Oxbridge responsible for boost in private University funding while other universities struggle

Alexander Martin 13 November 2013

A report by Moody’s Investors Service revealed that of £774 million donated to British Universities in the academic year 2011/12, almost half was donated to either Cambridge or Oxford.

Despite the net increase of private financing in higher education, the disparity in wealth between Oxbridge and other universities is causing concerns. Speaking to Cambridge News, Pranav Sharma, an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, who noted that the UK’s recent growth in philanthropic support for Universities, which was even stronger than that seen in the US, was “driven by [Oxbridge] fund-raising campaigns,” and other British institutions could not be expected to provide for themselves by similar means.

The latest Reuters ranking showed the University of Cambridge to have the largest endowment fund of all universities in Britain, at £1.65 billion, excluding the endowments of individual colleges. Oxford follows closely behind with £854 million.

University attendance has been encouraged by successive Governments keen to boost social mobility. Former Prime Minister Sir John Major recently enunciated the importance of continuing this trend, stating that “our education system should help children out of the circumstances in which they were born, not lock them into [those] circumstances.”

Fraser Nelson, writing in The Telegraph earlier this year, described British Universities as “some of the worst-funded in Europe”, whose “academics are notoriously underpaid, which is more dangerous than ever in a global marketplace”. He advocated an adoption of the American system in which, he argues, Universities as private bodies can command considerable independence and offer excellent education to even the poorest students who are accepted without regards to their financial needs. Oxbridge, notably, requires applicants to provide proof that they are capable of funding their studies.

Stefan Collini, a professor at Cambridge’s English Faculty with a focus on Intellectual History, in a recent review of Andrew McGettigan’s ‘The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education’, lamented that “deep changes in the structure and dominant attitude of contemporary market democracies are everywhere putting pressure on the values that have sustained the ideals of public higher education.”

With funding fast becoming an issue of increasing concern for many Higher Education institutions without access to the resources of Oxbridge, the question remains of whether private finance would enable Universities to continue their educational mission, or  simply demand their dependence on following a profitable business model.