Wolfson College, Oxford

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Wolfson College
Front of the college
Wolfson College Oxford Coat Of Arms (Motto).svg
Arms: Per pale gules and or on a chevron between three roses and two pears all countercharged the roses barbed and seeded proper.
Scarf colours: navy, with two equally-spaced stripes of red edged with yellow
LocationLinton Road, Oxford
Coordinates51°46′16″N 1°15′19″W / 51.770977°N 1.255263°W / 51.770977; -1.255263Coordinates: 51°46′16″N 1°15′19″W / 51.770977°N 1.255263°W / 51.770977; -1.255263
MottoHumani nil alienum (Homo sum, humani nil alienum a me puto)[1][2]
Named forSir Isaac Wolfson
Previous namesIffley College
Sister collegeDarwin College, Cambridge
PresidentSir Tim Hitchens
Undergraduatesnone (graduate-only college)
Postgraduates614 (2008)
Boat clubWolfson College Boat Club
Wolfson College, Oxford is located in Oxford
Wolfson College, Oxford
Location in Oxford

Wolfson College (/ˈwʊlfsən/) is a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England. Located in north Oxford along the River Cherwell, Wolfson is an all-graduate college with over sixty governing body fellows, in addition to both research and junior research fellows. It caters to a wide range of subjects, from the humanities to the social and natural sciences. Like the majority of Oxford's newer colleges, it has been coeducational since its foundation in 1965.

The liberal philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin was the college's first president, and was instrumental not only in its founding, but establishing its tradition of academic excellence and egalitarianism. The college houses The Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust and the annual Isaiah Berlin Lecture. The current president of the college is Sir Tim Hitchens.[3]

As of 2020, the college had a financial endowment of £50.7 million.[4]


Wolfson's first president Sir Isaiah Berlin, the influential political philosopher and historian of ideas, was instrumental in the college's founding in 1965.[citation needed]

The college began its existence with the name Iffley College, which offered a new community for graduate students at Oxford, particularly in natural and social sciences. Twelve other colleges of the university provided grants to make the establishment of Iffley possible. As of 1965, the college had neither a president nor a building. Berlin set out to change this, eventually securing support from the Wolfson Foundation and Ford Foundation in 1966 to establish a separate site for the college, which included 'Cherwell', the former residence of J. S. Haldane and his family, as well as new buildings built around it. Isaac Wolfson generously contributed to the foundation of the college. In recognition of his contribution the college's name was changed to Wolfson College.[citation needed]

But Berlin's work as the president of the college was far from over. Formally taking over the reins of the college in 1967, he envisioned Wolfson to be a centre of academic excellence but, unlike many other colleges at Oxford, also bound it to a strong egalitarian and democratic ethos.[5] In Berlin's words, the college would be 'new, untrammelled and unpyramided'.[5]

If Berlin was the inspiration and beacon for this most modern of academic institutions, its birth and early shape would not have happened without the tireless backroom work of Berlin's vice-president, Michael Brock, formerly of Corpus Christi College. They were a formidable team and ensured Berlin's ideals were largely achieved. Wolfson is perhaps the most egalitarian college at Oxford, with few barriers between students and fellows. There is no high table, only one common room for all the members of the college, and gowns are worn only on special occasions. Graduate students serve on the college's governing body and participate in General Meetings. Berlin's reputation and presence in the early years also helped shape the intellectual character of the college, attracting many distinguished fellows like Niko Tinbergen, who won a Nobel Prize for his studies in animal behaviour in 1973. Berlin's own prominence in the humanities helped attract many graduate students like Henry Hardy, interested in political philosophy and the history of ideas.[5]

Buildings and grounds[edit]

Berlin Quad
Tree Quad

The main building of the college, designed by Powell and Moya Architects and completed in 1974, is one of the most modern main buildings of all the Oxford colleges. It has three quadrangles: the central quadrangle named the Berlin Quad after Isaiah Berlin, the Tree Quad built around established trees, and the River Quad into which the River Cherwell has been diverted to form a punt harbour. The main building and footbridge across the river were grade II listed in June 2011.[6]

The college has student accommodation in the main college building, in three child-friendly courtyards surrounded by family housing, and also has similar accommodation in a scattering of purpose-built blocks, including the Robin Gandy Buildings, and in existing houses on Linton Road, Chadlington Road and Garford Road. The college also owns an adjacent house and orchard which was occupied by the Bishop of Oxford until 2014.[7]


The college library, which occupies both the floors of one wing of the college's main building, is open to members of the college. The main library is on the first floor, approachable from the side of the dining hall and the lodge, and two other collections, called the Floersheimer Room and the Hornik Memorial Room are on the ground floor. A mezzanine floor in the main library has books as well as carrels for individual use of graduate students of the college. The library has already emerged as an extensive collection of books and journals.[citation needed]

Common room and hall[edit]

Dining hall

The college has one common room for fellows and graduate students. The common room has two floors: the upper common room, with an attached terrace overlooking the punting harbour, which has a bar and a coffee counter, and the lower common room, which has magazines and newspapers. The college's hall is one of the few in the university to have common table. The 'Haldane Room', a hall adjacent to the dining hall proper, is where formal meals, especially the convocation lunch, are held.[citation needed]


The college owns grounds on both sides of the river, including two meadows on the opposite side, towards Marston. It has a small but well maintained garden with mature trees behind its main building, and beside the river. The garden is landscaped well on the river-bank, with a flight of steps leading up to a green-house and a sundial. The college also has a smaller garden beside the Robin Gandy building, which stands on the banks of the river.[citation needed]

Sports and punting harbour[edit]

Wolfson's punting harbour and island

The college has its own squash court and croquet lawn, and takes part in many university sporting events, including cricket, football, and the yearly rowing competition. It is one of the few in Oxford with its own punting harbour, with a fleet of punts for use by all members of the college. The Wolfson College Boat Club is on the ground floor of 'C' Block.[citation needed]

Academic profile[edit]

In 2008, Wolfson had 614 graduate students, 454 of whom were DPhil students. The remainder were studying for MPhil, MSc, MSc by Research, MSt, MSt by Research, MBA, EMBA, MLitt, MLitt by Research, BPhil, and Cert degrees. The college does not accept MJur or LLB candidates.[citation needed]

Wolfson is home to a number of research clusters[8]

  • Ancient World Research Cluster
  • Digital Research Cluster
  • Earth Emergency Cluster
  • Law, Justice and Society at Wolfson
  • Oxford Centre for Life Writing
  • South Asia Research Cluster
  • Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Centre
  • Quantum Foundations Research Cluster
  • The Quantum Hub

It was also home to the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford,[9] which has now moved to an independent location in the city. The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society, which is affiliated with the college and the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, has been based there since 2005.[10]

Notable people associated with Wolfson[edit]

Wolfson is associated with a number of prominent individuals. These include former students, Fellows of the college and past presidents including two Nobel Prize winners. As Wolfson is a graduate-only college, most students will have been associated with another college or institution, before coming to study at Wolfson for a Masters or DPhil degree.[citation needed]

Notable alumni[edit]

In the sciences, alumni of the college include the human geneticist Dame Kay Davies, the astronomer and Caltech professor Richard Ellis, and mathematician James R. Norris. Entrepreneurs include Reid Hoffman, who was the co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn.

In law and public policy, alumni include Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government Chris Whitty, former Minister of External Relations of Brazil and Supreme Court Justice Francisco Rezek, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Ahmad Khan, and Eric Lander, who is US Director of Science and Technology Policy and Science Advisor to the President in the Cabinet of Joe Biden. Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the youngest serving Prime Minister of Iceland, studied at the College.



Notable current and former fellows of the college include: William Bradshaw, Baron Bradshaw, Member of the House of Lords; Anthony Epstein, discoverer of the Epstein–Barr virus; Steven Schwartz, Vice Chancellor of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia; Denis Mack Smith, historian at Oxford; Niko Tinbergen, Dutch ethologist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; and Dorothy Hodgkin, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (A quote from the Roman playwright Terence: I am a human being and I consider nothing that concerns human beings alien to me)
  2. ^ The original wording is a little different: Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto. Ricord, Frederick W. (1885). The Self-Tormentor (Heautontimorumenos) from the Latin of Publius Terentius Afer with More English Songs from Foreign Tongues. New York: Charles Scribner's. p. 25. Retrieved 22 January 2018 – via Internet Archive..
  3. ^ "Wolfson College, Oxford". University of Oxford. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Wolfson College : Annual Report and Financial Statements : Year ended 31 July 2020" (PDF). ox.ac.uk. p. 21. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Ignatieff, Michael (1998). Isaiah Berlin: A Life. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0-7011-6325-9.
  6. ^ Historic England. "Wolfson College (1402277)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  7. ^ Ffrench, Andrew. "New Bishop of Oxford will live outside city as current £10m house deemed too expensive". Oxford Mail. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  8. ^ "Research Clusters". www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  9. ^ "Official website". University of Oxford. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Foundation for Law, Justice and Society website". Fljs.org. Retrieved 11 November 2017.

External links[edit]