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£90m needed to save the Humanities
The university is asking benefactors for tens of millions of pounds in an effort to help fund 75 key academic posts following reductions in government funding.
A spokesperson for Oxford University insisted that “it’s an exaggeration to say the jobs are in danger”, however did concede that “the fact that we are fundraising for key posts is certainly true.”
A sum of £90 million is required overall. Oxford University Press will be contributing £60 million of this towards the university’s Teaching Fund, with the rest to be raised through philanthropic gifts.
A spokesperson for the University told Cherwell that “the cost of endowing an existing post in perpetuity is £2 million. The Teaching Fund will contribute £800,000 to each post, leaving £1.2 million to be raised by the University through philanthropic means.” The income from this £2 million will then be put towards paying the salary of the position.
The reliance on the Teaching Fund comes as a result of the government’s cuts to the higher education budget, which, according to plans, is to be slashed from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion by 2014. One academic said “in the classic expression, Cameron and his crowd know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”
The University currently has a shortfall of around £80 million per year for teaching and a similar one for research. Even with the introduction of higher fees for students, the teaching shortfall will still stand at about £77 million per year.
The posts in question are mainly in the Humanities division, with Social Sciences, Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences, and Medical Sciences also affected, but to a far lesser extent. 50 of the 75 posts for which funding is required are in the Humanities divison.
Joshua Felberg, a Theology student from Mansfield, does not believe that it is necessarily unfair that most of these posts focus on Humanities’ subjects. Felberg told Cherwell that “if cuts come in there is no need to necessarily balance them between sciences and humanities - such an approach would be absurd - the University needs to think about which subjects will remain important and beneficial in the future.”
Two of the positions in question are the fellowships in Ancient History and German at St John’s. Sir Michael Scholar, President at St John’s, explained, “We were already getting into difficulties before the funding cuts were announced.”
He continued, “Those difficulties were greatly exacerbated by the government’s announcement that the funding for humanities teaching was ceasing.
“We have filled a post in German literature and language in the same way.” He said, “It would not have been filled but we were fortunate to find a very generous donor who provided £1.2m to keep it going.”
Physics and Philosophy student, George King, commented, “It’s not surprising that the humanities would be most at risk as they’re always going to be more reliant on public funding.
“Companies tend to be more interested in inventions and technology than 17th Century French literature.”
However Univ second year Juliet Roe disagreed, saying that “The government are short sighted philistines for cutting funding to humanities.”
Philanthropists have already given £1.2 million to the Ancient History position, and the other £800,000 is to be supplied by Oxford itself. Among these donors is Edward Hocknell, an alumnus of St John’s and now a partner at the investment management firm Baillie Gifford in Edinburgh.
Hocknell said that “the much-admired fellow, Nicholas Purcell, moved to another college. With the government’s emphasis on funding science and technology subjects, the university and college were unwilling to replace him ... This is a big issue for less obviously utilitarian subjects like Classics. The Literature fellow is retiring soon; we might have to pick up the tab for him as well.”
The Oxford Teaching Fund will close in September 2013, so the university needs to get matched funding pledges in by September 2013, so that they may be realised by September 2018.
Oxford is by no means the only university seeking donations to maintain academic posts. The University of Glasgow is in the process of renewing a professorship in Ancient Greek. The last person to hold this professorship, Douglas MacDowell, left £2.4 million to endow the abolished post when he died in 2010.