By Jeevan Vasagar
Oxford University, which has educated 26 British prime ministers, will today unveil plans for a new school of government dedicated to grooming future world leaders.
The school, funded by a £75m gift from a US philanthropist, will train graduates from around the world in the “skills and responsibilities of government,” the university said.
Students will be taught how to deal with complex problems such as the BSE crisis or swine flu which require an understanding of specialist areas of science and the law, as well as being given a grounding in practical skills such as handling budgets.
Professor Ngaire Woods, academic director of the new school, said: “We sat down and said, with 21st century policy problems, what does a public policy maker need to understand about them?
“We’ve got an analytical part of the curriculum and a practical part. We’re not trying to train scientists and medics, but we’ll be teaching how to be an informed user of scientific advice.
“For example the BSE crisis; how do you manage the scientific advice, the legal advice, the political advice? We’ve got a module where we’ve got a zoologist, a lawyer and a political scientist, and we’re bringing them together to teach this.”
The course will combine disciplines ranging from the humanities, social sciences and law, to science, technology, health, finance, energy and security policy. The school will also teach an understanding of different political systems.
Prof Woods said students of the school’s one-year master’s degree will also compare political systems: “How do different [political] systems work – who has authority? How do we know if a decision will be implemented?”
The international outlook of the course will be one of its distinctive features. “It will be good to train [students] to understand other countries, and also [study] with people in other countries. To have global thinking, global understanding, global networking.”
The school, which will admit its first students in 2012, has been set up with a £75m gift from the industrialist Leonard Blavatnik, one of the most generous in the university’s 900-year history. Oxford is contributing an additional £26m as well as land in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter in the city centre. It will be the first major school of government in Europe, taking approximately 120 students with 40 academic staff.
Professor Andrew Hamilton, the university’s vice-chancellor, described the school as “a huge milestone in Oxford’s history.”
In a statement, he said: “It will give tomorrow’s leaders the best of Oxford’s traditional strengths alongside new and practical ways of understanding and addressing the challenges of good governance. The university has educated 26 British prime ministers and over 30 other world leaders, yet until now the major international schools of government have all been outside Europe, principally in the United States. The establishment of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford will correct that imbalance.”
The prime minister David Cameron, who read PPE at Brasenose College, Oxford, called Blavatnik’s gift “a very generous act of philanthropy” and said the School would “create a new avenue for training and research in the crucial field of good government and public policy in this country and around the world”.
According to the university, at least 117 alumni were elected to parliament in 2010 and more than 140 sit in the House of Lords. As well as Cameron, foreign secretary William Hague, home secretary Theresa May and chancellor George Osborne are all Oxford graduates.
A video message will be played at today’s launch from Bill Clinton, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, in which he says: “Oxford’s reputation as an international powerhouse of research will help students and the global community to better understand not just politics and economics, but also public health, environmental science, development, genetics, the humanities.
“Oxford will be doing what it has for centuries. It was at Oxford that the link between smoking and cancer was discovered. Oxford scientists pioneered techniques which enabled us to understand the role greenhouse gases play in climate change.
“I am confident that Oxford’s Blavatnik School will bring such ground-breaking research closer to the heart of public policy.”
The school’s benefactor Blavatnik, a US citizen who emigrated from Russia in 1978, has also donated to the British Museum, the Tate and the Royal Opera House.