Quick Summary of Convocation

Convocation refers to a formal assembly or gathering of individuals, typically members of a specific organisation or institution, for a specific purpose. In a legal context, convocation often refers to the formal meeting of a university or college’s governing body, such as a board of trustees or senate. During a convocation, important matters related to the institution’s administration, policies, and decision-making are discussed and decided upon. Convocations may also involve ceremonial events, such as the conferral of degrees or the inauguration of a new president. The procedures and rules governing convocations are typically outlined in the institution’s bylaws or governing documents.

Full Definition Of Convocation

Convocation, a term deriving from Latin “convocare,” meaning “to call together,” refers to an assembly of people convened for a specific purpose, often in a legislative or ecclesiastical context. In the legal framework of the United Kingdom, convocation primarily relates to the governance structures of universities and the Church of England. This overview will delve into the legal foundations, historical context, roles, and contemporary significance of convocation in these institutions.

Historical Context

Convocations have a long history in British legal and institutional contexts. Historically, the term was used to describe ecclesiastical assemblies in the Church of England, particularly the Convocation of Canterbury and the Convocation of York. These bodies were originally established to provide a forum for clergy to discuss and decide on matters of doctrine, discipline, and administration.

In academia, convocation pertains to university governance. Historically, it referred to assemblies of university members for the purpose of granting degrees and discussing academic policies. This tradition continues in modern times, with convocations being integral to the functioning of universities.

Ecclesiastical Convocations

Legal Foundations

The Convocations of Canterbury and York are the two provincial synods of the Church of England, each with its own legislative body. The legal basis for these convocations lies in the Church of England’s unique establishment under English law, specifically through statutes such as the Synodical Government Measure 1969 and the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919.

The Convocations were formally constituted by Archbishop Theodore of Tarsus in the 7th century, but their legal powers were significantly shaped during the Reformation and under subsequent monarchs. The 1533 Submission of the Clergy Act curtailed the independent legislative power of convocations, requiring royal assent for any ecclesiastical legislation.

Structure and Function

The Convocation of Canterbury covers the southern province, while the Convocation of York pertains to the northern province. Each convocation comprises two houses: the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy. These bodies meet separately and together to discuss and legislate on ecclesiastical matters.

key functions of these convocations include:

  1. Legislation: Proposing and debating measures concerning church governance, doctrine, and liturgy.
  2. Advisory Role: Advising the General Synod on theological and pastoral issues.
  3. Disciplinary Matters: Addressing issues of clerical discipline and conduct.

Convocations historically had significant judicial functions, but these have largely been transferred to ecclesiastical courts.

Contemporary Significance

In contemporary times, the role of convocations has evolved. While they retain legislative functions, much of the ecclesiastical legislative work is now conducted by the General Synod of the Church of England. Convocations primarily serve an advisory role and act as a forum for discussing issues pertinent to the clergy and the laity.

Academic Convocations

Legal Foundations

In the context of universities, particularly those with historic charters like Oxford and Cambridge, convocation refers to assemblies of graduates and academic staff. These bodies are governed by university statutes, which derive their authority from royal charters and Acts of Parliament.

For instance, the University of Oxford’s convocation is established under its statutes, which have evolved through a series of royal charters dating back to the 13th century. The statutes outline the composition, powers, and functions of the convocation.

Structure and Function

Academic convocations typically consist of the following:

  1. Graduates: All graduates of the university are members, with certain distinctions based on degree level and standing.
  2. Academic Staff: Faculty members, often including both teaching and research staff.

The primary functions of academic convocations include:

  1. Degree Conferral: Formally conferring degrees upon graduates during ceremonial assemblies.
  2. Governance: participating in the election of key university officials, such as the Chancellor.
  3. Policy Discussion: Serving as a forum for discussing academic policies, though significant legislative power often resides with smaller, more specialised bodies like the Senate or the Council,.

Contemporary Significance

In modern universities, convocations have become more ceremonial than legislative. The primary role of convocation is the formal conferral of degrees during graduation ceremonies. However, they retain certain governance functions, such as the election of the Chancellor and occasionally influencing major university policies.

Comparative Analysis

A comparative analysis of ecclesiastical and academic convocations reveals both similarities and differences:

  1. Legislative Role: Ecclesiastical convocations retain legislative functions, albeit limited and advisory in nature. Academic convocations, while historically legislative, now focus more on ceremonial functions.
  2. Composition: Both types of convocation include a mix of senior members (bishops or professors) and a broader assembly (clergy or graduates).
  3. Functionality: Ecclesiastical convocations engage in doctrinal and pastoral discussions, whereas academic convocations focus on ceremonial aspects and some elements of university governance.

Legal Implications and Challenges

The legal implications of convocations are multifaceted.

  1. Governance: Convocations play a critical role in the governance structures of their respective institutions. Changes in their legal status or functions can significantly impact institutional governance.
  2. Legislation: Ecclesiastical convocations’ legislative activities must align with broader legal frameworks governing the Church of England. Academic convocations must operate within the statutory and regulatory frameworks of higher education.
  3. Ceremonial vs. Legislative Roles: The shift from legislative to ceremonial roles in academic convocations reflects broader changes in university governance. This transition raises questions about the relevance and future of convocation as a governance body.

Challenges facing convocations include:

  1. Relevance: In a rapidly changing institutional landscape, the traditional roles of convocations may need re-evaluation to ensure they remain relevant and effective.
  2. Representation: Ensuring broad and fair representation within convocations is crucial, particularly in academic contexts where diversity and inclusion are significant considerations.
  3. Legal Reforms: Potential legal reforms may be necessary to clarify and enhance the roles of convocations in contemporary governance structures.


Convocations in the United Kingdom hold a unique and historically significant place in the legal and institutional frameworks of the Church of England and universities. While their roles have evolved from legislative assemblies to more advisory and ceremonial functions, they remain integral to the governance and ceremonial traditions of these institutions.

In the ecclesiastical context, convocations continue to provide a forum for discussing and advising on matters of doctrine, discipline, and administration, albeit within a framework where the General Synod holds greater legislative authority. Academic convocations, meanwhile, primarily serve ceremonial purposes, particularly in the conferral of degrees, but retain some governance functions.

The legal landscape surrounding convocations is shaped by historical statutes, royal charters, and contemporary legislative measures. As institutions continue to evolve, the relevance and functions of convocations may need re-assessment to ensure they meet the needs of modern governance while preserving their rich traditions and ceremonial roles.

The future of convocations will likely involve balancing their traditional roles with the demands of contemporary governance, ensuring they remain a vital and effective component of the legal and institutional structures they serve.

Convocation FAQ'S

A convocation is a formal gathering or assembly of individuals, typically held by educational institutions, to celebrate and recognise the achievements of students who have successfully completed their academic programmes.

Convocations are usually open to the graduating students, their families and friends, faculty members, and other invited guests. However, the specific attendance policy may vary depending on the institution.

While attending a convocation is not typically mandatory, it is highly encouraged for graduating students to participate in this significant event to celebrate their accomplishments.

The number of guests allowed per graduating student may vary depending on the institution’s policy. It is advisable to check with the convocation organisers or refer to the invitation for specific details regarding the number of guests allowed.

Most convocations have a dress code, which often includes wearing a cap and gown. It is important to follow the institution’s guidelines regarding appropriate attire for the event.

Photography and videography policies may differ among institutions. Some convocations may allow guests to take pictures or record videos, while others may restrict such activities. It is recommended to check with the convocation organisers or refer to the event guidelines for clarification.

Yes, convocations often serve as a platform for the official presentation of degree certificates to graduating students. However, the specific process for receiving the certificate may vary among institutions.

Many institutions offer convocations for both on-campus and online students. If you have completed your program online, you may still be eligible to participate in a convocation ceremony. It is advisable to check with your institution for specific details and arrangements.

Typically, convocations are specific to the institution where the program was completed. However, some institutions may allow students to attend convocations at other affiliated institutions. It is recommended to inquire with the respective institutions about any such possibilities.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 10th June 2024.

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