Ian Goldin: “The World Bank is owned by 184 countries, yet African countries have just two representatives.” Photograph: Linda Nylind Linda Nylind/Guardian
Monday 23 October 2006 19.12 EDT
End poverty, reverse climate change, eliminate infectious diseases, stop global conflict. It sounds like a Miss World contestant’s wish-list. But when Oxford University’s latest baby has these aspirations as its stated goals, you have to take them rather more seriously.
So what does the James Martin 21st Century School have that the World Bank and the United Nations doesn’t? If anyone should know it’s Ian Goldin. Having served as World Bank vice-president for three years, leading its collaborations with the UN, he has been appointed the first director of Oxford’s 21st Century School.
“It is a tough call,” he says, “and I’m not anticipating any quick answers. But these are the main challenges the world is now facing, so it makes sense for an institution such as Oxford to set up a school devoted to finding solutions. Of course, we’re only one organisation among many around the world looking at these problems, but we do have some unique advantages in our interdisciplinary approach, and if we can solve one small set of these issues then we’ll be very satisfied.”
Goldin’s appointment comes over a year after the university set up the school in June 2005 with a £50m gift from the computer pioneer James Martin, and a number of projects are already up and running. So, initially at least, Goldin will be getting up to speed with existing research into the effects of rapid technological development, environmental change, ageing, international migration, the ethics of the new biosciences, e-horizons and the future of the mind and humanity.
The 21st Century School is designed on the hub-and-spoke model – with Goldin and a few academics at the centre and 10 research institutes on the periphery – and diplomacy is one of the prime requirements for the new director, as persuading leading academics to collaborate on an equal footing across the frontiers of medical, physical, biological, computing, technological and the social sciences is a tough call. But Goldin expects to be bringing rather more than industrial quantities of tact to the job.