University scales back Parks College ambitions

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The University has scaled back the number of students in the inaugural intake for its new graduate college, Parks College, under new plans released this week. In a stark shift away from the plans announced back in February, which proposed the recruitment of 200 graduate students in 2019-2020 for admission in September 2020, the University now intends to admit only 50. Starting small, they argue, “will ensure that the students benefit from a highly tailored educational experience.”

Operating under “the principle of re-configurability”, the proposed college will share the Radcliffe Science Library (RSL) site. The college itself will have a focus on “interdisciplinary” and “scientific” learning—particularly artificial intelligence, machine learning, and environmental change. According to the University website, “other themes at the intersection of the physical sciences, life sciences and social sciences will emerge over time.” Students admitted to the college will be studying subjects within these disciplines.

The college intends to accept exclusively postgraduate research students for its first year, before opening up to include postgraduate taught students in the years that follow. It is intended that the initial intake of 50 students will double in the second year, before rising up to the original target of 200 students for the 2022-2023 academic year.

The proposal for the new college has come under fire in recent weeks due to a lack of clarity in relation to its form and facilities. For example, though the college “will aim to provide accommodation for as many of its graduate students as possible”, none will be on the college site. Moreover, though the dining hall “will act as the social hub of the college” it will only be a dining hall for part of the day, and in any case will not exist until the autumn of 2022. In the meantime, the University envisages that Parks College students will be offered dining facilities elsewhere—though as yet very little detail has been provided.

Speaking to The Oxford Student, VP for Graduates Allison D’Ambrosia said: “It is clear that this new college has been brought about because there is a need to increase graduate student numbers, but no capacity to do such.”

“The information we have currently about Parks College does not support, nor maintain quality for graduate students and any turn. It is at risk of becoming a glorified library which the University is tilting ‘College’ in order to attract a certain credibility and connotation.

“What they did not, and still have not considered, is the practical day-to-day experience of those students at Parks College. I think the University has realized this to an extent and by publishing to admit 50 students instead of the originally published 200, they are attempting to diminish casualties of the chaotic construction zone and community that Parks College could become for its beginning years.

“I would encourage students to raise their concerns with what it means to be a college ‘on par …with other graduate colleges’ at the upcoming Q&A sessions on March 5 and by completing the survey provided on the SU website.”

The process for recruiting the college’s Fellows will begin in June of 2019. The college will recruit Research Professors, Associate Professors, or Senior Research Fellows to serve as Official Fellows. Starting in the fall of 2019, the college will also begin to search for Research Fellow and Associate Fellows.

The University’s plans for the RSL site are subject to approval by Council and Congregation, a process that will take place during Hilary and Trinity terms 2019.

Analysis 

by James Evans

It turns out that opening a college in a functioning library is trickier than you’d think. Considering that the proposed “college” lacks a site, library, acommodation, and an eatery of its own, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that cracks are beginning to show.

That being said, it isn’t as if any of the problems or new, or indeed that simply reducing the intake is going to solve them. After all, a glorified library still isn’t a college whether there are 200 students or even just one.

Again, we are confronted with an insitution that seems to be little more than a mechanism through which the University can rapidly expand the number of places without troubling itself with having to provide a meaningful college experience on a day-to-day basis. 

This, as I said back in 3rd Week, makes a mockery of a college system that is one of Oxford’s main selling points. How the University can have the audacity  to plan to charge Parks College’s future students the same sky-high fees as students in receipt of the real college experience is beyond me; though who knows, there may have to be movement on this question should the college splutter into life in the coming months.

This, however, is not reflected in the marketing strategy that is currently being employed. The website bodly declares that Parks College (a name which will undoubetly change when that of a suitably vain donor can be used instead) will provide “a rich and stimulating intellectual and social experience, which is on par with that at the other graduate colleges”—despite the aforementioned lack of facilities.

Even the crippling underlying problems with the project are spun as some sort of advantage. Though it is technically true, it’s probably worth mentioning that the website’s claim that “college members will benefit from an on-site library” has more to do with the fact that the whole college will be situated in the middle of one than any special provisions. Indeed, one of the many things that will make this instituion unique is the fact that it will not have a library of its own.

How this is going to play out is anyone’s guess, though considering the time being wasted on the proposal it seems unlikely to disappear any time soon. 

Image Credit: N. Chadwick