Your support changes lives – it really is that simple. It alters trajectories, empowers potential and advances learning, which in turn facilitates further positive change.
Over the past decade, your support has enabled Somerville to deliver transformative support to our students and meet critical strategic goals of the College. You have helped us widen access initiatives, secure academic posts, deliver capital projects for our entire community and – perhaps most importantly – extend scholarships that enable brilliant students to realise their true potential.
Now the work continues. The 21st century has presented us with unparalleled challenges – challenges which Somerville is addressing through a new five-year strategy spearheaded by RISE, a long-term fundraising strategy. Organised around four founding principles – Resilience, Inclusivity, Sustainability and Excellence – RISE will enable us to meet head-on the socio-economic challenges of the pandemic and other crises, the impact of a changing climate, the need for emotional and mental wellbeing among our students and the perennial focus upon academic excellence which equips us to deal proactively and positively with all these issues.
Resilience means the capacity to bounce back, to recover from adversity and transcend obstacles. Our recent history has highlighted more than ever the need for, and value of resilience, both for individuals and institutions.
Young people undergo the greatest change in the shortest space of time as they progress from childhood to adulthood, learning to take responsibility for themselves and others. Setbacks are inevitable, particularly in such turbulent times – but we can help. Equipping them with resilience can help them absorb those shocks and regain their equilibrium more quickly – and through Somerville’s Development Programme we aim to furnish our students with the tools and skills that will bring this resilience.
Of course, the College is not just its students. An enduring part of our community is the academic staff whose teaching and research provides Somerville’s bedrock, and the non-academic staff who ensure that the College runs smoothly. For Somerville to flourish, we must be responsible employers with a dedication to diversity and equality, providing our staff with the environment and resources required for them to carry out their work to the best of their abilities.
The financial case for resilience is equally clear. Due to the nature of its foundation, Somerville has never been a wealthy college compared to some of its Oxford counterparts. Over the past decade, however, through innovation and sound financial stewardship, Somerville has had one of the fastest growing endowments at Oxford, growing from £37m in 2013 to a valuation of £92.3m in July 2020, and a further £9.4m in retail property. This growth has enabled us to weather the immediate impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but at the cost of our unrestricted reserves. To be truly insulated against future upheaval and assure Somerville’s financial resilience, our ambition is to increase the endowment by £12m.
An institution’s resilience is fundamental to its ability to continue to exist and flourish. We can provide that resilience through a robust financial foundation, strong leadership, a healthy community and a loyal and dedicated staff ready to embrace change.
Somerville was founded to include the excluded. It’s part of our DNA, and it will never change. What does change is the nature of the ‘exclusion’, or underrepresentation: students from disadvantaged backgrounds; BAME students; students with disabilities. Somerville also has a non-denominational foundation; inclusivity is one of our founding qualities. We aim to advance and celebrate the diverse nature of our community.
Our access and outreach programmes encourage and support students to aspire and apply to the education that Somerville can provide. The Somerville Development Programme focuses on the skills that are required to flourish in their academic studies as well as developing an understanding of well-being and its essential part in fulfilling a student’s potential. As a student nears the end of their course, we help students with networking, internships, CV writing, entrepreneurship and other skills required as they enter the world beyond Somerville.
It is essential that all students are able to undertake their studies without financial worries. Somerville has established the Margaret Thatcher Scholarship Trust [link to Thatcher Scholarships] to provide full scholarships for students who have shown not only exceptional academic and intellectual abilities, but have also proven that they can succeed against the odds, whether it is overcoming disadvantage, disability, bereavement or any other challenges that may have impeded them from fulfilling their potential.
The Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development offers scholarships to Indian students to enable them to carry out their vital studies at Somerville before returning to India where they can apply their research and bring about real change where it is most needed.
Somerville also has a number of funds upon which students can draw, whether for travel, research, internships, innovative projects or hardship. We are committed to ensuring our students have the opportunities to live and learn without impediment to the fulfilment of their potential.
Another part of inclusivity is to engage more effectively with our local, national and international community. It is often said “Once as Somervillian, always a Somervillian” and that is true of all our alumni, no matter where in the world they may be. Recent events have offered us the opportunity to develop the technologies that allow us to communicate and engage with the wider Somerville family all over the world, and telling the Somerville story in new and engaging ways. As we emerge from the restrictions brought about by the pandemic, we will continue to embrace these technologies that have proved so effective in strengthening our relationships.
We are involving our local community in the life of the College by fostering an open access culture; the Principal’s Events are opened to our neighbours and we will be providing a space in College where local organisations can meet and host events. Our newly developed online “At Home” series is open to all to view on the internet.
Our break with the European Union presents further challenges to the long-standing partnerships we have built over decades. We will continue, nonetheless, to foster these relationships that are vital to academic enquiry and research, and will continue to offer the brightest minds across Europe the opportunity of a Somerville education.
Our changing climate is one of the greatest global challenges we face. The breadth and scope of this challenge can seem overwhelming. Addressing the issue is complex and manifold with responsibility lying on everyone’s shoulders.
The entire Somerville community has come together in recognising the urgency and centrality of this problem. We have launched a new climate change programme which has already achieved key goals, including our full divestment from fossil fuels, increasing the provision of local and sustainably sourced food, implementing smart energy solutions throughout college and taking steps with our Head Gardener to increase sustainability and biodiversity in the College gardens.
Somerville has also achieved a number of firsts in sustainability. We are the first Oxford college to agree the appointment of a sustainability champion and the first educational establishment in the UK to adopt a sustainable travel policy, incentivising low carbon travel for both academics and students via a subsidised, Gold Standard offsetting scheme and increased discretionary travel awards for students choosing low-carbon transport solutions.
However, there is so much work remaining to do, all of which requires support. We hope to become carbon neutral by 2040, support our academics working on sustainability research in everything from biology to computing and mathematics and conduct a full sustainability audit of the College to identify clear goals for the future.
Having formerly hosted the Global Oceans Commission and the establishment of the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, Somerville has shown its commitment to discourse, learning, and research into this area. Actions are just as important and we are exploring the changes needed to be made to be a responsible citizen of this world and have the will and commitment to implement them. The generations that come after us deserve no less.
Somerville has long been a byword for academic excellence. Since its foundation, Somerville has nurtured many young minds that have gone on to become great figures in politics, literature, science and the arts – Vera Brittain, Dorothy Sayers, Dorothy Hodgkin (the first and so far only British woman to receive a Nobel prize for science), Indira Gandhi, Shirley Williams and Margaret Thatcher are just a few.
With world-renowned academics and alumni, Somerville has nurtured and developed the talents and intellectual curiosity of its students enabling them to make their mark in the world. To maintain that cutting-edge excellence in our research, our teaching, and our students is something for which we continually strive, and at the heart of achieving this excellence is the recruitment and retention of our world-class academics.
To maintain our academic edge, it is essential that we are able to attract the very best minds to Somerville, individuals who, who through their research and publications, will drive forward our understanding of our world, enrich the intellectual life of the College, and build further its global reputation. We will provide for our academics the resources that enable them to balance their research, teaching and family life without a need to sacrifice any one of them.
An important part of providing that support is to nurture and champion early career academics who for so long have struggled with poor pay and short contracts. These young academics are the future fellows and professors; we have a responsibility to develop their talents and skills in teaching and research, providing them with first-hand experience that in turn can support our fellows to manage that important research/teaching balance.
The academic reputation of a college plays a vital part in attracting the brightest students. They want to know that their intellectual curiosity will be stimulated and challenged by their tutors and that they will be fully supported in fulfilling their potential. We aim to attract the best students also by providing scholarships and funds that will free them from financial worries and enable them to focus on their studies. We have also developed the unique Somerville Development Programme that provides academic, personal and career skills to all our students through seminars, workshops and mentoring that are delivered at events, through personal interaction, and lately through online platforms.
At the heart of our pursuit of upholding and enhancing Somerville’s academic excellence is our commitment to play our part in making the world we live in – locally, nationally and internationally – a better place. For the last 140 years, Somervillians have gone out and made significant impacts in their fields, from the pioneering lawyer Cornelia Sorabji in the 19th century, the first woman to study Law at Oxford and the first woman to practise law in India and Britain, up to our fellows currently working on therapies for Covid-19.