Dame Stephanie Shirley

The Oxford Internet Institute's (OII), is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department, of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the internet.

Through its research and teaching activities, the Oxford Internet Institute seeks to contribute to the public good by generating a richer and deeper understanding of life online. Its faculty are the global leaders in multidisciplinary research addressing the impact of new technologies, data and algorithms on every aspect of daily life.

Located at 1 St Giles, the OII was founded as a full department of the University of Oxford in 2001.

The idea for an Oxford research centre focusing on the societal opportunities and challenges posed by rapidly-developing Internet technologies was first posed by Dr Andrew Graham, then Master-Elect of Balliol College, and Derek Wyatt, then MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, supported by then Oxford University Vice Chancellor, Colin Lucas. The two Balliol Fellows, who knew Dame Stephanie from The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, approached Dame Stephanie for support.

With her strong interest in IT and her penchant for strategic donations, she quickly gave the project her warm support.

As she said when the project was first announced, on 4 May 2001, "for some time now I have been very interested in the social, ethical and other issues raised by the Internet. These are global concerns and I am delighted that my funding has provided the Oxford Internet Institute with the firm foundation required to attract public, and in due course further private, financial backing. I am confident that the Institute will enable Britain to play a leading and authoritative role in this important area. Since 2003, the Institute’s regular studies of usage are invaluable to the social science of the Internet. For example, new research shows how the Telegram instant messaging service is exploited by far-right commentators banned elsewhere. The OII has led the way in studying misinformation of all types. Currently it is providing a weekly briefing about social media’s spread of coronavirus information and advising on a contact tracing app. I am enormously proud of its cross-disciplinary approach to tackling big questions and shaping the digital world for public good.”

Dame Steve Shirley was the founding donor of the Oxford Internet Institute, providing a major donation from The Shirley Foundation of over £10m, with some match funding also provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Since 2006, the department has offered graduate degrees, marking its transition to a research-led, teaching department. Following the success of the DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences, the department taught its first Masters, the MSc in Social Science of the Internet, in 2009. This programme recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary. More recently MSc and DPhil programmes in Social Data Science have been launched, widening OII’s intellectual appeal to students.

With digital connections now embedded in almost every aspect of our daily lives, the work of the Oxford Internet Institute and its research on individual and collective behaviour online remains crucial to understanding our social, economic and political world.

It continues to be based at 1, St Giles, Oxford the original property provided by Balliol College, but has since expanded to occupy two other sites at 34 and 41, St Giles, Oxford.

For further information visit www.oii.ox.ac.uk.

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