Oxford University’s Blatvatnik School of Government has opened to students today, welcoming 39 scholars from 17 countries.

The Blavatnik School was first announced in September 2010, following a £75 million donation from US industrialist Len Blavatnik. This donation, the largest of the university’s history, was matched with a further £25 million from the university itself.

The Blavatnik School of Government is touted as Europe’s “first major school of government” by the university. Its aim is “to develop the world’s future leaders in both the private and public sectors.” It has attracted students from across the globe, from Kenya to Kosovo and Afghanistan to the Philippines.

The students come from a diverse background of professions and fields. This includes doctors and journalists as well as those who have worked in government, law and development.

The school offers only one course, a one-year ‘Masters in Public Policy’. The course is multi-disciplinary, with core courses in aspects of science and medicine as well as law, economics, international relations, history and philosophy. “Intensive” week-long practical modules will cover skills such as communication, negotiation, budgeting and strategy.

To ensure that finance is not a barrier to study, all students have access to partial funding, with 26 of the 39 having full funding provided.

The teaching will be provided by world experts in different areas, as well as a number of former government officials. In their first week, students will be taught by South African politician Trevor Manuel, UK shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, and former UK Cabinet Secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell.

Professor Ngaire Woods, Dean of the School, commented, ‘We are excited see a diverse and exceptional group of scholars in the first class of our Master of Public Policy. To pursue the course, many are breaking from established careers in aid, medicine, engineering and journalism as well as government and international institutions.’

‘Over the next year, we will provide our students with the skills and knowledge to be exemplary and effective leaders – whatever their policy focus and wherever they work.”

A University spokeswoman played down concerns about the university’s ability to find college accomodation for students, claiming, ‘The first intake of 39 students at the Blavatnik School of Government is to be affiliated to a college and housed in the usual way.’

‘The University is committed to providing accommodation for as many students as possible, and ongoing developments such as the graduate accommodation building on the Castle Mill Site will be ready in time for the opening of the new Blavatnik School of Government building, which is due to open in 2015.’

She said that the School is planning ‘events which will be open to the wider University, providing a stimulating environment for staff and students to discuss and listen to new ideas on improved global governance and policy.’ The spokeswoman also told Cherwell that Oxford would benefit from ‘a strong and lasting connection between [the students] and Oxford.’

‘The university is committed to investing even more in postgraduate scholarships to compete with its top international peers., many of whom offer guaranteed full funding to virtually all doctoral students. This is why providing more financial support for graduates is a priority of the University’s fundraising campaign, Oxford Thinking.’

Chris Gray, OUSU Vice-President (Graduates), commented, ‘As far as we are aware, other courses have not had to reduce their student intake and the 120 new students that will be arriving this year will not have a significant impact on the experience of Oxford postgraduates as a whole.’

‘However, the Blavatnik School does raise wider questions about the recent, and much larger, expansion of graduate education at Oxford. OUSU continues to lobby the University to ensure that more of our current students are provided with housing and funding as a precondition to any further expansion.

He continued, ‘It is an area we will continue to watch with interest, though in this case we are optimistic that the flagship Public Policy course at the Blavatnik School will raise the expected standard of masters education at Oxford even higher.’