University donation growth dwarfs US

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A new report by Moody’s has found that growth in private donations to Oxford and Cambridge has outstripped that of philanthropy to universities in the United States.

From 2005 to 2012, the amount raised by UK institutions more than doubled, whereas in the US it grew by less than 40 per cent.

The study also found that patterns of philanthropic giving in the UK are more skewed towards an elite subset of universities than those in the US.

Harvard and Stanford universities won around 15 per cent of all philanthropic income that went to US institutions in the period from 2012 to 2013. However, 45 per cent of the £774 million donated to UK universities in the period from 2011 to 2012 was received by Oxford and Cambridge.

The report, titled, ‘UK Universities Increasingly Tapping Fundraising’ stated: “Philanthropic support is concentrated among the top-tier universities with global brand recognition in both countries, with a higher degree of concentration in the UK.”

Excluding their colleges’ independent endowments, Oxford and Cambridge’s central university funds dwarf all other British institutions. According to a recent article by Reuters, Cambridge University Endowment Fund grew by 6.5 per cent in the academic year which ended in July 2012, to a total of £1.65 billion. However, Oxford made better returns on its investments in its endowment funds, with respective returns of 9.4 and 6.5 per cent, compared with a 1.2 per cent return for Cambridge in the same period.

Other concerns raised by the increase in philanthropic income include the potential for donors to influence admissions outcomes, a process which is common in the United States and has caused controversy in the UK.

Commenting on the rise in donations to Oxbridge, Jack Yoo, a visiting student from Harvard who studied Politics and Economics last year at St Catz, said: “I would say it’s not catering to donors that causes problems, but rather the cutting of staff wages and investment in fossil fuel corporations, that have caused more controversy.”

Harvard sits upon the world’s largest endowment for an academic institution, with investments worth $30.7 billion, according to the latest figures. Total costs to attend the university as an undergraduate amounted to roughly £40,000 per year, including travel costs and estimated personal expenses.

However, students at Harvard whose families earn less than approximately £40,700 a year are not expected to contribute anything, including travel expenses, to the costs of their education.

Regarding the influence of donations in the admissions process at American universities, Yoo commented, “It’s more joked around than discussed seriously, but the whole process is also ‘vaguer’ in America because there are policies that emphasise diversity in terms of race, class, gender, and interests. Donations do help students get into colleges unfairly, but it is quite rare, and I think students see it as a trade-off because it also means that the university is able to admit students who cannot afford the education. It definitely did not turn the school upside down, and all of a sudden we have all the rich kids in the world – I think around 74% of Harvard students receive financial aid.”

According to a 2012 Financial Times article, if Oxford were a US university, it would be the 15th best endowed in North America, between Duke and Notre Dame. Cambridge would lie in 11th place, between Texas A&M and the University of Pennsylvania.

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