By Freddie Whittaker, Debbie Waite and Elizabeth Culliford



ALMOST 30 years after Oxford University dons refused an honorary degree to Margaret Thatcher, Somerville College's principal has paid tribute to the former Prime Minister.

As a young Margaret Roberts, she left Somerville College in 1947 clutching a second-class honours degree in chemistry.

But her relationship with her former college turned from fond to frosty during her time as education minister under Edward Heath.

In 1985, the dons at Somerville voted to refuse her an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in funding for education, making her the first Oxford-educated Prime Minister since the war to be denied the honour.

But after news of her death emerged yesterday, Somerville’s flag was lowered to half-mast and principal Dr Alice Prochaska paid tribute. She said: “First and foremost we would like to express very great sorrow at the sad news.

“The Somerville College flag is flying half-mast and we will pay tribute to Baroness Thatcher in many significant ways.

“We are immensely proud to have educated Britain’s first, and so far only female Prime Minister and one of the most internationally significant people of the century.”

Dr Prochaska added Lady Thatcher’s memory would be honoured at the college over the next few months with a memorial service and more scholarships in her name.

Current Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) chairman Stephanie Cherrill said: “The OUCA is greatly saddened to hear that our patron and ex-president, Baroness Thatcher, has died.

“We are all incredibly proud of her as a former leader of our association, our party, and our country.

“She was an inspiration to us all, a great woman of conviction, and someone who will never be forgotten. Our thoughts are with her family at this difficult time.”

The decision in 1985 to deny Lady Thatcher an honorary degree was made by academics, who voted 738 to 319 after being handed a 5,000-signature petition by students.

It sparked controversy and a flurry of letters to the Oxford Mail and sister paper the Oxford Times.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail at the time, then-Somerville principal Daphne Park said: “You don’t stop someone becoming a fellow of an academic body because you dislike them.”

But opponent Professor Peter Pulzer, of All Souls, said: “I think we have sent a message to show our very great concern, our very great worry about the way educational policy and educational funding are going in this country.”

Mrs Thatcher did not comment on the decision at the time, but a Downing Street spokesman said: “If they do not wish to confer the honour, the Prime Minister is the last person to wish to receive it.”

But the Iron Lady seemed to make her feelings clear in 1998 when her charitable foundation endowed £2m for “enterprise studies” not to Oxford, but to Cambridge University.


THE YOUNG Margaret Roberts received a scholarship to attend Somerville College, Oxford, but was only successful when the winning candidate dropped out.
She went to Oxford in 1944 and studied chemistry, specifically crystallography.
She became President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, the third woman to hold the post, and she graduated in 1947 with a second-class honours BSc in Natural Sciences. She also earned an MA from Oxford in 1950.
She is pictured here with her former tutor, Nobel Prize winner Prof Dorothy Hodgkin, in 1979.
In May 1991, the now former prime minister returned to Somerville College to open a new building complex named in her honour. It was revealed she put some of her own money into the £4m project.
She said: “It’s a great honour and a joy for a former undergraduate to come back so many years later and open a distinguished and beautiful building.”



Business school could name wing after 'Lioness'

THE don who led the fight against Oxford University giving Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree in the 1980s paid tribute to her last night.
And Professor Denis Noble said he would have no opposition towards the university honouring her by naming one of its newest buildings after her.
Prof Noble, 76, said: I have never regarded her as someone who should be denigrated from the point of view of her ability as a politician and great alumni of this university.
“My argument with her Government was with some of her policies in education and research and I would have no objection to the building being named after her.”
Wafic Said, who gave £15m towards the new wing of the Said Business School, is known to be a great admirer of the former Prime Minister and has described her as “a lioness”.
But the building, which was opened in February by Prince Charles, remains nameless despite a suggestion last year to name it after Lady Thatcher.