Oxford Gets a School of Government to Call Its Own ; Institution's Chief Calls Her Mission Simple: To Train a New Global Elite

By Guttenplan, Dd | International Herald Tribune, March 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Oxford Gets a School of Government to Call Its Own ; Institution's Chief Calls Her Mission Simple: To Train a New Global Elite


Guttenplan, Dd, International Herald Tribune


Opened in 2010 after a multimillion-pound donation from the Russian-American industrialist Leonard Blavatnik, the school has just admitted its first class of 30 students.

In the days when Britannia still ruled the waves, and the men who ruled the British Empire learned the arts of public policy by studying the classics of ancient Greece and Rome, Ngaire Woods would have been an unlikely choice to head an Oxford school of government.

Yet the 49-year-old New Zealand native, who arrived in Britain as a Rhodes Scholar and taught international relations at Harvard before returning to Oxford, is unabashed in proclaiming that her mission as head of the new Blavatnik School of Government is to assemble and train a new global elite.

"Until this century, global leadership has really been defined in very narrow terms -- essentially as something contained in a relationship between Britain and the United States," Dr. Woods said. "We aim to be a global school from Day 1. Our student body will be international. And they will be learning from Brazil, from Kenya, from Thailand, from China -- as well as from Europe and the United States."

Opened in September 2010 after a Pounds 75 million, or $119 million, donation from Leonard Blavatnik -- a Russian-American industrialist reputed to be the sixth richest man in Britain -- the school has just admitted its first class of 30 students, chosen from 480 applicants in about 80 countries.

"We were looking for outstanding academic ability and a demonstrated commitment to public service. But we were also looking for impact -- people who are ready to lead and can deliver," Dr. Woods said.

Wanjiku Nyoike, 22, will be coming to Oxford from Nairobi, where after graduating with a degree in international relations from the U.S. International University, she completed internships at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "Oxford's history of educating policy makers around the world, including heads of state and government, was an indication that I would be learning from the best," Ms. Nyoike said in an e-mail.

Jonathan Beddell, 24, from Devon in Britain, decided to apply after a severe knee injury ended his career as an officer cadet at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Mr. Beddell, who wrote his undergraduate thesis at Exeter University on the politics of food, and who was elected president of that university's student union, said he "was inspired by the Blavatnik School's rally call for global leadership."

Asked about his personal goals in coming to Oxford, he replied: "I hope to be a better citizen. For all the purported benefits of globalization, it has eroded community roots throughout the world. I wish to show that how things currently are is not how they have to be."

While grateful for such youthful idealism, Dr. Woods said her school's first cohort would also include "senior government officials, and very senior journalists, as well as people from the private sector." The faculty draws on Oxford professors in law, economics, genetics, zoology, philosophy and jurisprudence.

There will also be four "distinguished practitioners" teaching master classes and acting as mentors to students: Trevor Manuel, a former finance minister of South Africa; Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chair of the Indian government planning commission; Mark Malloch-Brown, former deputy secretary general of the United Nations; and Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, U.N. under secretary general and former deputy prime minister of Jordan.

Classes will begin in September, while the rest of Oxford is still on vacation, and continue until August. Tuition is Pounds 30,000, but there are 10 dedicated scholarships for Blavatnik students as well as Rhodes scholarships and other more general financial aid.

The curriculum, Dr. Woods said, is "issue-led."

"Typically, graduate students learn to analyze public policy in the abstract -- they begin by learning the literature," she said. …

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