Chancellor of Oxford University retires

Tuesday 06 February 2024

The Chancellor of Oxford University, Christopher Patten, Lord Patten of Barnes (Balliol 1962 and Honorary Fellow), has announced that he is to retire at the end of the 20232024 academic year.

Lord Patten was elected Chancellor in 2003 on the death of Roy Jenkins (Balliol 1938 and Honorary Fellow 19692003). In the University’s announcement, Professor Irene Tracey, Vice-Chancellor of the University, praised Lord Patten’s ‘incomparable dedication’ over the past 21 years, saying: ‘Lord Patten has been an extraordinarily active and committed Chancellor, engaging in as many as 60 international events per year on the University’s behalf, tirelessly championing Oxford at home and abroad.’

In his retirement letter to the Vice-Chancellor, Lord Patten expressed how the University of Oxford and Balliol College have been a hugely important part of his life:

I won an exhibition at Balliol when I was 16 and spent, in due course, three extraordinarily happy years there with brilliant teachers. It was a really golden age for Balliol historians. Several of my best friends in life were my contemporaries. For example, there was Henry Hodge [Balliol 1962], who was a Labour Party solicitor and a leading campaigner against child poverty. Not the least virtue of the man with the biggest laugh in the world was that he was a superb goalkeeper. He became a High Court Justice and the President of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. He died at the age of 65. Edward Mortimer [Balliol 1962 and Honorary Fellow 20042021], a Liberal Democrat, was the cleverest of my generation. He would not have made a good goalkeeper, but was a brilliant scholar and linguist. He became an Examination Fellow of All Souls. After a distinguished career in journalism, with The Times and The Financial Times, he was appointed Head of Communications at the UN for Kofi Annan. If I was on the opposite side of an argument to Edward, I always used to question whether I had got things quite right. I speak every year at Gaudy lunches or dinners, aware of the annual fall in the numbers present. All those absent Henrys and Edwards.

There is a rather awful self-regarding poem by Hilaire Belloc called ‘Balliol made me’. Of course, I owe a great deal to my College, not least meeting my best friend at a party there. She was an undergraduate at St Hilda’s at the time. We first met by chance at a beer and Bulgarian wine bash given by my moral tutor at Balliol, Christopher Hill [Master of Balliol 19651978], one of the greatest Marxist historians of the last century and a very kind man. Lavender and I have now been happily married for over 50 years.

Like many alumni from Oxford, which is of course a collegiate university, I feel a huge loyalty to my College. But I would not go as far as Belloc. I think it is true to say that Oxford as a whole made me, not just because of the three happy years I spent there as a student, but because of what Oxford has continued to mean to me over the years right up to the present day. There would be no colleges without Oxford, and no Oxford without colleges. For all its occasional quirkiness, I love Oxford.’

Lord Patten is a former Conservative Member of Parliament who served across Government for over two decades and became the final Governor of Hong Kong from 19921997. He was Chairman of the BBC Trust between 2011 and 2014 and appointed a Companion of Honour in 1998. In April 2023 he was appointed Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter — a mark of the country’s respect for his work in the UK and abroad.

You can read the University’s announcement here including a video and the full text of Lord Patten’s letter here.