Oxford University was today given a donation worth more than £26 million - one of the biggest in the elite institution's 900-year history.

The money will be used to set up humanities scholarships for graduate students.

The Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Graduate Scholarship Programme in the Humanities will see students worldwide compete for an award to study subjects including literature, history, music, art history, Asian studies, Middle Eastern studies and archaeology.

There will be 15 scholarships to start with, and eventually at least 35 will be awarded each year.

The donation, which will ultimately be worth more than £26 million, has been made by Mica Ertegun, the widow of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun.

She said: "For Ahmet and for me, one of the great joys of life has been the study of history, music, languages, literature, art and archaeology.

"In these times, when there is so much strife in the world, I believe it is tremendously important to support those things that endure across time, that bind people together from every culture, and that enrich the capacity of human beings to understand one another and make the world a more humane place."

Mrs Ertegun said she was "very proud" of the scholarships.

The donation is the biggest made to the humanities faculty in Oxford's history, and one of the largest generally.

Oxford's vice-chancellor Andrew Hamilton said it was a "significant moment" for the study of the humanities.

"At a time when, in the UK, government support for the humanities is under intense pressure, vision and generosity like this is going to be what saves the field for future generations," he said.

Alongside the scholarships, the donation will fund a full-time Ertegun Senior Scholar in Residence who will mentor those on the scholarship scheme, and oversee a programme of lectures, seminars, concerts and other activities.

The students will have exclusive use of the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun House for the Study of the Humanities, a building in the centre of Oxford which will serve as their base for study and research.