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Univ by Univ: Mark Foster

Mark Foster (1979, Classics) is Senior Vice President, IBM Global Business Services. He retired in 2011 as Group Chief Executive Global Markets and Management Consulting after 27 years at Accenture. In 2011-2015 he served the UK Government as founding Commissioner for the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), overseeing the UK’s aid spend globally. He lives in Old Greenwich, CT with his wife Sandy and sons Alex and Matt. His hobbies include travel, photography, history, 7-a-side football, jogging, theatre and blogging.

Tell us about your time at Univ.
I have many positive memories of my four years at Univ studying Classics. The year I matriculated was the first year of women being admitted to the College, and it was great to experience the cultural shift that the place underwent as it became more diverse. I found the relatively small scale of the College meant that you quickly got to know pretty much everyone. I found my two years living in College – in the Goodhart Building and then two years in Staverton – were friendly, relaxed, and open. I particularly enjoyed dining in Hall every evening and the habit of sitting with different groups of fellow students each night for conversation and banter. I was a keen (if averagely talented) rower and enjoyed rowing in and eventually Captaining the Second VIII, but also coaching various boats, including the PPE and Rugby VIIIs – two very different motivational challenges!

A highlight of my rowing career was joining four friends to row from Oxford to London and back for charity. We recently got together on Zoom to celebrate our 40th Anniversary of the 230-mile endeavour and reminisced about our reception back at the College Boathouse from the then Master, Lord Goodman. Being on the water was a bit of theme of my time: I was the College Punt Master for a while and look back with fondness on trying to prioritize the scheduling of the punt bookings across the College as well as becoming worryingly expert at it myself.

There were many other highlights of my time: doing stage lighting for indoor and garden productions across the city; being the photographer for the College magazine, and mastering croquet on the Goodhart Lawn. But mainly, I think back to the friendships made – many of which have lasted over the decades since. Of course, the excellence of the tuition I was lucky enough to enjoy from experts such as the great George Cawkwell and Chris Pelling, among others, was at the heart of my Univ experience and provided the backbone for both my academic success and foundation for later life.

When did you first hear about Univ North, and what caught your attention most?
I first heard about the Univ North project when I was a member of the College Development Board, a few years back. At the time, it was just a glimmer in the eye of the College, as they sought to improve the College experience and propel it into the next century of its relevance and excellence. There was an awareness that providing a full in-college living opportunity for the majority of those attending Univ would reinforce the cohesiveness of the community and also continue to make it attractive to future generations of students.

Why have you decided to support the project?
I have decided to support the project for three reasons:

My personal gratitude for the experience of my time in College and the opportunities that my education there created as a platform for what has followed.

My affection for the College as an important place in my life – I was married in the Chapel at Univ, too.

My insight from the Development Board into the vision for the College and its role in the University, which I see as progressive and outward-looking – the planned facilities will be an important part of bringing this vision to life.

How do you see the future of Univ North?
I see the Univ North campus as an extension of the College atmosphere and environment for students throughout their time at Univ. It will provide a dynamic space for living, studying, and fun, so the College can deliver on the full experience of an Oxford degree. It will have social spaces that can be the basis of new friendships and connections that can extend the value of being part of such a unique community even further, and it will act as a magnet to the best and brightest of all backgrounds to continue to choose Univ as their learning destination.

What advice might you give to fellow Univites?
My main advice would be to enjoy the experience to the full while you are there and to take the maximum from the connections, friendships, and excellence of tuition that is available. There are many things that you will take and learn from being a Univ undergraduate or graduate without even realizing it in your future life. There will be a groundedness, quiet confidence, and openness that will serve you well. The rhythms of studying are important and the disciplines of getting those essays in for tutorials every week, going to lectures (some!), or the practicals for the scientists do create a muscle of meeting commitments which will help in the wider world, whatever career you follow. Most importantly though, I would urge Univites to have fun and enjoy this special time in your life.

Read more about Univ’s vision for a second community on our Univ North page.

Published: 30 July 2021

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