Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton described the former Prime Minister as “ranking among the most prominent of Oxford’s alumni.”
“Today,” Hamilton said, “we remember a graduate of the University who reached the highest public office and had a lasting impact on British politics and society.”
The statement on behalf of the University represents a sharp change from how it previously regarded Baroness Thatcher. In 1985 she became the first post-war Oxford-educated Prime Minister to be refused an honorary degree by her alma mater, because of her decision to cut education funding.
On Wednesday Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry told the Commons, which has been recalled from Easter Recess to pay tribute to Baroness Thatcher, that the decision “reflected badly on the image and reputation of Oxford University”.
More recently, in Hilary 2012, strong opposition was voiced inside the University regarding plans to name a building in the Said Business School after her.
The Principal of Somerville, Baroness Thatcher’s old Oxford college, Dr. Alice Prochaska stated, “It is with great sorrow that we have learned of the death of Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, this morning at the age of 87.
Somerville have released photos of Margaret Thatcher, née Roberts, from her undergraduate days at the college, as well as a letter the Prime Minister wrote to the college in 1980.
“We are immensely proud to have educated Britain’s first – and so far only – female Prime Minister and one of the most internationally significant statespeople of the twentieth century. On this sad day, we pay tribute to the truly pioneering spirit that propelled her to the pinnacle of British political, and public, life.”
Before her death, Somerville College had awarded a number of honours to Baroness Thatcher, including naming a conference centre after her, as well as bestowing a number of scholarships in her name.
Cherwell understand that Somerville will now increase the number of scholarships bearing her name.
The college also plans to hold a memorial service, likely to take place during the upcoming Michaelmas term.
Margaret Roberts, as she then was, went up to Oxford in 1943 to study Chemistry. She excelled academically, and was tutored by Dorothy Hodgkin, the only British woman who has won the Nobel Prize for Science.
Baroness Thatcher served as President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in Michaelmas 1946, though she was not the first woman to hold that position.
Roberto Weeden-Sanz, a first-year historian at St Benet’s Hall and OUCA member, commented, “She was very much the product of her time, which was a time of great division and difficulty in society and although she did not solve that division, she was able to grapple with the country’s deep economic problems and allowed Britain to stand up proud, on the international stage once more. ”
According to Helena Dollimore, an undergraduate at St Hilda’s and an Oxford University NUS delegate, “at least 40 people” cheered news of Baroness Thatcher’s death in the conference hall this afternoon. Jack Matthews, Oxford student and Deputy Chairman of West Midlands Conservative Future, described the applause he had witnessed by delegates in the chamber as “shameful”.
Dollimore, a Co-Chair of Oxford University Labour Club, said that “obviously I don’t agree with Thatcher’s policies, but we need to recognise that she was the first female Prime Minister and that counts for something.
“I completely condemn the behaviour of those NUS delegates and have no respect whatsoever for their behaviour.”
Liam Byrne, President of the NUS, told delegates after the incident to “think very carefully indeed about how you respond to this news as conference continues.”
“We believe there is such thing as humanity. There is such a thing as sensitivity. And there is such a thing as respect,” he told the conference.
“It’s not just that this would reflect extremely badly upon us if we were to show disrespect at this time. We are better than that.”