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Meet Second Woman to Ever Hold Oxford Varsity’s Vice Chancellor Position Since its 927-year Existence

Cursory: Meet Prof Irene Tracey, Oxford University’s new 273rd VC and the second female to ever hold the position.

Irene Tracey, a Professor of Anaesthetic Neuroscience in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, has on 1st January 2023, emerged as the 273rd Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University since the roll call began in 1230, and only the second woman.

She did her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Oxford in Biochemistry under the supervision of Professor Sir George Radda. 

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She was a founding member of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB – now the world-leading Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging); and was its director from 2005 until 2015.

Tracey was born at the former Radcliffe Infirmary site in the city centre, which has since been rebuilt and currently houses the university’s humanities school. She grew up in Kidlington, on the outskirts of Oxford, and attended the local state secondary school, Gosford Hill, where her aspirations to attend the university were sharpened by her parents and her teachers.

Prof Tracey said she and her husband were only able to cope with the demands of establishing their academic careers and a young family thanks to the help of her elder sister, Clare.

“She really was critical,” she said, in helping the couple through a “really intense period” of starting a family and establishing their respective research teams while her mother was suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It was terrific for my big sister to say: ‘I can do a bit of childcare to help and be your 999 number when you’ve double-booked meetings or one of you is travelling.”

“So we had this lifeline that meant that we had great childcare for our children and the peace of mind that comes with it. It was hugely important and really facilitated our ability to hang in there and keep going.”

You can learn more about Prof Irene HERE.

Her Plans for the University

Oxford University’s new vice-chancellor has said that one of her first acts will be to investigate the pay and working conditions of the university’s staff, in an attempt to alleviate the “really tough” pressures on junior academics in particular.

Tracey said she “absolutely recognises” the pressures that young staff members are going through, both from her own experience having been leader of the university’s clinical neuroscience department, as well as in her most recent post as head of Oxford’s Merton College.

In the ceremony at Oxford’s Sheldonian theatre marking her admission, the vice-chancellor announced she would commission an independent inquiry into the pay and working conditions affecting all staff – academic and non-academic.

Staff at Oxford recently took part in national industrial action by members of the University and College Union, which shows no sign of ending after employers’ representatives declined to make an improved offer at a meeting with UCU this week.

She said: “It will be a thorough review of all aspects of our staff’s remuneration package, that’s everything from pay and pensions and in terms of quality of life, because often it’s access to stuff you can’t quantify that can actually make a deifference.”

“It could be access to nursery provision or after-school care … anything that helps people keep the show on the road and makes their life a little bit easier,” she added.

In her new role, Tracey said she wants Oxford to continue its efforts to recruit and admit talented students from state schools, as well as extending its outreach towards minority ethnic and under-represented groups.

“As we have more students coming from diverse backgrounds, there are, I would say, areas that we need to work on, in terms of making sure that when they are here, it’s a place that they do feel included in.

“We’re working hard to recognise how we need to also adapt and change to make sure that there is that inclusiveness,” Tracey said.

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