Wayde Edwards


Masters in Major Programme Management




Life Sciences


2017 - 19

By Wayde Edwards

On the beaver, the tortoise and candlelight dinners: A college primer

Playing croquet on the lawn of an 800 year old college before a concert in the chapel and settling down for a lovely black-tie dinner. That is perhaps the romantic notion we have of college life as a part-time students at the business school. The Oxford glamour without the massive under-graduate pressure. The reality is of course quite different. The croquet, black-tie dinner and chapel concert happen, but most likely on different days. While we are away.

Oxford University has a collegiate system. Every matriculated student (e.g. MMPM students) must belong to one (and pay their college fees which are c. 9% of the MMPM cost at the time of writing). There are 38 colleges (and six halls which are specialised smaller colleges). Lose your college affiliation and you lose your university place.

Image 1: Oscar, Anisa, Dene and Igor at a Keble College dinner (photographer unknown)

Potential streakers beware! For full-time students their college is a mini-university. It is where they sleep (at least in the first year), eat, learn and socialise before departing for lectures at the various faculty buildings. For part-time business students their college varies from somewhere they snapped a few selfies during Module One while clutching a bag of college branded merchandise to somewhere they might have stayed (membership does not guarantee accommodation) and attended some dinners or other events. Some students have been lucky enough to participate in more activities, mostly by moving to Oxford for a period or sticking around for the relevant weekend.

College life is a fast moving train… structured around the three university terms and their exams, as well as the ebbs and flows of student life that will forever remain a mystery to the Master of Science in Major Programmes (MMPM) students. We are around for lectures roughly every three months and so it can be tough to get involved in college life. There are very few events that happen to land on our two free nights and if they do it is quite possible they are missed in the many e-mails we get. I think it is fair to say that colleges and MMPM students remain a work in progress. As a result our cohort has started reaching out and seeking opportunities to get involved. So far there have been some college drinks/dinners, writing skills classes and speaking events are on the cards. Previous cohorts surely made efforts in this regard but for some reason these foundations were not built on. Hopefully through this post and other means we can help future cohorts get the most from their time studying at Oxford.

Image 2: Cohort dinner setting at Trinity College

Pictures you see of Oxford University are actually mainly of colleges. They have sweeping grounds and fantastic ancient buildings. Most have beautiful chapels. Christchurch even has a cathedral. For the most part the really famous old colleges currently don’t tend to take many part-time postgraduate business students. The business school was opened in 1996 and most of the research we refer to often only goes back as far as the 1960s. While some colleges are over 800 years old. So maybe they are holding back for now, sticking with the classics. Thursday night dinners during lecture weeks are often held in the historic colleges which gives us a window into regular student life and a peak around the grounds. I’ve also noticed some college tourism happening. As students you can of course visit colleges that would otherwise be off limits or charge fees to visit.

The college experience differs as well as the selection criteria. Full time-students take weeks to select their colleges. Basing their decisions on serious matters such as the quality of educational support in their discipline, location, availability of accommodation, size of the endowment and the general college prestige. Business school students on the other hand, pressed for time, mostly select their preferred college after a hasty Google image search and a scan of the respective website. They may base their a decision on less serious matters such as Instagram-ability of the grounds, cuteness of the college mascot (as seen on the TV show University Challenge), famous alumni and the baroque-rating of the chapel. Some do put in the effort and even visit the colleges. However, like many things at Oxford it is a bit of a mystery how selection takes place. Your preference and research may not yield any discernible results. If you are passed over by your preferred college you go into a pool and another college will snap you up. Some colleges only have a few places for MMPM students and it is worth noting that graduation is with your college. So you’ll have more friends at your graduation and other events if your college has more MMPM students.

Image 3: The St Anne’s mascot

I’m at St Anne’s which is one of a group of “new” colleges that were established around 1890 with the objective of supporting women who wished to study at the university. St Anne’s is home to our illustrious course chairman and has lovely grounds, a resident tortoise and a dining hall filled with light. It also wins cutest mascot prize with a beaver. Whether it was selected for its industrious nature or the result of a rumoured Canadian love interest is lost in time. Either way, St Anne’s should definitely be on your college short-list.

Whichever college you get it is really up to you and your cohort to make the most of your time in Oxford. If you reach out I’m sure you’ll find a way to participate and/or contribute that connects you to your college and the broader Oxford community. During your studies but also hopefully beyond. If in doubt about how to get involved, go round for a regular student dinner in the dining hall and buy some students a drink in the college bar afterwards. Maybe I’ll see you there!

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