Oxford and Cambridge received the highest number of donations to universities last year, it has been revealed.
New data shows the two top universities received 46 per cent of new funds donated to UK universities in 2016.
The Ross-Case survey of higher education, carried out by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case) Europe, also revealed that Oxford and Cambridge accounted for 34 per cent of donors to higher education institutions in the country.
According to the survey, philanthropic donations to UK universities have also exceeded £1 billion a year for the first time—with the new funds received by universities increasing by 23 per cent from 2015-16.
This latest development suggests that philanthropy has an important role in the funding of UK institutions, with Tricia King, Vice President of Case, telling The Guardian: “Philanthropic giving is now at the heart of UK university culture.
“It provides vital funds to enable the nation’s universities to invest in new ground breaking research that pushes back the boundaries of knowledge, improves social mobility by widening access to degree study, and builds world class facilities.”
Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK, added: “This extra money is making a real difference, helping to fund ground-breaking research, improving facilities and supporting thousands of students through university.”
However, it is perhaps not surprising that Oxford received the highest amount of donations in the UK.
In 2008, the University launched ‘Oxford Thinking: The Campaign for the University of Oxford’, with the goal of raising £1.2 billion “to transform the collegiate University for many generations to come”.
The University met the target in 2012 and a new goal of £3 billion was set, with £2 billion reached in May 2015.
It comes as the University raises increasing funds from alumni donors. There have been several high-profile gifts from alumni to the University, including the £4 million from Adrian Beecroft to construct the Beecroft Building in the Department of Physics, and the £10 million donated to support the University’s Weidenfeld and Hoff mann Scholarship Programme.
Other notable donations from alumni include Dickson Poon, a Hong Kong businessman in the luxury goods retailing sector, who donated £10 million to St. Hugh’s College to build the Dickson Poon University of Oxford China Centre Building. Many alumni gifts to scholarship funds have been matched by the University.
However, some of the donations that have been accepted by the University have been heavily criticised. The £75 million donated by Len Blavatnik to build the Blavatnik school of government, was described as a “highly controversial deal” in a letter to the Guardian due to Blavatnik’s role in a dispute with BP executives, which led to dozens of British and western managers being “forced out of Russia”.
The signatories of the letter, which included Oxford graduates and academics, argued that the University had failed to investigate whether Blavatnik and other “oligarchs” had a role in what they viewed as a state-sponsored campaign of harassment against BP in Russia, consequently urging the University to “stop selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates”.
Responding to the latest donation figures, an Oxford University spokesperson told Cherwell: “The generous support from benefactors, alongside the considerable funding that is secured annually through competitive research grants, is crucial to the continued development of the University and its research and teaching facilities, and maintaining our position as a leading centre of learning and research.
“All funding is recorded and properly declared, and neither donors nor funding bodies gain influence through their contributions.”
Across the UK, funds secured from alumni (£322m) was far more significant from those from non-alumni individuals (£149m).
However, the donations received by UK institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge are still dwarfed by the funding of their US counterparts, with $40.3bn of donations (£31.1bn) received by US universities in 2015.
Despite the government encouraging universities to diversify how they raise funds over recent years, Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, argued that more needs to be done to mean public investment, not private donations, is a priority for UK universities’ funding: “Higher education is worth paying for, and UCU remains committed to campaigning for greater public investment rather than asking others to make up shortfalls.
“As we try to deal with the Brexit fallout, the sector needs stability at the moment and that comes via secure funding, not variable streams.”
“The universities benefitting from the larger donations are the wealthier ones, so the system entrenches inequality.”
Donations to UK universities have been used in a variety of ways.
These include dementia research at the University of Edinburgh, new scholarships to enable Londoners to study at the University of London, as well as to ensure students from Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda could complete master’s degree at the University of Manchester.