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Will Railton has published 14 articles

£90m needed to save the Humanities

Oxford suffers from government cuts, asking for £90m to save 75 key government posts
Will Railton on Thursday 16th February 2012
Photograph: Emma Lowe

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.

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