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Governance, Culture, and Innovation in Oxford

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Program Quick Facts

  • Location:  Oxford, UK
  • Stanford Faculty Leaders: Tom Wasow, Todd Davies
  • Arrival Date: August 28, 2023
  • Departure Date: September 16, 2023
  • Program Cost: $600
  • Academic Prerequisites
    • Must complete the Spring 2023 course "Studying Stanford: Governance, Culture, and Innovation" (SYMSYS 176S, 2 units) prior to the Oxford course
  • Activity Level: 
    • Light/Moderate. Activities may include city walking tours, easy/short hikes, museum, and other site visits, as well as optional physical activities such as longer walks, rowing, or punting. Alternatives to physical activity, or that make activities accessible to those with physical limitations can be arranged as well.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Information for Travelers to England
  • US State Department Country Information: United Kingdom International Travel Information
  • Visa Information: British Consulate General
  • Application Deadline: Sunday, January 29, 2023 at 11:59 pm PT

General Description

The most prestigious research universities are esteemed, among other reasons, for fostering innovation. In this course, students will be part of a research team that will investigate the oldest of what Times Higher Education calls the "superbrand" universities -- Oxford -- in a comparative study with the youngest of the superbrands: Stanford.

In the past four decades, both the University and City of Oxford have emerged as hubs of innovation -- replicating in some ways the success of Stanford in cultivating Silicon Valley.  We will investigate questions such as the following:

  • How is Oxford governed, and how has this changed over time? How does this governance differ from Stanford and its surrounding communities?
  • In what ways is Oxford culturally different from (or similar to) Stanford, and how does culture show itself in the city and in the university today?
  • How have the barriers to central coordination in Oxford been overcome? How does Oxford's model for innovation work, and what can students learn from it?
  • How does innovation fit (or not) with Oxford’s emphasis on tradition?

Program faculty will share their knowledge of Oxford as well as the history and current environment around innovation in the UK, with comparisons to Stanford and Silicon Valley. Guests will visit the class for group interviews -- in Oxford and elsewhere in the UK. Students will  pursue individual or small-group projects related to the themes of the program, for example:

  • Interviewing representatives of Oxford’s administration, city government, student body, institutes, departments, colleges, and companies.
  • Reading and reviewing archival materials,  scholarly literature, reports, audio, and video recordings, and websites related to questions like the ones listed above.
  • Collecting and analyzing data through Internet and database research.

Students’ contributions will be collected together and published online.

Accepted students must enroll in and complete a 2-unit Spring Quarter course (SYMSYS 176S: Studying Stanford: Governance, Culture, and Innovation) on the main Stanford campus in order to participate in the Oxford program. The Spring course will be a Stanford version of what we will later do in Oxford. 

The Oxford course will be housed at Stanford's Montag Centre for Overseas Studies. Field trips to sites in and around  Oxford and London, as well as some overnight travel, will expose students to notable UK institutions related to the course themes along with cultural enrichment activities..

Student Objectives

This program should appeal to students interested in innovation, governance, and culture in various contexts, from digital and health technologies to design thinking, sustainability, institutional design, and social transformation. Understanding how governance and culture affect a university's role in innovation is useful for anyone who may need to navigate through organizational structures and relationships. A comparative study illuminates aspects of Stanford and U.S. culture that are difficult to appreciate otherwise, and Oxford's success in creating an innovative model is instructive on its own. A primary goal is to make every student a participant in a sizable research team while pursuing their own interests within a chosen project. 

Living and Travel Conditions

Students should understand that the conditions in certain locations can present difficulties and challenges not encountered on Stanford's home campus. Students should be prepared for a varying level of lodging, lack of amenities, new climate, new foods, and less privacy and personal space than they are used to at the home campus.

Students who have concerns about specific living and traveling conditions should consult with the Bing Overseas Studies Program before submitting their application.


Thomas A. Wasow

Tom is the Clarence Irving Lewis Professor in Philosophy and Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus and Academic Secretary to the University. He is a Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education at Stanford, and is a Fellow of both the Linguistic Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Tom's academic specialties are language processing, syntactic theory, and linguistic methodology. He holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from M.I.T. (1972)  and a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics from Reed College (1967).

Tom directed the Center for the Study of Language and information, and led the committee that founded the Symbolic Systems Program, later serving as its director for 13 years.. He has extensive experience with university governance, having served as the Dean of Undergraduate Studies and later as the Associate Dean for Graduate Policy, as well as  Chair of the Faculty Senate, prior to his current role as Stanford's Academic Secretary. Tom served as Faculty in Residence at BOSP Oxford in 2006. He also spent a quarter in Oxford during a sabbatical leave from Stanford in 2011.

Todd Davies

Todd is the Associate Director of the Symbolic Systems Program and a Lecturer in Symbolic Systems; he is also a researcher at the Center for the Study of Language and Information and a faculty affiliate of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. Todd's research and teaching focus on the intersections of digital technology, democracy, and deliberation. He holds a Ph.D. in Psychology (1995), as well as an M.S. in Data Analysis and Statistical Computing (1985), and a B.S. in Statistics, with Honors in the Humanities (1985), all from Stanford. 

Prior to his Ph.D., Todd worked for five and a half years as a computer scientist in the Artificial Intelligence Center at SRI International (1985-'91). He served for nine years as a Resident Fellow in two Stanford dormitories (Naranja and Arroyo). Todd was a member of the first cohort of students in Stanford's Oxford program in 1984. He returned to Oxford in the Winter of 2020 as BOSP Faculty in Residence.

Prerequisites and Expectations 

The Spring Quarter 2023 course "Studying Stanford: Governance, Culture, and Innovation" (SYMSYS 176S) must be successfully completed by all students prior to the Oxford course. As part of SYMSYS 176S, students will be required to obtain CITI certification in nonmedical human subjects research. Students will be able to apply different research methods based on the training they have received in SYMSYS 176S and in their other coursework in both the main campus and Oxford courses. They will be instructed in and expected to uphold the highest ethical standards for empirical research as they participate in this program.

Grading Basis

Letter Grade Only.