Reflections on becoming Chair of the Conference of Colleges

When asked to reflect on my experience of becoming Chair of the Conference of Colleges, the first thing I think of is meetings. As a Head of House, one never exactly has a shortage of meetings to attend, but suddenly, amazingly, there are more – and not merely meetings, but also late-night WhatsApp chats, flurries of emails and breakfast catch-ups before even reaching the office.

And yet, if I stop for a second to think about the substance of those interactions, my initial reaction gives way to deeper thoughts about the purpose of the Conference of Colleges – not only what it does, but what it represents.

I am a firm believer that Oxford’s greatest strength in the 21st century remains the fact that we are a collegiate university. Our 39 colleges and 6 permanent private halls are not adjuncts to the status of Oxford as a world-leading centre of research: they are fundamental to that impact, because they provide the nexus of scholarship and community which facilitates the extraordinary connections and collaborations we see on a daily basis.

As Chair of the Conference of Colleges, it is a tremendous privilege to have the opportunity to contribute to this dimension of the University’s work. The Conference of Colleges provides a vital forum to share expertise and joint solutions to the challenges we face for the benefit of all – whether addressing functional issues such as procurement, or much more serious problems such as ensuring the safety of our students.

For me, the finest aspect of this collaboration is when the colleges come together to champion one another’s achievements or create new initiatives. We are all elevated, for example, by individual successes such as Mansfield’s recent creation of the University’s first professorship in LGBTQ+ History. Likewise, when we come together to act as one on an issue that faces us all, such as sustainability, it becomes clear how meaningful our collaboration can be: rather than engaging in a race to net zero, we are now sharing the knowledge of how to create that change in a managed, collaborative fashion.

Together, the Conference of Colleges can achieve so much for one another, for the wider University and for the communities to which we belong. I am deeply grateful to have such amazing and supportive colleagues helping us in that continuing work.

Jan Royall, Principal of Somerville College