Structure of the University | University of Oxford

Structure of the University

The central University consists of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six Permanent Private Halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.


Congregation is the sovereign body of the University and acts as its ‘parliament’. It consists of over 4,500 members, comprising the academic staff of the University; heads and other members of governing bodies of colleges; and senior research, computing, library and administrative staff. Council is bound by all resolutions passed by Congregation and all other acts and decisions taken by it.

Congregation has responsibility for:

  • Approving changes to the University’s statutes and regulations;
  • Considering major policy issues submitted by Council or members of Congregation (by way of legislative proposal or by resolution);
  • Electing members to Council and other University bodies, and approving the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor.

Information on business that is before Congregation is published in the Gazette, the authorised journal of record of the collegiate University, which is published each week from September to July (with brief breaks in the Christmas and Easter vacations). You can sign up to receive a print copy or email alert for the Gazette at Manage my Subscriptions.

Meetings of Congregation are held, if there is relevant business, on the Tuesday of First, Second, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and Tenth Weeks of each term. If there is no opposed business or any other reason to hold a meeting, any items on the agenda are declared by the Vice-Chancellor to have been approved without the meeting being held.

If your role entitles you to membership of Congregation, you should receive information on how to apply from your departmental administrator. Once your name has been added to the register, you will be sent information detailing Congregation procedures.

Members of Congregation automatically become members of Convocation, a body that also includes former student members of the University who have had a degree conferred by the University (other than an honorary degree), and retired members of Congregation, who were members of Congregation on the date of their retirement. Convocation never meets as a body; its sole functions are to elect the Chancellor and the Professor of Poetry.

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Council is the University’s principal executive and policy-making body. According to the University’s statutes, it is responsible ‘for the advancement of the University’s objectives, for its administration, and for the management of its finances and property, and shall have all the powers necessary for it to discharge these responsibilities’.

Council has five main standing committees, whose composition and principal terms of reference, powers, and duties are set down by regulation. They are:

  1. Education Committee
  2. General Purposes Committee (GPC)
  3. Personnel Committee
  4. Planning and Resource Allocation Committee (PRAC)
  5. Research Committee

Meetings of Council are held on the Monday of the First, Fourth and Ninth Weeks of each term, as well as twice during the Long Vacation. The agendas and non-confidential minutes and papers are posted on the Council website.

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Academic divisions and departments

The University’s academic departments, faculties and research centres are grouped into four divisions:

  1. Humanities
  2. Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS)
  3. Medical Sciences
  4. Social Sciences

The divisions have considerable delegated authority in matters such as academic policy, finance, and planning. Each division has a full-time divisional head (who sits on Council and its main committees), a divisional secretary, who is the head of administration of the division, and an elected divisional board, to which faculty boards and department committees report.

The departments and faculties are spread across Oxford. There is a concentration of science departments in the University Science Area, close to the University Parks; while the majority of medical departments are located on either the John Radcliffe Hospital site or the Old Road Campus in Headington, both of which are approximately two miles east of the city centre.

The Radcliffe Observatory Quarter is a major new development in central Oxford. A 10-acre site, bound by Woodstock Road, Somerville College, Walton Street, Observatory Street and Green Templeton College, it will house new buildings for the Mathematical Institute, Blavatnik School of Government and the Humanities, while the existing listed buildings on the site will be refurbished.

The Department for Continuing Education is the focus of the University’s lifelong learning, professional development and online learning activities. It provides university education to those who wish to study part-time, through short full-time courses or online. Continuing Education is under the general supervision of a Continuing Education Board. 

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Academic Services and University Collections

The main academic support services of the University include:

  • The Bodleian Libraries
  • The Language Centre
  • The University Archives

These services are grouped with the University’s museums and the Botanic Garden to form Academic Services and University Collections (ASUC).

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Administrative services

The central administrative departments of the University are collectively called University Administration and Services (UAS). A list of the departments that make up UAS, together with a brief introduction to each, is available on the University website.

The offices of the UAS departments are spread across the city centre, with the main University Offices located in Wellington Square.

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Colleges and halls

Oxford’s 38 colleges and 6 permanent private halls are an integral part of the collegiate University. They are independent, self-governing institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. Each college has its own statutes, endowment and governing body, which comprises the Head of House and college fellows.

Although independent, the colleges share many responsibilities with the central University. For example, the admissions policy and process for undergraduate students is co-ordinated centrally, but colleges select their own students; while, for postgraduate students, there is a two-part admissions process involving selection by both department and college. In terms of teaching, the colleges provide tutorials, while the University organises lectures and seminars, sets the syllabuses, examines students, and awards degrees.  

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Conference of Colleges

The Conference of Colleges is where the colleges come together to deal with matters of shared interest and common purpose.

Conference and its sub-committees have two main functions:

  1. To enable colleges to act collectively on issues that matter to them, which may range from sharing good practice to acting together to procure services.
  2. To act as a voice for college interests within the University community and allow colleges to debate and act upon the key issues of the day.

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Senior University Officers


The Chancellor, who is usually an eminent public figure, serves as the titular head of the University and presides over all major ceremonies. The Chancellor is elected by Convocation and holds the position for his or her lifetime or until his or her resignation.


The Vice-Chancellor is the principal academic and administrative officer of the University, and is elected by Congregation to hold office for five years, with the possibility of extending by a further two. The role of the Vice-Chancellor is to provide strategic direction and leadership to the collegiate University. The Vice-Chancellor chairs Council and other principal University bodies, and nominates deputies to chair others. He or she works closely with the colleges to ensure a coherent vision across all the constituent parts of the University, and works with Council and Congregation, the divisions, and the Conference of Colleges to ensure that the governance, management and administration of the collegiate University are efficient and effective.


The Registrar is appointed by Council and is responsible for the effective implementation of University policy and for ensuring compliance with legislative requirements. Reporting to the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar is responsible for the central administrative departments of the University. The exceptions are the Finance Division, which reports directly to the Vice-Chancellor; and Development, Alumni Relations and Public Affairs, which report to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Development and External Affairs).


There are five functional Pro-Vice-Chancellors. Their role is take lead responsibility, under the Vice-Chancellor’s direction, for ensuring the successful implementation of the objectives and strategies in the University’s Strategic Plan. The five Pro-Vice-Chancellors have specific functional responsibilities in the following areas:

  • Development and External Affairs
  • Education
  • Personnel and Equality
  • Planning and Resources
  • Research, Academic Services and University Collections

Proctors and Assessor

The two Proctors and the Assessor are elected for a period of one year by the colleges on rotation, with a new team taking office at the start of each Easter vacation. The Proctors have a responsibility generally to ensure that the statutes, regulations, customs and privileges of the University are observed. As well as being members of decision-making committees, they deal with student discipline, complaints about University matters, and the running of University examinations. The Assessor has special responsibility for student welfare and finance. 

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