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Oxford University received, earlier this month, the biggest single donation ever given to a UK higher education institution (HEI). The donation of GBP 150 million comes from the US billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, the Chairman, CEO and co-founder of the investment company Blackstone. The donation is to be used for the creation and running of an institute focussing on ethical issues of artificial intelligence (AI).
The new institute at Oxford University will be dedicated to the study of AI ethics will be part of the faculty of humanities, combining subjects from languages to philosophy, and it will be named after Mr. Schwarzman - Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities. The new centre will also serve as an arts and exhibition venue and it will be open to the public and the wider Oxford community. In October last year, Schwarzman had already donated USD 350 million for the same purpose to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Earlier this year, another prestigious UK HEI, i.e. Cambridge University, received a substantial donation of GBP 100 million, from the British philanthropist David Harding and his foundation, to fund postgraduate scholarships for more than 100 PhD students and to support students from "under-represented groups".
However, accepting large donations and “philanthropic gifts” can be risky and controversial for institutions. For example, in the case of Oxford University, the Guardian raised some criticisms over the doubtful and unethical behaviour of Mr. Schwarzman and his investment company in the past. Still, the vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, Prof Louise Richardson, said all donations of this kind “were reviewed to make sure they fitted with its values”. UK Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, also welcomed the donation stating that “attracting this globally significant investment reinforces our reputation as a leader in higher education”.