Wolfson College was established in 1966, as the process of decolonisation was well under way. Its first President, Sir Isaiah Berlin, brought a vision of an Oxford College which was egalitarian, international, and family-friendly. It remains true to those early values, updated for the 21st Century. We are a graduate college, and as such focussed on the interests of those with a first degree already; our postgraduates are highly international, typically around 70% from around 70 different countries. We have developed a strong interest in global issues, from regional specialisations in South Asia, Tibet and the Himalayas to linguistic expertise tracing from the Mediterranean to India. We have been active in advancing the study of world English literature and global history. Our Governing Body is highly international, including several Fellows from the Global South. Being a young college means that we have fewer historical issues connected with colonialism than some others. Being an international college means that we are by definition challenging of any narrative which too closely aligns with one nation’s perspective.
That being said, we have in the wake of Black Lives Matter commissioned an independent academic study of the origins of the College, and the links any of our founders or funders may have had to racism or colonialism. We recognise that no College operating in the Oxford context can be entirely proud of its history. In 2019 we established a Fellows Diversity Group. We have elected for 2020 to 2022 Professor Nikita Sud as the College Vicegerent (Deputy President), and she brings a South Asian and international development perspective to the role; she will be running events challenging established concepts of internationalism. Every year we host a leading speaker from Pakistan, as part of our annual lecture series supported by Lord Sarfraz. In spring 2020 the Governing Body agreed a package of measures to increase ethnic diversity in the Fellowship, including setting an aspiration of more than 25% of the Governing Body to be BAME, rules for recruitment to ensure diversity, and compulsory unconscious bias training for interviewing panels. In a survey of the Governing Body this year 25% described themselves as BAME.
Being a graduate college, we do not face the media attention given to the question of access for British undergraduates. But like all colleges we wish to continue to broaden our diversity and increase our access even further, to ensure that the best students from around the world are able to study at Wolfson regardless of socio economic background. Our growing number of scholarships supports this aim, though there is always more to do, and we are ambitious for an even stronger scholarship programme. We are working with the University and funders to establish three different scholarships to support black students: one for black British students, one for South African medical students, and one for black students studying at Wolfson and the Centre for Socio Legal Studies. We admit a greater proportion of BAME British students than the national population average, but we have, like other Colleges at Oxford, admitted slightly fewer black British students than the national population average.
On a lighter note, we have a strong collection of modern and contemporary art, including art by leading African and Latin American artists.