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Oxford expands with billionaire's £75m gift

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Monday 20 September 2010 00:00 BST

A billionaire philanthropist is backing Europe's first major school of government, which opens at Oxford University later today. Len Blavatnik, a Russian-American industrialist, has ploughed £75m into the venture so far and says he is prepared to offer more. The school, which will be launched with a message of support from the former US president Bill Clinton, aims to train outstanding graduates from around the world in the skills and responsibilities of government. It will show them how to approach issues such as climate change and to tackle health crises like the potential flu pandemic.

The first students will arrive in 2012 and the school will eventually accept 120 a year. They will study for a Master's degree which will include a unique mixture of the humanities, law, science, social sciences, technology, health, finance, energy and security policy.

Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford and an adviser to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, said: "The 21st century demands a new skill set for dealing with public policy than the skill set traditionally taught in public policy schools. For instance, knowledge of climate change and to deal with health scares are an important part of that skill set. If you don't have that, you take leadership decisions which are very, very damaging. You need a leadership team that understands the nature of medical sciences."

The only other institution offering similar courses is the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the US. But Professor Collier said that while the Harvard school looked at solutions from a US perspective, its British peer would have a more global outlook. "For Oxford, the world is bigger than the country," he added.

Mr Blavatnik, 53, is the founder and chairman of Access Industries – a company with investments focused on natural resources, chemicals and telecommunications in the US, Europe and South America. His donation is one of the largest by an individual donor to any university.

He studied in Moscow before emigrating to the US in 1978. He received a Master's degree in computing from Columbia University and a postgraduate degree in business administration from Harvard. He has previously donated to Harvard, Cambridge and Tel Aviv universities and British institutions such as the British Museum, the Tate, the Royal Opera House and the Prince's Trust.

In a video address at today's launch, Mr Clinton, who studied at Oxford, will say: "Oxford's reputation as an international powerhouse of research will help students and the global community to better understand not just politics and economies, but also public health, environmental science, development, genetics and the humanities."

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