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British dame donates £10m to start Internet Institute

University of Oxford gets green light to study cyber-society

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One of Britain's richest women has given £10 million to help launch an Internet Institute at the University of Oxford.

It is hoped that the cash, given by Dame "Steve" Shirley, will make Britain the centre of global cyber-research. The Oxford Internet Institute (OII), which has also netted $5 million in government funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will carry out research and make policy recommendations about the effects of the Net on society.

The centre will be located in Balliol College, and organisers say future research projects may include global law enforcement, Net-enabled healthcare, the digital divide and the impact of the Internet on music and the creative arts.

"You can already shop, bank, vote, debate, argue, consult a doctor and get your degree over the Net," said Andrew Graham, master-elect of Balliol. "However, there is also an enormous amount of rubbish out there and some material that is harmful.

"To understand what is happening and to formulate helpful policies you need people such as political scientists, lawyers, medics, economists and computing scientists working together."

"Steve" (now Dame Stephanie) Shirley, who made her fortune after starting IT services firm FI Group, said she hoped the institute would let Britain "play a leading and authoritative role in this important area". The £10 million donation was made through The Shirley Foundation.

Last month the University of Oxford launched a separate Internet project to find cancer drugs. Around 25,000 people worldwide have so far signed up for the SETI-style project - which requires surfers to download a screen saver that lets computer power be used when machines are dormant. ®

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