The University of Oxford announced last week that it had raised $100-million in the past year for its James Martin 21st Century School, thanks to a $50-million challenge grant from the school's namesake.
Mr. Martin, a British computing pioneer and Oxford's most generous benefactor, said in March 2009 that he would match up to $50-million in donations of at least $1-million to the school, which he established in 2005 with a $100-million endowment. When he set his fund-raising challenge, Mr. Martin said in a telephone interview, "most people said this is the biggest economic meltdown in history—you'll never get people to give." He was also warned that "people in England don't give money."
Mr. Martin said that the $50-million target he set with his matching pledge had been not only met but significantly exceeded. "The school ended up with far more money than it could possibly accept" for matching purposes, he said.
Ian Goldin, the school's director, said that after Mr. Martin matched the gifts of 30 donors, nearly as many more had to be told that his target had been achieved. "The discussion we're having with them now is, 'Do you want to give us money anyway, even without the match?'" Mr. Goldin said.
Mr. Martin, who graduated from Oxford's Keble College in 1955, set up the James Martin 21st Century School to examine the problems and opportunities of the 21st century through interdisciplinary study. The school now comprises 15 institutes and will soon have some 400 affiliated researchers and staff members working on topics that include climate change, global poverty, and food and fuel security. "I've got a list of the world's big problems," Mr. Martin said.
By 2008, he felt that the school was already "getting quite extraordinary results."
"It was clear to me that what was needed was for it to expand, to put the foot on the accelerator," he said. Among the areas in which the school's research is making a difference is the study of infectious disease. Mr. Goldin said the institution has, for example, worked closely with the British government on coordinating its response to the H1N1 pandemic.
The new pledges will support 19 new research projects on topics including the future of cities, global migration, stem cells, manipulating the brain and the ethical implications of such research, and nuclear energy for the 21st century.
The largest donation to the campaign came from the financier George Soros, who gave $5-million for the study of "economic modeling in a rapidly changing world." The research, which will be conducted in conjunction with Mr. Soros's Institute for New Economic Thinking, will explore what types of regulations could have prevented the recent economic crisis. "It's quite possible that the next crash could have its causes from this crash," Mr. Martin said.
The school's interdisciplinary approach is central to its research model, and scholars from various disciplines have frequent opportunities to interact, both formally and informally. Philosophers, for example, have worked closely with researchers on the ethics of issues such as carbon trading and the distribution of medicine during a pandemic, Mr. Goldin said. He added: "What is happening here is, I think, unique in universities."