King will take the directorship of the new Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, founded with £10m from Martin Smith, an Oxford graduate. Michael Spence, head of Oxford's social sciences division, told EducationGuardian.co.uk that the school would be the first environmental institute focused on the role the private sector can play.
The school will make both teaching and research a more mainstream part of Oxford so that students in all social science disciplines become more aware of environmental issues. Staff in other departments such as law and economics will sit on the board of the school. "Environmental consciousness is the classics of the 21st century. We're interested in reaching students who regard themselves as the next prime minister or company directors that will need an awareness of environment issues to be effective," Spence said.
King told EducationGuardian.co.uk that the school's pioneering credentials were what drew him to the role: "What's different about it and essentially isn't mimicked anywhere else in the world is the interface between enterprise, society and government to the subject. "Dealing with environmental problems has to be done with the private sector rather than against the private sector.
"The biggest challenge we have is climate change and therefore carbon exhaust emissions and green house gas emissions will be key research priorities." King expects the school to generate policies to feed to the United Nations, international governments and act as a think tank for the UK government.
Imperial College London's Prof John Beddington, a specialist in applied biology and fisheries, will take over as the government's chief scientific advisor in January.