The sheer size of the Oxford Chemistry school in terms of academic personnel (about 65 full-time professors and lecturers with a large support staff), permits an unusually wide coverage of the subject. Despite the scale of this activity, however, the student receives a degree of individual attention unrivalled elsewhere through membership of one of 28 undergraduate Colleges. Being part of a comparatively small collegiate community is the distinctive feature of Oxford undergraduate life, socially and academically. Each College provides at least one permanent, in-house Tutor in Chemistry (usually two or three) to look after the student on an individual basis, and to arrange teaching in all branches of the subject. The colleges also liaise extensively to share their teaching resources. The Colleges all take special care regarding the variety of further arrangements they have for the welfare of their students.
All Oxford undergraduates live in College for at least two years and sometimes for all four years (unless they prefer to live out). Those in the sciences split their working week between College and Department based activities: tutorials and small classes are provided by the College, whereas lectures and practical work are based in the Department.
At the Colleges, students receive at least one tutorial each week, when a tutor normally meets with two students for an hour. This enables the tutor to check that each student understands the work that has been set, and to tailor the pace and the material to the needs and abilities of individual students. The form of the tutorial varies from tutor to tutor. Some link their tutorials tightly to the current lecture courses (held in the University departments), while others choose to proceed largely independently of departmental teaching; some require their students to write essays, others to do worked examples (or both), depending on the topic. Every student has at least three tutors during each academic year (one in each of the main branches of Chemistry) and so experiences a variety of approaches. In addition to tutorials, College tutors also commonly provide classes – that is, teaching in groups of 4 to 8 students for appropriate topics, such as revision.
A College tutor is also normally a University lecturer or professor, so that his or her specialist expertise is available to all chemistry students through lectures and the laboratory practical courses. As in the Colleges, the atmosphere in the Chemistry department is informal and students naturally get to know a good cross-section of the academic staff.
The lectures and the laboratory classes also provide the opportunity for students from different Colleges to become acquainted early on – as, of course, does a wide variety of intercollegiate functions and activities.
"Excellent academic and pastoral support systems, which are facilitated by College based tuition and reinforced by good informal staff student relations; ....... such systems have contributed to low non completion rates and high achievement by students." [HEFCE]
The Chemistry school has at present four main buildings housing its teaching and research facilities lecture theatres, undergraduate laboratories and computer rooms. These are the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, the Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory, the Chemical Research Laboratory and the new Teaching Laboratory. The buildings are clustered together in the Science Area of the University, all within easy reach of the Colleges. The University's science libraries are likewise close by, though undergraduates find most of their needs met by well resourced College libraries. The Colleges also provide independent networked computing facilities for their students.
"Library provision in chemistry at Oxford is excellent. ... Each College has its own library containing appropriate texts. The Hooke lending library, and the main reference library, the Radcliffe, are of a very high standard". [HEFCE]