Dr Alice Prochaska was featured in an overview of the Sunday papers on BBC Radio Oxford this weekend, as she discussed some of the major stories with Presenter David Prever and co-panellist John Retallick of Ruskin College.

The Sunday slot allowed both panellists to pick out a story from the Sunday papers for discussion on the show. Dr Alice Prochaska, Principal of Somerville College, picked up on the coverage of India’s general election, in which Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata (‘Indian People’s’) Party won power. It was the first Indian general election since 1984 in which a political party had won a significant enough share of the vote to avoid the need for a coalition.

“I am really very surprised at how little coverage this is getting in the papers,” said Prochaska, noting that the Sunday Times coverage of the election result story appeared only on page 28. “This is a very, very significant election as India is the world’s largest democracy. It is a party that thrives on populism and Hindu nationalism.”

Dr Prochaska added that the very fact of peaceful transition in such a diverse country was enough in and of itself to make the story merit increased coverage. But she also pointed to the risks posed by the election of the BJP and its leader, Narendra Modi.

“Modi now has to rule for the whole country, as he said in his acceptance speech, buthe will have to overcome the concerns of minorities, especially the Muslim population,” said Prochaska.

India, science and Somerville

Dr Prochaska added that she had visited India some six times in the past three years. She went on to describe Somerville’s “extraordinary” links with India through its plan to establish an Oxford India Centre (OIC) for Sustainable Development, which includes an Indira Gandhi scholarship programme.

“Through the OIC we have funding from the government of India and a matched funding scheme with the University of Oxford,” said Dr Prochaska. “This enables Indian postgraduate students to study issues around sustainability.”

The panellists also discussed an article by Joanna Trollope in the Observer which highlighted the problem of literary festivals attracting only a limited portion of the population, before turning to a feature in the Independent that explored widespread European ignorance of significant woman scientists. The latter cited a study carried out in the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany and Italy which found that only 25% of people asked could name more than one significant woman scientist.

Dr Prochaska took up the point, listing a number of significant woman scientists with strong links to Somerville, from Mary Somerville herself to Ada Lovelace, sometimes dubbed the world’s first computer programmer. Her mentor was Mary Somerville.

Dr Prochaska also highlighted the important work of leading haematologist Janet Vaughan, Principal of Somerville from 1945-67, and of Dorothy Hodgkin, who discovered the structures of penicillin, insulin and Vitamin B12. Hodgkin remains the only British woman to have received a Nobel Prize in science. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Hodgkin’s award.

Somerville’s links to India and to science fuse in the development of the Oxford India Centre. For more information about the OIC, please see the OIC webpage.

(Please note that some of the quotes above are paraphrased due to BBC website issues.)

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