Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros has pledged $US 5 million to fund a new economics institute at Oxford.

This amount was put forward by Soros’ think-tank, The Institute for New Economic Thinking (Inet). It will be part of the James Martin 21st Century School for graduate level study of Economics. The school’s founder, Dr James Martin, has matched Inet’s figure.

Together, they aim to develop a five-year programme of research that will address recent failures in economic theory and practice.

The centre at Oxford is the first of many that Mr. Soros hopes to set up at leading universities across the world, including Princeton and Columbia in the USA.

Inet’s director, Mr Robert Johnson, said, “The economic crisis and the failure of economists to predict it and protect society illustrate that economics as a profession needs to re-earn its reputation and regain its mantle of expertise.”

The new institute, as yet unnamed, will take a broad and interdisciplinary approach to economic theory, utilising history, psychology and natural science as well as traditional mathematical modeling.

Current students have welcomed news of the new institute. Emma King, a first-year Economics and Management student, said, “You can’t help but be excited by the prospect of a lot of funding for a new Economics school in Oxford. The fact that the new institute will attempt to challenge existing economic theory has to be a good thing as most recent funding has been rooted in researching existing economic thought.”

OUSU Academic Affairs Officer, Jonny Medland, praised the philanthropic nature of the funding. He commented, “Donations play an increasingly important role in Oxford’s development and George Soros’ generosity will help ensure that Oxford stays on the cutting edge of economic thinking… This sort of research is only possible as a result of donations.”

This was a view echoed by Dr Ian Goldin, director of the James Martin 21st Century School, who commented, “This new institute will benefit from linking up with some of the best minds at Oxford. I am excited that, due to the vision and generosity of George Soros and James Martin, we will be developing an interdisciplinary team of world-class academics.”

The new institute will be led by Professor Sir David Hendry, Professorial Fellow at Nuffield College and former head of the Department of Economics. More details and information about the new institute will be announced by the James Martin 21st Century School on 28 April 2010.