Computer pioneer gives Oxford £60m to solve the world's biggest problems

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The Independent Online

A British-born computing guru has donated £60m in an endowment to Oxford University to help it become a world leader in solving the most pressing problems of the 21st century.

A British-born computing guru has donated £60m in an endowment to Oxford University to help it become a world leader in solving the most pressing problems of the 21st century.

The donation by the 70-year-old computing pioneer Dr James Martin is one of the biggest received by a university in the UK and will cement Oxford's place as a top-ranking institution for international research for years to come.

Dr Martin, now based in the United States, is a former adviser to the US government who accurately predicted the arrival of cellular telephones, the world wide web, the internet and e-mails in the 1970s.

The magazineComputerworld ranked him as the fourth most influential person in the computer industry in its 25th anniversary issue. His bookThe Wired Society: A Challenge for Tomorrowanticipated the rise of personal computers and the internet in 1977, at a time when they were unimaginable to most people. His endowment will enable the setting up of the James Martin 21st Century School at Oxford University. It aims to stimulate research into issues such as climate change, the increasingly ageing society, inequalities of wealth across countries and continents and the risk of infectious disease epidemics.

His endowment has been invested to ensure that the school has some £3m a year in income for research in perpetuity.

Dr Martin said yesterday: "Mankind faces huge challenges as the 21st century unfolds. It is essential that our leading thinkers commit time, energy and resources now to finding solutions to these risks and problems which could threaten the future of humanity itself. The 21st Century School will be unique in doing this with the goal of ensuring a worthy future for new civilisations."

Dr Martin is a graduate of Oxford University. He holds a Masters and a doctorate degree from the university and studied at Keble College. He has written more than 100 books and amassed a personal fortune by lecturing, writing and consulting on information technology.

He founded James Martin & Co (now called Headstrong), a leading global e-solutions provider that invents, transforms and builds digital businesses. It is the largest information engineering consulting practice in the world, with more than 30 offices worldwide.

A director and international advisory board for the school will be announced later in the summer. Research programmes are due to start in October 2006, with a major conference launch the following autumn. It will then operate with a small, full-time associate staff commissioning research from world leaders in their fields.

Dr John Hood, the vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said: "We are enormously grateful to James Martin for funding this project with this exceptional gift. Throughout its history, the University of Oxford has been at the forefront of research and debate on the great issues facing our civilisation. The school will allow us to continue playing our part in helping tackle the seismic social and technological challenges ahead."

Dr Martin's donation is rivalled only by the £75m put into various projects by the Wolfson Foundation - but that is over a 40-year period. Other major endowments over the years include £20m for the Said Business School plus an extra £3m for the buildings, £10m from Dame Stephanie Shirley for the establishment of the Oxford Internet Institute in 2001, Cecil Rhodes leaving his "considerable fortune" to the university in 1907 (when it was valued at £3,345,000) and donations from the Sainsbury family totalling millions to projects such as the Said Business School, the Ashmolean Museum and the Roy Jenkins Memorial Scholarships.