In an era of lifelong learning, more and more Oxford alumni are making use of the rich online academic resources offered by the University.

Thirst for knowledge

By Helen Massy-Beresford

Oxford graduates are demonstrating a growing appetite for staying in touch, not just with their college but with their department and the latest research in their subject. The University’s alumni relations department is adapting to meet that demand. But with longer working hours and mushrooming demands on our time, reading an article in an academic journal may be more appealing — or at least more likely to happen — than committing to doing a course. ‘Just because you’ve completed your three-year degree doesn’t mean you lose that curiosity,’ says Christine Fairchild, director of alumni relations.

The last major alumni survey, in 2012, highlighted a desire to access learning resources Oxonians enjoyed as students. Among the University’s responses was to join other institutions worldwide, including Yale and MIT, in providing access for alumni to the JSTOR digital database of academic journals. Former students from all over the world can read all the archived journal articles on the database that current students can access while at Oxford (see here for how to do so). ‘Recent leavers and alumni are grateful for the service,’ says Jennie Courtney, head of alumni communications and marketing at the University.

A total of 6,592 alumni have created an account with JSTOR since summer 2012, with 142,640 examples of alumni access and 164,583 separate searches. ‘The capacity to access peer-reviewed, rigorous and authentic research easily and from your home, rather than having to physically come to Oxford, is key,’ Courtney observes.

Fairchild adds that the alumni relations department, which she directs, is working with colleagues in the Department for Continuing Education to find other ways it can meet the changing demands from alumni. Some possibilities are immersive courses over a long weekend, as well as executive courses to meet demand from professionals to keep up with new qualifications. ‘The art and the science of adult education are changing: people are increasingly seeing it as a way to keep their cylinders charged,’ she adds.

More than half of respondents to the 2012 survey said they still had an interest in their subject and recent research, explains Courtney.

Three years ago, only about seven departments had an alumni relations programme with dedicated staff. Now more than 30 people are working in dedicated alumni relations roles in the various academic departments.

Sending out subject-specific newsletters and magazines with Oxford Today is another way to meet graduates’ demand for staying up-to-date with their subject, and also boosts the departments’ networks. Subject-focused alumni relations can also forge connections with industry.

‘Many alumni enjoy the opportunity to engage with prospective and/or current students studying the same course,’ Courtney observes. ‘There’s an element of nostalgia, an interest in what has changed since they were studying the subject — and in many cases, a need to know about cutting-edge research to apply this to what they’re doing in their day-to-day lives.’

Image © Ermolaev Alexander / Shutterstock.


By Clive Tolley

Access to Jstor is a huge boon. I actively and productively pursue scholarly studies as far as possible, and have a university position, but unsalaried, so it's just in spare time. I wouldn't have access to Jstor other than through the Oxford Alumni. However, most things aren't on Jstor, and any other means of assisting someone trying to be a scholar outside the salaried and generally inward-looking establishment would be welcome. Visiting Oxford (or London) is out of the question for reasons of time and expense.

By Emma Brining

Singapore has free public access to JStor. The UK cost is exorbitant for schools and colleges, beyond the reach of most but there is a growing demand for affordable tertiary level e-resources.

By Stephen Attwood

JSTOR is a great resource, but I agree with Clive in that it may not have all the journals in which one might be interested. If SpringerLink were added, then I think that journal coverage would be close to that offered by most universities to their own staff. It would involve considerable extra cost though, so if there is any benefactor out there ...

I also agree that publishers are charging too much for access considering that most academic authors are writing for free, in many cases we even have to produce press ready images!