Tycoon gives Oxford £36m to tackle threat of climate change

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The Independent Online

A wealthy benefactor will today pledge Oxford University up to £36m to help it combat any shortfall in cash as a result of the recession.

Former Keble College alumni Dr James Martin, who made his fortune through books on information technology, has promised to match any research donations made to the university up to the tune of $50m (£36m).

His pledge comes at a time when staff at other universities in the UK are pursuing more modest aims, such as fighting plans for the wholesale closure of three departments at Liverpool University and a threat to axe Reading University's School of Health and Social Care.

Dr Martin's offer will boost cash for Oxford's newly established 21st Century School, sponsored by him to conduct research into problems facing the world such as climate change and ageing.

"My view is that, while we may be distracted by today's credit crunch, we must not forget the bigger picture – that we need to safeguard a future for the generations that follow us," he said.

Dr Ian Goldin, director of the 21st Century School, said: "I was concerned, as anyone involved in higher education would be, that the economic crisis would undermine people's willingness to donate. This wonderful new generation of resources has therefore been timely. Anyone giving will know they are contributing towards providing twice the money they have come forward with."

Dr Goldin said the first donation – to be matched by Dr Martin – had already come in with the university being offered £800,000 to conduct research into inner-city life.

Dr Martin said he would be happy to spend all the $50m he had pledged "because it would mean money was coming in for very important research".

He said he had visited several universities before opting to invest in Oxford "because I thought it would give the best opportunity for world-class research".

In addition to the $50m pledge, the £100m Dr Martin spent to set up the 21st Century School is thought to be the largest contribution ever donated to a UK university.

Meanwhile, the powerful university senate at Reading University, which represents academics, last night voted to approve plans to axe its School of Health and Social Care. A final decision will be taken by the university's ruling council tomorrow week.

At Liverpool University the senate failed to debate a motion calling for a decision on closures to be delayed and rejected a move to withdraw the plans.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of University and College Union (UCU) – the university lecturers' union – who spent yesterday morning at a demonstration in Reading against proposed cuts at the university there, stressed she was "very pleased" with the pledge by Dr Martin to Oxford University.

But she added: "The Government says university funding is OK, but it is not OK. "There are less staff per student and a whole range of departments facing funding cuts or being closed."