« | Home | »

Very Generous

Tags: | | |

Oxford University announced earlier this month that it has appointed the Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron (Tate Modern, the National Stadium in Beijing) as the architect of the new Blavatnik School of Government. Last year the Russian/American ‘billionaire industrial philanthropist’ Leonard Blavatnik gave Oxford £75 million, a gift it has described as ‘one of the most generous in the University’s 900-year history’. Oxford is making a sizeable contribution of its own: £26 million and land for the new school in ‘the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter’, a ten-acre site in the centre of the city, masterplanned by the office of another starchitect, Rafael Viñoly.

As well as reminding us that Blavatnik is the founder and chairman of Access Industries, Oxford’s press release runs through the academic boards he sits on (Cambridge, Harvard, Tel Aviv) and outlines some of his philanthropic activity, particularly in the arts.

There’s no mention, however, of LyondellBasell. The world’s third largest petrochemicals group was formed in 2007 when Basell Polyolefins, owned by Access Industries, bought the Lyondell Chemical Company for $12.7 billion, borrowing heavily to do so and taking on Lyondell’s existing debts. In 2009, the new company, unable to restructure $26 billion of debt, was granted Chapter 11 bankruptcy for some of its affiliates, which also protected it from European creditors. One of the banks that wrote off a £2.5 billion loan to Access was RBS, majority-owned by the UK taxpayer.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with what David Cameron has called ‘a very generous act of philanthropy’. So what is the new school for?

The Blavatnik School of Government aims to develop tomorrow’s leaders, in both the private and public sectors… It will address complex global problems in new and practical ways.

The vice-chancellor points out Oxford’s track record in developing yesterday’s leaders – ‘the university has educated 26 British prime ministers and over 30 other world leaders’ – but that must have been using old and impractical methods. It would be nice to think that the new ways will result in a great improvement on what we have now, but it seems unlikely. The chairman of the school’s International Advisory Board will be Lord Browne of Madingley, who wrote the ‘shoddy, ill-argued and under-researched document’ that recommended the almost total removal of public funding for teaching in universities. (By coincidence, Blavatnik sold a chunk of the Russian oil company TNK to BP in 2003, when Browne was CEO.) The fees for the one-year Master of Public Policy course will be £30,000.

Not all the university is so keen on Lord Browne. I recently received what looked like the usual fund-raising letter from my old college. The fund-raising part – specifically, to pay for undergraduate bursaries – was held back till the end, as Richard Carwardine was openly sarcastic about the Browne Report, the Comprehensive Spending Review and the White Paper: ‘Whatever one’s view of what has emerged, the exercise that has produced it can best be described as fractured and incoherent.’ He also attacked the ‘business-school model of education’, favoured by successive governments, for being ‘essentially and narrowly utilitarian’. The Blavatnik School will admit its first students next year.

Comments on “Very Generous”

  1. SB_London says:

    Interesting essay.

    But I wonder why we need so many leaders and who or what they will lead. How about education for those who will work in the private and public sectors addressing those complex global problems in new and practical ways.

    This leadership push is not just in higher education. Through the Open House weekend I came across a secondary school in Islington that marketed itself as a business academy where its pupils were duped into thinking they needed to become leaders. How about getting them to be passionate about learning chemistry or geography.

  2. philip proust says:

    Is the reader expected to be so up on Oxford politics that they could identify Richard Carwardine as both President of Corpus Christi College and author of letters the college sends to its graduates? The link does volunteer half this information but why can’t it be provided in the text?

    Otherwise the blog provides an excellent though depressing micro-account of the continuing attempts by the global plutocracy – with the aid of their lackeys in government – to colonize what what used to be academia.

    • Geoff Roberts says:

      It’s the American way – Oxford as a Uk subsidiary of MIT that runs almost exclusively on funds from big business and Uncle Sam. How much tax does Mr. Blavatnik save through his generous donation I wonder?

    • Geoff Roberts says:

      Could you get me an invitation to meet the global plutocracy please? I have a project that needs some cash and they might want to fund it for me. Is this the Bilderberg connection you’re talking about?

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • name on Who is the enemy?: Simply stating it is correct doesn't make it so, I just wish you would apply the same epistemic vigilance to "Muslim crimes" as you do to their Hebrew...
    • Glen Newey on Unwinnable War: The legal issue admits of far less clarity than the simple terms in which you – I imagine quite sincerely – frame them. For the benefit of readers...
    • Geoff Roberts on The New Normal: The causes go back a long way into the colonial past, but the more immediate causes stem from the activities of the US forces in the name of freedom a...
    • sol_adelman on The New Normal: There's also the fact that the French state denied the mass drownings of '61 even happened for forty-odd years. No episode in post-war W European hist...
    • funky gibbon on At Wembley: If England get France in the quarter finals of Euro 16 I expect that a good deal of the fraternity will go out the window

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Edward Said: The Iraq War
    17 April 2003

    ‘This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology.’

    David Runciman:
    The Politics of Good Intentions
    8 May 2003

    ‘One of the things that unites all critics of Blair’s war in Iraq, whether from the Left or the Right, is that they are sick of the sound of Blair trumpeting the purity of his purpose, when what matters is the consequences of his actions.’

    Simon Wren-Lewis: The Austerity Con
    19 February 2015

    ‘How did a policy that makes so little sense to economists come to be seen by so many people as inevitable?’

    Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers
    16 July 2015

    ‘American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.’

Advertisement Advertisement