Oxford Offers Documentaries to the World
29 April 2009

Kim Sung-hee, left, director of the Voices from Oxford (VfO), and Denis Noble, the main presenter of the documentary program said in an interview with The Korea Times at Shilla Hotel in Seoul, Tuseday, that VfO will make Oxford University more accessible around the world and enable many people to benefit from the research and activities of the university.

Korea Times Photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Kang Shin-who

More and more top global universities have started to share their quality lectures and research results on the Internet with people around the world. Oxford University, the oldest English-speaking higher education institute, has also joined in the trend. However, the Oxford method is rather new and different from other universities.


Instead of simply broadcasting lectures and seminars as other universities do, Oxford has been providing television quality documentaries featuring its research, activities and interviews with world-renowned professors, students and alumni on YouTube.


With the growing importance of Internet education, the university founded the Oxford Internet Institute eight years ago and it has recently started to run the Voices from Oxford (VfO) program for the documentary broadcasting project.
In an interview with The Korea Times, Tuesday in Seoul, Denis Noble, main presenter of the program and Kim Sung-hee, director of the program, said VfO will make Oxford University more accessible around the world and enable many people to benefit from the research and activities of the university.


``University should reach out to the world showing what they are doing as it gets a lot of funding from taxpayers, that's one reasons for having this program,'' said Noble, who is also a director of Computational Physiology at the university.


``This new broadcast was inspired by the BBC program ``Letter from America,'' broadcast for many years by Alistair Cooke. But in the 21st century, we are, inevitably, using video, not just audio,'' said Kim, who is also an alumnus of the university and visiting professor in the graduate school of Journalism and Mass Communication at Sungkyunkwan University. Kim was also the presenter of BBC English and Oxford English on EBS TV.
Asked how Korean university students can make use of the program, Noble said ``It is very simple. If students are thinking about the possibility of studying at our university, they can get good insight through the documentaries. They can also get audio and visual experiences of what professors do.''


The two professors, who initiated the program, said they will encourage, first, Korean universities that collaborate with Oxford to join in the program. ``We don't know yet how many universities will take same idea (with us). The chances are more universities will be doing it in the future,'' Noble said.


Oxford Voices


Kim explained that Korean universities might interview experts on issues here such as the nuclear weapon crisis and put together the films into the VfO documentaries. Currently, Yonsei University, Korea University, Sungkyunkwan University and Seoul National University (SNU) collaborate academically with Oxford and Noble met presidents of the universities and visited the Korea Foundation while in Korea.
Recently, SNU donated 400 volumes of reproductions of classical Korean texts, that are now preserved in the Kyujanggak Royal Library at the university, to the library at Oxford, and VfO has made a documentary dealing with the archives during the Joseon Dynasty. Starting with the film, VfO plans to cover more stories about Korea in the documentaries.


Noble stressed their webcast program can easily offer access to the university's world-class specialists and experts, who are extremely busy. They explained it takes several months to make the 15-minute documentaries and VfO team plans to annually produce about 50 films.


``The approach of VfO is similar to that of the top TV producers. We're aiming for high quality, both in the filming itself using high definition, and several cameras working simultaneously, and in the material of the interview,'' Kim said.


Currently, there are eight documentary and interview films on its website at www.voicesfromoxford.org. Oxford University Vice-Chancellor John Hood features prominently on the website. He was interviewed on the topic ``Universities and the Financial Crisis.'' The Vice-Chancellor analyses the impact of the recession on Oxford and universities generally and how they in turn can help the world through this crisis.


Another documentary film featuring an interview with David Vines, economy professor at the university, brings his research experience to bear on advising world leaders on the credit crunch. He develops ideas based on working with Nobel-prize winning economists to chart the way forward and explains how Oxford research is building on the groundwork developed by Keynes for the great depression of the 1930s.


The interview with Andrew Goudie, environment expert at the university, deals with climate change and the environment. He started work on climate change and desertification 40 years ago ― long before current concerns about global warming ― and has published more than 30 books in the process. He also reveals how Oxford research is contributing to the actions of governments.


Communication Research


Frances Cairncross, rector of Exeter College at the university and a former editor of The Economist, talks about her books revealing some of the changes in companies produced by the internet from its very inception.
The latest production, entitled ``New Man Comes to Oxford,'' on the topic of the art of Antony Gormley, gives an impression of the standard strived for. `` The VFO team was on site from 7 a.m. and stayed all day to make sure they caught every important moment of the sculpture's placement,'' Kim said. ``No one else got this detailed record, which will be valued and used in many research areas, including work in Antony Gormley's own team, and by Exeter College, where the sculpture now proudly stands.''


``In one sweeping stroke, VfO has managed to wipe out those boundaries with a little help from online technology. Covering research and debates over a wide spectrum of interdisciplinary issues, it now helps to stage Oxford as the center of lively discussions,'' said Lee Jung-hoon, professor of Yonsei University. ``Denis Noble, anchor for the program, is superb with probing questions and clear-cut explanations. As an Oxford alum myself, I'm very excited about the prospect of Oxford becoming, at last, the global venue of cutting-edge educational discourse.''


``The VfO team view this as an effort to communicate research to a broader audience in a way that enables the audience to comment and contribute to the subject matter. In doing so, VfO is confronting a tradition in the sciences and humanities that sees the job of the researcher to stop when the refereed journal article is written, and leave it to the press, media and word of mouth to enable findings to trickle-down to potential users,'' said Willian Dutton, professor at the university and one of the editors of the program.


``Our view is that it is right for researchers to take a more active role in communicating research directly to a broader public,'' he added.