An Introduction to Oxford’s Collegiate System


One of the new aspects of life at Oxford that I have had to adjust to is the role that the college plays in the life of the student.

Not being familiar with the collegiate system, I had not put much thought into my choice of a college when completing my application. I had simply assumed it was similar to the dormitory/hall of residence system at my undergraduate university, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

The role of the dorm there had been largely limited to a place of accommodation. Granted that even then, each hall of residence had its own defining character. Angola Hall, where I stayed during my first year was a male hall of residence mostly for new students, and was known for its rural, unpolished character.

Awo Hall where I spent the next two years is undoubtedly the most popular of Ife’s halls. Branded for its ‘Aroism’, and defined by its student activism, it played a large role in defining the Ife student.

To quote from a write-up on Awo Hall by one Suraj Oyewale, a former Awoite (Awo Hall resident);

“With the aptly epithet “the political headquarters of Great Ife”, Awo Hall has proved to be the training ground for activists who are today known throughout Nigeria…….Aro is a term used to describe certain irrational, but deliberate behaviour or speech of a student so as to make other students laugh. This phenomenon is common in halls of residence throughout Nigerian higher institutions, but at no place is it wilder than at Awo Hall.

 In fact, the hall has been nicknamed Aro hall. Aro takes different forms. You see a student barking like a dog or crowing like a rooster; you see a student eating beans from a bucket in an open place; you see a student enter the reading room and utter a statement like “Nigeria is playing (football match) and you are reading. You are not good Nigerians. Pack your books and go to the TV room”. Understanding that he is only doing aro, the readers will just laugh it off and continue with their reading.”

At Oxford, especially for undergraduates, a college is more than just a place to live.

The collegiate system is at the heart of the University, giving students and academics the benefits of belonging to both a large, internationally renowned institution and to a smaller, interdisciplinary, academic college community. It enables leading academics and students across subjects and year groups, and from different cultures and countries to come together to share ideas.

Oxford students refer to themselves as studying a course X at Y College, rather than stating their department. Hence, I am studying Global Health Science at Kellogg College.The relatively small number of students at each college allows for close and supportive personal attention to be given to the induction, academic development and welfare of individuals.

Each college has its own Governing Body, comprising the Head of House and a number of Fellows, most of whom also hold University posts. Colleges select and admit undergraduate students, and select graduate students after they are admitted by Oxford University.  They also provide accommodation, meals, common rooms, libraries, sports and social facilities, and pastoral care for their students.

For undergraduates, colleges are responsible for tutorials (the main method of teaching in Oxford) while the university runs lectures, examinations, laboratories and the central library.

A typical college consists of a hall for dining, a chapel, a library, a college bar, senior, middle (postgraduate) and junior common rooms, rooms for 200-400 undergraduates as well as lodgings for the head of the college and other dons. College buildings range from the medieval to very modern buildings, but most are made up of interlinked quadrangles (courtyards), with a lodge controlling entry from the outside.

There are currently 38 independent, self-governing colleges at Oxford University. The oldest of Oxford’s colleges are University College, Balliol, and Merton, established between 1249 and 1264, although there is some dispute over the exact order and precisely when each began teaching. The fourth oldest college is Exeter, which was founded in 1314 and the fifth is Oriel, which was founded in 1326. The most recent new foundation is Kellogg College, founded in 1990, while the most recent overall is Green Templeton College, 2008 (the result of a merger of two existing colleges).

Women entered the university for the first time in 1878, becoming members of the University (and thus eligible to receive degrees) in 1920. Women’s colleges before integration included Somerville College, St Anne’s, St. Hugh’s, and Lady Margaret Hall. All colleges are now co-educational, although one of the Permanent Private Halls, St Benet’s Hall, only accepts men. St. Hilda’s decided to accept male members at all levels from 2008. Some colleges, such as St. Cross and Linacre, accept only graduate students. All Souls College accepts only fellows. Harris Manchester College accepts only “mature students” with a minimum age of 21.

I am a member of Kellogg College, which was established in 1990. Kellogg is one of Oxford’s largest, most international graduate colleges and membership is diverse.  The College admits a mix of part– and full–time students to facilitate their learning while working.  Kellogg was established with the aim of supporting the lifelong learning work of the University and continues to expand opportunities for continuing and professional studies.

The College was named in honour of Mr W K Kellogg on the 1 October 1994, in recognition of the generous support given by the W K Kellogg Foundation to the University over the preceding decades.  The College has close connections with the University Department for Continuing Education, the Department of Education and other departments active in areas of professional and part–time study.  The College can trace its origins back to the start of university extension movement in the 1870s, and came into being on 1 March 1990 (as Rewley House).

Quoting from the fictional but humorous site, http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com, under its section on Kellogg College, it says “Affectionately known as “The Breakfast College”, Kellogg is renowned for its early morning fare, where members feast on lambs, and sloths and carp and anchiovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals and fruit bats. Members are known as “Breakfastonians”. The college caters to a large degree to part-time post-graduates, and as such is regularly overrun with Japanese tourists pretending to be Oxen for a week or two. Kellogg has a formal affiliation with Christ Church Boat Club, and many of Christ Church’s more supple and sexier rowers are Breakfastonians. By ancient statute, Breakfastonians must dine in a separate hall from the Japanese poseurs attending continuing education classes sponsored by Kellogg, and often wear their gowns on non-academic occasions just to set themselves apart from the camera-toting rabble.”

And yes, we are also referred to as the “Cornflakes College”

As I take time to visit other colleges, I plan to share some of their unique traits, and beautiful pictures here. You can also see the ‘pros and cons’ of each college at this link in case you are trying to decide which college to choose.

About Idris Ayodeji Bello

Afropreneur & Partner, LoftyInc Ltd (Operators of the Wennovation Hub) Leading expert in deploying technology and innovation to drive public sector reforms and enabling good governance. Passionate about bringing about positive change in Africa through innovation and entrepreneurship!
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