A MYSTERY benefactor is spending half a million pounds to make astrology respectable after 300 years in the academic wilderness.
The businesswoman, her identity known to only a handful of people, has set up a secretive trust fund to pay for the university study of star signs and planetary alignments.
The London-based Sophia Trust will reveal plans next week for Britain's first ever degree course in the subject. It is ploughing pounds 500,000 into a centre for astrological studies as well as other research projects around the country.
The identity of the university hosting the MA course remains secret but the trust already has one research project up and running at Southampton.
The plan to legitimise the study of horoscopes and put astrology on a par with physics, maths and literature has angered at least one leading educationalist who described the sub- ject as "misleading" and disseminating "false knowledge".
But Dr Patrick Curry, academic co-ordinator on the six-person Sophia Trust board - which exists solely to distribute the mystery benefactor's money - said: "The idea is to make astrology a serious academic subject. We want to get astrology on the academic syllabus. We don't feel astrology has been properly studied yet.
"Astrology was chucked out of universities 300 years ago. Now it is making a comeback and we think that is an historic event." The author of three books on the history of astrology, Dr Curry refuses to reveal who the secret backer is.
There is no question the public loves horoscopes - about 60 per cent of us read them on a regular basis - and that astrology courses could become big business for British universities.
According to the watchdog that regulates premium rate telephone lines, some 32 million calls a year are made to horoscope hotlines, generating an income of about pounds 30m a year. Astrologer Jonathan Cainer, for example, is Britain's highest paid journalist, and reportedly earns up to pounds 1m from phone lines in the Mirror, his new employer. …