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Statutes and Ordinances of the University

The Statutes and Ordinances provide the constitutional framework that allows the University to govern its affairs.

History of Statutes and Ordinances

The earliest recorded Statutes appear in a manuscript dating back to 1250; however, the University’s Statutes were not recognised in law until the 1571 Act of Parliament that incorporated the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, the Proctors kept custody of the copies of the Statutes, which they carried around with them on all official occasions. The Proctor’s Books were heavily embossed to protect them, and attached to chains for ease of carrying. The two Proctors still bring their copies of the 1785 edition, carried in this way, to Congregations and other public occasions.

Extracts from the Statutes were first printed in 1684 by John Hayes; the full Statutes were printed in 1785, with a print run of 35 copies. Extensive revisions of the Statutes occurred around the 1850s (it was also around this time that the language of the Statutes changed from Latin to English), 1882, 1883 (which included the College Statutes), 1904 (which included the Ordinances) and 1926; more recent editions have also contained some major changes. The Ordinances have been incorporated into editions of the Statutes since 1946.

The Statutes and Ordinances today

The latest significant change to the Statutes and Ordinances took place in February 2014. A technical review of the Statutes began in 2010; after a period of consultation with the Regent House, a Report on the Technical Review, proposing a reorganisation of the material in Statutes and Ordinances, was published in May 2013, and approved by Grace in July 2013, subject to approval by Her Majesty in Council. Related changes to Ordinances were also approved, contingent on the coming into force of the new statutes. Privy Council approval for the changes to the Statutes was received on 11 February 2014.

There are now eight Statutes, which set out matters of principle, and cover subjects such as: The Chancellor and the government of the University; Membership of the University and degrees; University Offices and employment in the University; Discipline; Trusts; Finance, audit, planning, and property; Colleges; and the University Press.

The University has the power to change its Statutes by Grace of the Regent House. Any changes agreed by the Regent House are subject to approval by Order in Council – in effect, the assent of the monarch acting on the advice of the Privy Council.

The University’s Statutes and Ordinances are now divided into four different areas:

(a)  Statutes

The Statutes contain the fundamental constitutional and governance provisions of the University. They are made by the University under the provisions of the Oxford and Cambridge Act 1923. These are subject to approval by the Privy Council after due internal process and are binding unless inconsistent with national, European or International Law. 

(b)  Special Ordinances

Special Ordinances contain detailed provisions arising from the governance framework provided in the Statutes. They are made under Statute by the Regent House on the basis of a Report to the University, a Discussion, a Notice, a Grace and a ballot if called. These must be consistent with the provisions of the Statutes which, in cases of conflict, override them.

(c)  Ordinances

These are detailed regulations and procedures, covering all aspects of University business, enacted by Grace of the Regent House, or in matters relating to the election of the Chancellor or High Steward, by the Senate. Depending upon their significance, discretion can be exercised by the Council or the General Board, as appropriate, to promote minor changes by a Notice and a Grace. Again, these must be consistent with the Statutes which, in cases of conflict, override them.

(d)  Regulations

These are made by the General Board and concern academic areas defined by Statute. These are usually carried by Notice published in the Reporter.

A new edition of the Statutes and Ordinances is published every year online and in print; versions going back to 2008 are available online, and termly updates of any changes (which have been published in the Reporter that term) are also posted on the Statutes and Ordinances website.