What is Convocation?


In June each year, at the annual meeting of Convocation, the University’s head honchos meet with alumni to discuss progress and plans for the future. Convocation  is chaired by a Newcastle graduate and it gives alumni a say in how the University is run.

Our previous Chairman was Jack Jeffery (BSc Chemistry and Bacteriology 1953, MSc Applied Science 1960), who stepped down in 2009 after 10 years in the role. Our new Chairman is Antony Jones (BA Politics 1980), a businessman and former President of the Union Society. Arches chats to Jack about the role of Convocation, and the best bits from his tenure.

What does Convocation mean to the University?

It’s one of the statutory bodies of the University, along with Council, Court and Senate. The Chair of Convocation, under statute, is also a member of Court, so it’s an opportunity to use that machinery to get the views of alumni considered in the various decision-making bodies of the University. It has become a tradition that each year, the Vice-Chancellor reports on the state of the University, policies followed, challenges faced and met and so forth, and so it’s a mechanism for the exchange of views between the Vice-Chancellor, Registrar, and alumni.

Is it important to keep traditions like this alive?

It’s essential. Last July, for example, we elected Sir Liam Donaldson as Chancellor, so that’s a pretty important formal role. The Vice-Chancellor asked me to chair the working party that made recommendations for the Chancellorship, so alumni are involved at every stage of the decision-making process. Convocation has been in place for over 50 years and each year we encourage graduates from far and wide to come along and take part.

What are your highlights from the last 10 years?

Oh, there are lots of them. The annual Convocation Lecture is an important part of the University calendar, and we’ve had speakers like Lord Attenborough, Lord Judd, Baroness O’Neill, and our own academics talking about issues that affect our lives and our future. It’s also been a pleasure to see the launch and growth of the Alumni Association, and work with its various Chairs. For me, the Alumni Association is the operational arm of Convocation, so it’s great to see so many new graduates getting involved.

Left to right: Jack Jeffery at Convocation 2009 with Professor Paul Younger, Convocation lecturer Professor Norman Myers, and Vice-Chancellor Chris Brink

Do you have any hopes for the future, under the new Chairman, Antony Jones?

I’d like to see the Alumni Association continue to grow and thrive, and play a key role in University decision-making through Convocation. I’ve known Antony for many years, and I’m delighted he’s been elected. He’s got a lot of drive, energy and ideas, and I’m sure he’s going to be a great Chairman.

You’re a busy man, but you’re staying involved with the University through Court and other activities. How do you find the time?

Well there’s an anecdote that may  explain that. When I was first working for the coal board, I was running a pilot plant and needed to have some adjustments made.  I asked  the foreman fitter who I could get to do the work and he said 'Anyone in the fitting shop could do it, but  make sure you  ask someone who’s busy  because he’d find the time to do it. If you ask someone who’s doing nothing, he’ll have a hundred reasons to continue doing nothing!'   I’ve  found  to be a good guide.

Jack graduated from the University with a BSc in Chemistry and Bacteriology in 1953, before earning an MSc in Applied Science in 1960. Following a career in the water industry, he is now Chairman and a member of the Board of Directors of a number of organisations. In recognition of his support of the University, Jack was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in 2005.

Jack’s memoir, A Pudding Full of Plums (published 2006, Memoir Club), is  available online and at selected bookshops.

Statutory bodies of the University

Convocation: The annual meeting of Newcastle alumni – a chance for graduates to have a say in how the University is managed and to hear news first hand from the Vice-Chancellor

Council: The executive governing body of the University, dealing with management, finances, and reviewing its work. It has 24 members and meets six times a year.

Court: Helps the University fulfil its role in the North East and beyond by providing a communication channel with the outside world. It meets twice a year, and its 60 members include well-known members of the national and local community, businesses, and University staff.

Senate: The University’s  governing body in all academic matters. Its 41 members include students, academics and other staff members, and it usually meets six times per year.

published on: 19th February 2010

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