The 2015 killing of Cecil, one of the lions monitored in Zimbabwe by Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), has had an enormous impact on the funding and scope of WildCRU’s work. In the three months after Cecil was shot by a hunter, WildCRU received more than £900,000 in donations from sympathisers worldwide.
With this extra support, WildCRU has been able to more than double the number of African lions monitored, the number of communities it works with and the number of community lion guardians in training. In addition, support is continuing for young Zimbabwean students at WildCRU.
Professor David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU, is keen to build on this global interest to increase awareness of the need for lion conservation. The Cecil Summit, a think tank to discuss future initiatives to conserve the African lion, was held in Oxford in September 2016. A gathering of experts across disciplines identified several possible courses of action, including restoring the social and economic value of lions to the human communities who share their land. In the words of Professor Macdonald, this is an opportunity ‘to transform the Cecil moment into the Cecil movement’.
New scholarships for Chinese students
Two historic major gifts are supporting students from China and Hong Kong, ensuring that the University remains accessible to students from this region, regardless of their financial circumstances.
In January 2016, The D. H. Chen Foundation established Oxford’s first means-tested undergraduate scholarships for Hong Kong. Two scholarships will be awarded annually; as well as covering the course costs they will also include internships, giving recipients the opportunity to gain valuable experience.
The D. H. Chen Foundation places a high value on giving back to the community, supporting youth empowerment in Hong Kong and the creation of sustainable social impacts. Ms Vivien Chen, Chairman of the foundation, said: ‘Choosing from among Hong Kong’s brightest scholars, our aim is to give each and every one of them a life-changing opportunity to study here and to benefit not only on an intellectual level, but also from Oxford’s humanitarian ethos of public service.’
The University also announced a gift from the Bright Oceans Corporation, a high-tech industrial group in Beijing. A ground-breaking means-tested endowed scholarship programme has been set up to provide funding for undergraduate students from China commencing a course of study in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division.
Support for developmental medicine
An Oxford Chair in Developmental Medicine, endowed in 1970 by children’s charity Action Medical Research, was recently in need of a funding injection if it was to remain secure for the future. Entrepreneur, private investor and philanthropist André Hoffmann provided this additional backing through a generous gift, saying that the cause was important to him because: ‘Medical research, particularly in regenerative medicine, is key to ensuring better health for children and the population in general.’
Professor Georg Holländer, expert in developmental biology and Head of the Department of Paediatrics, is the current incumbent of the Hoffmann and Action Medical Research Chair in Developmental Medicine. He will now be able to continue his research into how cells of the immune system grow and differentiate during foetal development and early life. This knowledge underpins regenerative medicine, which could transform patient care by reactivating or regenerating human tissues so that normal function can be restored in response to birth defects, disease or injury. This is especially true for disorders of the heart, the brain and the immune system, many of which have a developmental origin.
Researchers in developmental biology and regenerative medicine will work alongside one another at a new purpose-built Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine at Oxford, led by Professor Holländer and Paul Riley, BHF Professor of Regenerative Medicine. They will be at the forefront of exploring stem cell-based approaches to treating a wide variety of diseases.
Oxford North American Alumni Weekend
In a change from its usual New York venue, this year’s Oxford North American Alumni Weekend was held for the first time in Washington, DC. Highlights among the talks and social events were a discussion about leadership with high-profile panellists and the gala dinner at the Library of Congress. More than 700 alumni and guests took part – a clear affirmation that this move to a new city was a success. Today 1,500 Americans are studying at Oxford, and 26,000 Oxford alumni live in the US.