Oxford University receives £150 million gift to help share humanities with the world
21 June 2019 at 4:30 pm
A US philanthropist has made the largest single donation to Oxford University “since the Renaissance”, as part of a plan to transform the way the institution teaches and researches humanities.
The £150 million (A$275 million) gift from billionaire Stephen Schwarzman will be used to create the Schwarzman Centre, bringing Oxford’s humanities disciplines together for the first time and housing a full suite of advanced academic, exhibition, and performance spaces.
This is designed to demonstrate the important role the humanities’ play in helping society handle the fundamental issues of the 21st century, including the ethical introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Schwarzman, the CEO and co-founder of the world’s largest alternative investment firm Blackstone, said he was proud to partner with the university.
“For nearly 1,000 years, the study of the humanities at Oxford has been core to western civilisation and scholarship,” Schwarzman said.
“We need to ensure that its insights and principles can be adapted to today’s dynamic world. Oxford’s longstanding global leadership in the humanities uniquely positions it to achieve this important objective.”
The Schwarzman Centre will house Oxford’s new Institute for Ethics in AI, and will also include performing arts and exhibition venues designed to engage the Oxford community and the broader public.
Oxford said the donation will allow the full breadth of the institution’s humanities collections and research to be shared externally, allowing the public to engage more deeply with the university.
The gift will also allow Oxford to grow its academic posts and scholarships, helping attract new students including those from underrepresented backgrounds.
Author Sir Philip Pullman enthusiastically welcomed the investment, labelling it “one of the most exciting ideas for a long time”.
“This is a time when technology is making new media, new forms of communication, new ways of thinking available to a much wider range of students and citizens than ever before, but also when the roots of humane study need nourishing and strengthening,” Pullman said.
“I welcome this new enterprise warmly, and I’m sure it will flourish and soon be widely seen, and celebrated, as an essential part of what Oxford means.”
Professor Louise Richardson, Oxford University vice-chancellor, added that the donation marked a significant endorsement of the value of the humanities in the 21st century and in Oxford as the world leader in the field.
“The new Schwarzman Centre will open a vibrant cultural program to the public and will enable Oxford to remain at the forefront of both research and teaching while demonstrating the critical role the humanities will play in helping human society navigate the technological changes of the 21st century,” Richardson said.
This donation follows a $350 million gift from Schwarzman in October last year to establish the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, an interdisciplinary hub focused on addressing the ethical challenges surrounding AI.