$100 million for Oxford research

Despite the financial crisis, Oxford University has raised $100 million (£66 million) in just one year to support groundbreaking research on key global problems. 

Dr James Martin, the founder of the James Martin 21st Century School for graduate research, launched the ‘matched funding’ challenge to encourage donors to contribute towards research which would tackle future global challenges.

Dr Martin, one of the world’s leading computer scientists, is an alumnus of Keble College and Oxford University’s most generous benefactor. He pledged $50 million to the University on the condition that this sum was matched by a further $50 million coming from elsewhere.

More than 30 different donors, including charities, corporations, research bodies and philanthropic individuals such as George Soros, have donated, enabling the full $100 million to be achieved.

Dr Martin instigated the creation of the James Martin 21st Century School in 2005 with an original endowment of $100 million. He offered the latest funding challenge to inspire new research and opportunities at the school. Dr Martin said that he decided to sink part of his fortune into Oxford because “it has the capability to do the best scholarship on complex subjects”. 

 The research will also explore how to ensure future food and fuel security, the problems of ageing populations, and how to prevent future economic shocks. 
“When the matched funding scheme was announced, many people said ‘this is crazy timing as this is the worst economic crash in recent history’,” Dr Martin said. “The Vice-Chancellor and I disagreed with them. Some foundations and wealthy individuals give money in bad times if the cause is exceptionally important. 

 “The James Martin 21st Century School at Oxford has demonstrated that it can identify the most serious dangers and opportunities of our future. Together we are funding solutions that will really make a difference.”

The new funding will be used to support 19 projects on subjects as diverse as the future of cities, brain manipulation, and vaccine design. All of this will be incorporated into membership of the James Martin 21st Century School. 

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Andrew Hamilton, Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor, said, “James Martin and the donors whose funding he has matched have placed their confidence in Oxford as the best place to tackle the global challenges of the 21st century.

“I am delighted that their vision and commitment will enable more collaborative and high-impact research to be developed across Oxford.”

The success of Dr Martin’s campaign has significantly contributed to the University’s current fundraising initiative “Oxford Thinking”, which aims to raise £1.25 billion. Since its creation in May 2008, ‘Oxford Thinking’ has already reached the £800m mark.

Adrian Beecroft, former chief investment officer at private equity firm Apax Partners and founder of the Beecroft Institute of Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Oxford, raised $1 million for research into new developments in computing. He said, “I was excited by James Martin’s pledge and it provided me and the other donors with the incentive to raise $1 million, the amount needed to qualify for the matched funding. 

“We are delighted that the project we offered funding for is going ahead. Pushing the boundaries in computational science will benefit researchers in astrophysics as well as those working in climate science and medicine.” 

External research grants and contracts continue to be Oxford’s largest source of income. In 2008-9, more than 40% (£340.5 million) of income came from external research sponsors.

Money for Oxford’s research has doubled in the last five years and grew by almost 20% between 2008 and 2009 alone, dispelling fears that the economic crisis would severely affect the university’s income.

Oxford consistently has the highest research income from external sources of any UK university. More than an extra £80 million is funded by the generosity of Oxford’s benefactors, compared to Cambridge’s total research income for 2008-9 of £260 million, Imperial College London’s £255 million, and Manchester University’s £253 million. 

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OUSU Academic Affairs Officer Jonny Medland told Cherwell, “This sort of research is only possible as a result of donations… While academic interests should always drive Oxford’s activity this should be funded by a range of sources including philanthropy.”