In the news: Frances Cairncross

November 14, 2003

The new head of Exeter College, Oxford, likes a wintry dawn dip in Highgate Ladies' Pond and has long been an advocate of legalising all drugs. A mixed blessing for the student body then.

Frances Cairncross, management editor of The Economist and chair of the Economic and Social Research Council, will take over from English literature professor Marilyn Butler as rector in October 2004.

Ms Cairncross was keen enough on her morning dip to take on the Corporation of London - which wanted to put back winter opening times over safety fears. Although she lost, she still gets to swim in the mixed pond at dawn.

Whether she will start swimming in the Cherwell is not yet clear.

"It depends whether I can find a private spot away from the Exeter Eight," she said.

Students concerned at the thought of Cherwell dips can nevertheless take heart from Ms Cairncross' stance on drugs. Two years ago, The Economist came out in favour of legalising them all.

"Regulation is impossible," Ms Cairncross wrote. "Yet a legal market is the best guarantee that drug-taking will become no more dangerous than drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco."

She is firm supporter of student tuition fees, and one of her first tasks at Exeter will be to raise money for bursaries to ensure access for students from all backgrounds.

She read modern history at St Anne's College, Oxford, and holds an honorary fellowship there. She also holds a visiting fellowship at Nuffield College.

Ms Cairncross has worked for The Economist since 1984 and before that was economics correspondent for The Guardian.

Exeter, one of the oldest colleges in Oxford, will celebrate its 700th anniversary in 2014. "I'm looking forward enormously to being part of the evolution of Oxford at this important time in its history," she said.

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