Oxford receives £80m donation for new graduate college

Reuben College will open to students in 2021 and focus on interdisciplinary research addressing global challenges

June 11, 2020
Professor Louise Richardson - Top 10 universities run by women.
Louise Richardson

The University of Oxford has received an £80 million gift from the Reuben Foundation to support a new graduate college, the first new Oxford college in 30 years, and establish a student scholarship programme.

The institution announced that the college will be named Reuben College in recognition of the donation and welcome its first master’s and PhD students in the autumn of 2021.

The new college will be situated in a suite of buildings on the Radcliffe Science Library site, the heart of the university’s science area, and focus on interdisciplinary research addressing global challenges. Its initial research themes are artificial intelligence and machine learning; environmental change; and cellular life, which includes ongoing work in understanding Covid-19.

Reuben will be Oxford’s 39th college and the institution’s first new college in 30 years, while the donation is one of the largest in the university’s history.

Of the £80 million donation from the Reuben Foundation, a charity formed in 2002 focusing on education and health, £71 million will go to the new college, £15 million of which has been ringfenced for a new graduate student scholarship. The remaining £9 million will go towards undergraduate scholarships for low-income students.

Times Higher Education reported that Oxford was consulting on plans to create a new graduate college in 2018 and the institution formally announced details of the proposals last year.

Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, said the new college would have an initial intake of 100 graduate students in 2021, growing to 200 by 2022 and “building up from that”. The university has also “compiled 29 academics from 15 different departments” who will teach and conduct research at the new college; it is not planning to hire any new scholars for the college.

“Our number of graduate student applicants has gone up by over 100 per cent in a decade and our academics, especially in the sciences, are desperate for more graduate students who are the engine room for their research," Professor Richardson told THE. “So we have this huge demand and because of the nature of the collegiate university, the colleges we have understandably don’t want to get too big,” she added, as an explanation for why the new college was being created.

When the college was announced last year, academics raised concerns that it would not be an official “college” and hence not an autonomous legal entity but rather a department of the university. This means that the university would make the new college’s domestic legislation, not its members.

Professor Richardson confirmed that Reuben, like Kellogg College and St Cross College, is not “100 per cent independent. All the other colleges have their own founding documents; these three don’t because they are departments of the university.”

However, she said this “makes no tangible difference in so far as they all have governing bodies, they all have their independence but they do have the financial backing of the university if things go wrong”. She added that now Reuben has its own endowment it may “opt to change [its status] but that’s an open question”.

“I think there was a real concern that this was going to be a virtual college or less than a real college and so that’s partly why it was so important for us to get a good sizeable endowment,” Professor Richardson said.

When asked whether opening a new college in the wake of coronavirus might pose a risk, Professor Richardson said she thought “the timing was fantastic”.

“We expect that this year we are going to take a hit and get fewer graduate student applicants than we normally would. So we think next year there’s going to be huge pent-up demand, so we’re delighted that we’re going to have Reuben College to address that,” she said, adding that the endowment means it will not be a financial strain on the institution.

In separate news, the University of Oxford’s Oriel College has faced renewed calls this week to remove its statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes, after the statue of slave owner Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol on Sunday.

Professor Richardson said her “general view” was that “hiding your history is not the route to enlightenment”, adding that an interesting question was whether you should use “the ethics of today” to evaluate historical figures or “put them in the context of their time”.

“We need to understand our history, we need to understand these historical figures and debate their role and debate our attitudes towards them,” she said.

“I think we’re seeing now the start of a very interesting national conversation about symbols and our past, and I welcome that debate and look forward to lots of vigorous debates here about it.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

This seems to overlap a bit with the work of the Oxford Martin School. Hmmm

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