements are all the more impressive for having been accomplished whilst intensively engaged in demanding jobs.

Particularly striking in this respect is the programme in Evidence-Based Health Care which provides important opportunities for healthcare professionals from all around the world to develop ways of applying research aimed at enabling practitioners to address the professional challenges of their various medical responsibilities. Along with other courses of this kind in the college, Evidence-Based Health Care has developed over recent years to enable students to advance to doctoral study, on the same basis as the MSc, which is to say study combined with ongoing professional activity.

It is important to note that the student body has in recent years come to include a large number of DPhil students, with currently 167 research students in a range of subjects, again in a variety of modes of study. We now expect a significant number of research students to progress through to a doctorate from one of the taught Master’s courses within the college, some supported by college progress scholarships. Along with such developments, the College has secured funding to support doctoral and Master’s study through the University’s Centres for Doctoral Training, Clarendon awards, and donations such as the Vincent Packford and Geoffrey Smart scholarship, and from the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community relating to the Doctoral programme in Sustainable Urban Development.

This mix of subjects and modes of study has resulted in a highly engaging student culture in the college, with students representing not merely a wide range of academic disciplines, but also of ages and experience. Whilst this might to some extent be found in any Oxford college, it would be fair to claim that Kellogg has achieved this mix of disciplinary and life experiences to a unique degree.

The same can also be said of the College Fellowship, which has grown and developed to a quite remarkable degree in recent years, to the extent that we now draw on the expertise of a communications officer to keep the rest of the world, and ourselves, informed about the scholarship and distinctions achieved by our Fellowship. Many of these achievements are notable for the way, true to the spirit of Kellogg’s mission, our Fellows’ academic endeavour combines world class research with an active outward-facing engagement in business, policy and public bodies such as in health and education. Thus in the Fellowship we have (for example) the Director of the University Museum of Natural History, the Professor of Evidence- Based Medicine (who works on a weekly basis as a General Practitioner), a Professor of Software Engineering who made a significant contribution to the UK MRC-funded CancerGrid project, a Professor of Systems Security who led research into the design of personal computers which can be expected to have a significant impact on the quality of computer security over the next few years, and a Professor of Education who is leading a major partnership, known as the Deanery, supporting the work of local schools through the practical application of university research expertise.

Kellogg Fellows also make an exceptional contribution to the crucial mission of the University to foster the development of future generations of first class academics, through their involvement in the management of several Centres for Doctoral Training, including Biomedical Sciences, Systems Security, and the Social Sciences. And this rich involvement with the University’s doctoral training in turn feeds into the crucial expansion of research students within the College.

It would be invidious to go further in singling out examples of College Fellows in what is, by any standards within Oxford University, an impressive group of academics – impressive both in terms of quantity and quality, but also in terms of engagement with the life of the university and the wider world beyond. The aim to connect high level university scholarship with wider constituencies out in the world beyond the university was one of the key aims of the college from its inception, and twenty five years on it is abundantly clear that this has aim has been, and continues to be, achieved.

Chris Davies
Emeritus Fellow, Vice-President and Director of the Kellogg College Centre for Assistive Learning Technologies