Our Values

Wolfson College was founded as a radical act in a radical decade. The technological, social and geopolitical changes of the 1960s demanded that universities play a new and expanded role as centres of research and innovation – and become more than a rite of passage for the few. New disciplines like computer science, development studies and the study of non-European languages and cultures had begun to emerge at institutions like Oxford. The growing prominence of the sciences accompanied an increasing belief in meritocracy. As older cultural prejudices were upended, and the world shrank, the University sought to attract the brightest from around the globe to meet the challenges of a changing world.

Wolfson College was one of the first institutions created specifically to respond to these new demands, providing a unique home for graduate researchers to conduct their work among like-minded individuals.

We continue to pursue this mission in both our research commitments and our daily operations, bringing together some of the world’s greatest minds on our zero carbon estate by the banks of the River Cherwell. True to our founding principles, Wolfson College supports an inclusive, international community of researchers working at the cutting edge of their respective fields, and we achieve all of this through a democratic model of governance that enfranchises our students, our fellows and our staff.

Research Excellence

Unlike an undergraduate college, where students are brought together by teaching, our community is united by the common pursuit of research. At Wolfson College, graduates, post-doctoral researchers and fellows mix in an environment dedicated to providing the resources and fostering the relationships needed for their work to thrive. As of 2024, our community is made up of just under 1000 graduate students and over 290 fellows, from a diverse range of backgrounds and across all academic fields. We are home to twelve major interdisciplinary research clusters, with concentrations ranging from machine learning, through the study of the mind, brain and body, to the study of law in societies and literary life writing. Every year, together with its alumni and donors, the College funds research grants, fellowships for established and early career academics, graduate prizes, scholarships and bursaries, while we offer exceptional facilities, such as our Academic Wing and Leonard Wolfson Auditorium (completed 2015) for conferences, talks, seminars and the day-to-day work of scholarship. We put our graduate students in contact with the professional academic world, preparing them for careers in knowledge industries and global research universities, while our fellows enjoy an internationally-renowned platform for their work, a community that supports the meeting of minds, and a place where their ideas can reach their fullest potential. Wolfson College is the natural home of graduate research.

Inclusivity and International Community

The College has led the way in opening up research opportunities for over fifty years, providing an inclusive home to exceptional scholars, from wherever they might be found across the globe and in whatever circumstances. Since its foundation, Wolfson College has worked hard to bring down the barriers that have excluded talented researchers from the academy, especially women, providing family accommodation and an on-site day nursery that has been in operation since 1974. The College provides generous financial support to students facing hardship, and we fund the critical work of a large body of established researchers. Wolfson’s founders recognised that a modern, successful university had to look beyond national borders and provide for a truly international community if it were to attract the most talented minds in an increasingly connected world. As of 2024, around half of all countries on the planet are represented in our graduate student body, being composed of 89 nationalities.

“No distinction shall be made between members of the College, or between candidates for election or admission thereto, on grounds of sex, race, religious beliefs or political views.”

– from the founding Statutes of Wolfson College

More than anything, however, our commitment to inclusivity is woven into the structure of our governance and the rhythm of college life. Sir Isaiah Berlin, our first President, declared in 1966 that Wolfson should operate in ways that were “new, untrammelled and unpyramided”. This ethos continues to apply right to the highest level, with decisions passing through committees made up of Fellows, members, and importantly graduate students, whose right to participate in College governance was unanimously approved in 1968. There are enormous opportunities for our graduates to involve themselves in the decision-making process, shape the College they would like to see and contribute fresh perspectives, whether through the college-wide General Meeting, or a variety of committee positions. We are an informal, convivial community that does not stand on ceremony; unlike other Oxford colleges, we have no ‘High Table’ or ‘Senior Common Room’ that separates established and early-career academics. Instead, a belief in equality of opportunity pervades life here, true to the vision of our founders and benefactors. 

Progressive Outlook

Wolfson College was founded to bring together exceptional researchers capable of tackling the challenges of the twentieth century, in facilities that leveraged the best of the technology of the day. Since then, we’ve continued to change with the times, bringing the expertise and long-term perspective of our research community to bear on the challenges of the twenty-first century while investing heavily in our infrastructure. We support forward-looking research initiatives, including interdisciplinary work on the climate crisis, world-leading clusters on quantum physics and quantum computing, and cross-disciplinary investigations into the impact of machine learning.

We are the first Higher Education Institution in the UK to achieve net zero carbon emissions, thanks to a massive investment and retrofitting programme that has reduced our energy requirements for heating by 90% and has allowed us to eliminate the use of energy derived from fossil fuels in powering our estate. We are committed to maintaining, auditing and improving the biodiversity of our site, which includes historic water meadows of special scientific interest. Our investment portfolio is managed under a responsible investment framework designed to ensure long-term sustainability. And we know that fostering a College community means treating individuals fairly and respectfully. In a city and university steeped in history, Wolfson College shares our founders’ confidence in the future.