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Who could be behind the £10m anonymous donation to Edinburgh Uni?

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The University of Edinburgh recently received a £10 million (US$13.4 million) donation towards their Futures Institute.The only downside? They don’t know who to thank.

The gift was the biggest ever capital donation the university has received to date. Considering the value, it is remarkable that it was given totally anonymously.

The money will be used to transform Edinburgh’s old Royal Infirmary into “a major new facility for the University, with accommodation for humanities, business and arts disciplines”.

The Futures Institute, launched on Wednesday, aims to bring together researchers inside and outside of the university bubble. The institute will allow researchers and other partners to address current issues in education, economy and surrounding sectors.

The big move is set to happen in 2021, which will make the institute one of the largest centres in all of Europe for interdisciplinary research and learning.

Mysterious donor

Considering her ties with Edinburgh, it seems highly likely the donation came from JK Rowling, the author of the best-selling Harry Potter series, many of which were written in small cafes around the city. Edinburgh, and Rowling’s love for the city, have been said to be indirectly referenced in the book too.

The author has made similar philanthropic donations to the university before. In 2010, Rowling who has a net worth of US$650 million, had donated £10 million (US$13.4 million) to the University of Edinburgh. This helped the university to set up The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, which opened in 2013. The clinic, named after Rowling’s mother who died of multiple sclerosis (MS), was designed to research conditions like MS and other neurological diseases.

Arabic and Social Anthropology student at the University of Edinburgh, Susannah Gooch told Study International, the Futures Institute “looks like a pretty groundbreaking and exciting project, and one of the more sensible and useful building projects currently taking place around George Square.”

“But I hope this big shiny research project doesn’t detract too much attention from the lack of funding at Edinburgh for mental health provision,” she added, “and other key students services which could be hugely improved with a tenth of that donation.”

Gooch also noted many alumni donate thousands of pounds to the university at a time so it is entirely possible it could have been anyone.

The money will enable the university to create a flexible space to foster collaboration among students, staff and partner organisations, as well as giving the institute a permanent home. Plans are in place to “sensitively” renovate a wing of the old Infirmary which is Category A-listed.

University Vice-Chancellor Timothy O’Shea is “deeply grateful” for this “visionary” and ” generous” donation, adding that it will “help us to create a truly exceptional teaching and research environment within the Edinburgh Futures Institute”.

“The institute will challenge us to think differently about how we can affect change, both locally and globally.

“By marrying our world-class expertise in the humanities, arts and social sciences with our sector-defining research in new data technologies, it will produce practical solutions and new approaches for the common good. This generous gift will help realise this vision.”

The building has been abandoned since 2003. Whether from Rowling or not, the donation will breathe life into it once more.

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