Colleges - what they are and how to join
WHAT ARE COLLEGES?
Colleges are independent self-governing organisations associated with the University of Oxford. They provide tutorial teaching, accommodation, pastoral care and a social community for both undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Why should I consider college membership?
While all full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students at Oxford are required to be members of a college, there is no requirement for staff members to join a college unless this is specified as part of their post (usually only the case for Chairs and Undergraduate Tutorial Fellows). There are, however, a variety of opportunities for staff to gain membership of Oxford colleges, and many people find that this adds an extra dimension to their experience at Oxford.
The collegiate community is very different to that of a department – members are drawn from across different University departments, and frequently span multiple divisions, providing valuable opportunities for networking and interdisciplinary discussions. Colleges may also offer seminar series or research talks which are of interest.
Research staff are typically given membership of the Senior Common Room (SCR). Depending on the college, and the exact type of membership, this may include various benefits such as a college teaching room, a small entertaining or research budget, or free meals in college. However, it is usually the case that all SCR members are permitted to dine in college, and to make use of college facilities such as meeting rooms and libraries.
What are the different types of college membership?
College members have membership of a “common room” – typically this is the Junior Common Room (JCR) for undergraduates, Middle or Graduate Common Room (MCR/GCR) for postgraduates, or Senior Common Room (SCR) for staff members, although some graduate colleges operate a combined common room. Some members of the SCR will also serve on the college’s governing body – these members typically hold a post which confers governing body membership, and have additional rights and responsibilities.
Details of membership opportunities for different groups of people are detailed below:
All postgraduate students at Oxford are part of a college as well as a department. The college may provide you with a room, and will have library and IT resources, as well as providing a social community. You can find more information about choosing a college when you apply to Oxford.
Some posts at Oxford (particularly chairs and undergraduate tutorial fellows) come with a college affiliation and membership of the college ‘governing body’. Staff holding such posts may also be expected to sit on other college governance committees, such as academic or tutorial committees, and finance and estates management. They will also have rights to a certain number of meals, and possibly access to housing allowances, office space and research and entertainment allowances.
Most other research posts do not automatically have a college attachment, but there are various ways in which people can become affiliated to a college. If you are interested in college membership, a useful first step is to discuss this with your line manager, for example, during your PDR. T
College membership opportunities are often advertised in the Oxford Gazette and on individual college websites. All university members are entitled to have a copy of the Gazette. A mailing list is maintained which is used to inform interested users when new issues of the online Gazette have been published. Subscribe to the Gazette.
MEMBERSHIP OF COMMON ROOM
This is the most basic form of college affiliation. Individual members of staff may be nominated by governing body fellows to join. Benefits and any charges will depend on the college. Staff are invited to talk to colleagues in the department who are members of a governing body about this option. For example, Green Templeton College(geographically the nearest college to the Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and with a strong focus on health and welfare) says that ‘prospective Members must be proposed by two College Fellows and agreed by the Common Room Liaison Committee'.
Wolfson College invites applications on a regular basis. All Members of Wolfson Common Room pay an annual subscription charge. Membership of Common Room entitles the holder to lunch and dine in College, and to bring in guests including to Guest Nights. They are also entitled to use all other College facilities paying appropriate charges where applicable.
Some colleges advertise for research fellows or associates, and some may accept nominations from governing body fellows. Again, staff are invited to discuss this with colleagues who hold governing body posts. The benefits are often similar to membership of common room, but may not involve a subscription. In return, fellows may be expected to take on additional responsibilities such as becoming college advisers to graduate students, organising college-based seminars or serving on committees.
Senior research fellowships may also be advertised from time to time at some colleges.
JUNIOR RESEARCH FELLOWSHIPS (JRFS)
JRFs are intended for people who are in their first few postdoctoral years. Usually they are non-stipendiary (unpaid) and give you common room rights alongside your existing post. Eligibility varies and will be stated in the advert – often applicants are required to have an Oxford University contract of 2 or 3 years, which may preclude some staff with shorter contracts.
Stipendiary JRFs are advertised occasionally by some colleges; each time they may be aimed at a different group of subjects. Competition is not restricted to people who already hold a University of Oxford contract and is therefore usually very stiff. These are career development posts which enable you to develop your own research programme. If you are already employed by the department and thinking of applying for a stipendiary JRF, talk to the departmental administrator about how this might affect your current post.