Oxford University has received a donation pledge of £75 million for undergraduate support, the largest in European history.
The donation will kick off a programme for Oxford to abolish tuition fee increases for the poorest students, keeping them at £3,500 a year.
Under the scholarship, students will also receive funding for all their living costs, getting rid of upfront costs completely.
With matched funding, the donation from Michael Moritz, chairman of the US-based venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, and his wife Harriet Heyman, former editor of the New York Times, is set to rise to £300m.
Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton said: “Oxford is already offering the most generous undergraduate support package in the country.
“But this remarkable and hugely generous gift and initiative from Michael and Harriet allows us to go an important stage further towards our goal of ensuring that all barriers – real or perceived – are removed from students’ choices.
“It provides extraordinary support – financial and personal – for outstanding students.”
The scholarship will begin this October, and it is hoped that the scholarship will eventually cover all Oxford students from families with incomes below £16,000.
In its first year, the scholarship is estimated to cover 100 students. The University calculates that this will rise in three years to cover half of students from families of the lowest income bracket, below £16,000 a year.
Moritz-Heyman scholars would receive financial support equivalent to £11,000 a year, split exactly between a fee waiver and bursary, and participate in a tailor-made internship programme.
About one in 10 Oxford students, just under 1000, are currently from families below this threshold.
Michael Moritz, who is an alumnus of Christ Church, said: “Real talent is housed everywhere. Our new scholarship programme means that a gifted student – irrespective of financial circumstances – will always be 100 per cent confident they can study at Oxford.
“This is a fresh approach to student funding in the UK – fuelled by philanthropy; catering to the dreams and aspirations of individuals determined to excel; while also safeguarding the academic excellence on which Oxford’s global reputation stands.”
Priority will be given to students from the most deprived areas, from schools with below average GCSE or A-Level results, or those who have been in care. Applicants who read subjects belonging to STEM, science, technology, engineering and maths, will also be given priority.
The overall £75m donation will be given in three batches of £25m. Each will be matched by the University’s endowment fund, and the colleges will be challenged to raise a further £50m from other philanthropy at each stage. This will create the total of £300m.
Christopher Lewis, the Dean of Christ Church, said: “Michael Moritz, a Christ Church alumnus, made the largest gift in the college’s recent history back in 2008, together with his wife Harriet Heyman. Now they are further supporting Oxford and the next generation of top students with even greater generosity.
“This initiative gives generous support to those most at risk of being put off from applying to Oxford, preventing finance becoming a barrier. What is more, the students involved will act as emissaries, showing others that Oxford is open to all who are academically able enough to gain a place.”
At the launch of the scholarship, Moritz spoke of his own family’s debt to benefactors when they were refugees of Nazi Germany, saying: “I would not be here today were it not for the generosity of benefactors.”
Hamilton also spoke of his concern that the rise in fees could deter some students. Moritz described those levels of debt as a “terrifying figure”.
Earlier this week, UCAS revealed that applicants to university had fallen by 8.9 per cent.
The Office for Fair Access last week produced figures, which showed that Oxford had among the lowest levels of students eligible for full state support.
Tim Gardam, Principal of St Anne’s, said: “This donation will transform undergraduate bursary provision at Oxford. This must surely be the single biggest advance towards needs blind admission that has been made.”
David Messling, Access and Acadamic Affairs Officer of OUSU said: “This donation is an incredibly exciting step forward for the University. The level of support shows that the University is committed to ensuring that students thrive and don’t just survive, and will take dynamic and proactive measures to prevent anyone with the ability to study at Oxford being put off from applying.”
Nathan Akehurst, Lincoln OUSU rep, said: “Both as someone active within access campaigns and someone possibly eligible for support, I welcome and am grateful for the generosity and magnitude of the donation and progressive intent behind it.”
The second year History and Politics student added: “However, no single act of individual philanthropy, no matter how great, can replace a permanent structural support base, and I would hope that Oxford does its best to expand bursary provision in times exceptionally difficult for students, whilst condemning the government’s assaults on support for the poorest.
“Gestures such as this can augment the system, but I am sure the donors themselves would not wish for one-off gifts to substitute for an integrated system of support.”
Prime Minister David Cameron also commented on the donation, saying: “I welcome this generous donation which will mean that many talented students, from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds, will get help and support to study at a world leading university, and have a chance to realise their full potential.”
Yesterday, Moritz met with the Prime Minister as well as Hamilton and Lord Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford, to discuss the programme.
In 2008, Moritz donated $50m (over £32m) to Christ Church, where he studied as an undergraduate, the largest single gift in the College’s recent history.