Our mission

The Department for Continuing Education exists to enable Oxford University to reach students beyond the full-time student body. We enhance the local, national and international impact of the University by engaging with audiences that the University would not otherwise reach, including through master’s and doctoral programmes in flexible formats, attracting high-calibre adult learners.

We offer more than 1000 courses and programmes each year to students from all over the globe. We work within the University and beyond it, in the development of new programmes to meet the educational needs of changing times.

The Department has an active interdisciplinary research community, with a strong focus on the humanities and social sciences – including subjects at the forefront of today’s challenges and opportunities, such as sustainable urban development and international human rights law.

With pressure on universities to be more relevant and accessible to society, industry and the professions, the Department for Continuing Education plays a vital role in the University of Oxford’s widening participation initiatives.

Breaking Boundaries for Adult Learners

For more than 140 years, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education has been providing access to university education – whether that means bringing world-class opportunities to new populations, designing programmes for students from different backgrounds and at different stages of life, or simply championing the lifelong love of learning.

The courses and programmes we offer:

More than 15,000 students enrol on the Department’s programmes each year. They range in age from 18 to 98, and hail from more than 160 countries.

Oxford is one of the world’s most international Universities – and while it might be said that the world comes to Oxford, we know that, in the development of flexible learning opportunities, Continuing Education is bringing Oxford to the world.

A noble history

The Department for Continuing Education began in 1878 as ‘Oxford Extension’, a programme that saw Oxford tutors travelling to towns and cities all over the country to lecture on a wide range of topics.

It was a groundbreaking effort, because it provided access to education to groups that were largely excluded – namely working men, and women. From the very start, roughly two-thirds of Extension’s participants were women.

In 1919, in the aftermath of the Great War, the Ministry of Reconstruction declared adult education to be of vital importance to the nation’s welfare and security.

This rings more true than ever today. Professor Jonathan Michie, President of Kellogg College and a former Director of the Department, said: “There is a national – indeed global – consensus that lifelong learning is increasingly required: for the world of work, alongside machine learning and robotics; for a population living longer; and for an electorate facing new and complex challenges.”

> Discover more about the Department's history

The difference we make today

Our courses are taught in Oxford and elsewhere, in person and online. They take place in the daytime and evenings, weekends and summertime. We offer continuing professional development necessary to keep the workforce at the top of its game, help students towards certificates and diplomas; our courses taken for personal enrichment exponentially increase peoples’ quality of life.

Our Foundation Certificates, taught part-time over two-years, provide a pathway for promising students to progress into the second year of full-time study at Oxford or another university. Our provision for postgraduate students is similarly based on providing opportunities for adult learners at all stages of life, who may be balancing study with work or duties of care.

We provide a stimulating and enriching research environment for academic staff and graduate students, which fosters interaction between different disciplines and professions from the UK and around the globe. Many members of the Department are also involved in public engagement and practitioner-based research initiatives which build on the research interests of our academic staff and circa 100 doctoral research students.

A bright future

Changing times require changes in education. Our priorities for the near- and medium-term future are to make Oxford University’s world-class resources available to as many people as possible, and to continue to engage in top-level research across the academic disciplines.

We’re working with colleagues from across the University to increase the number of Foundation Certificates we offer. At the same time, we’re looking into ways to enhance the provision and support for postgraduate students by developing innovative new educational provision. One key element of our strategy for improving access to education around the world is the Oxford Teachers’ Academy and Oxford Test of English, which offer face-to-face and online courses to teachers, and English-language provision, globally.

Research at the Department is undertaken independently or in collaboration with others, both elsewhere in the University and with academics and professionals external to Oxford. Research programmes extend across the disciplines and are supported by a departmental research culture that encourages interdisciplinary initiatives. These are supported by a wide range of external funders.

Collaboration is, in fact, one of our top priorities overall. We work closely with leading research-intensive universities, overseas governments and international public bodies, NGOs and international businesses, as well as Oxford University’s academic divisions, museums and libraries, in the development of new courses and programmes.

Digital Education
Perhaps top of our list of priorities is, of course, enhancing our digital activities. While digital education is something our founders couldn’t have foreseen, we think it’s the aspect of our work they would’ve loved most. Just as Oxford Extension made use of the rail networks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, today we use the internet to bring Oxford teaching to people around the world.

There can be few names as internationally synonymous with education as ‘Oxford University’. Here at the Department for Continuing Education, we’re making that name more resonant and more meaningful than ever, by increasing opportunities for adult learners across the globe.