Oxford receives record donation for poorer students

16 July 2012

A record donation of £75 million to Oxford University will be used to fund the tuition fee increase for its poorest students, it was announced this week. The sum, which will rise to £300 million with matched funding, will also contribute towards living costs. The donation is believed to be one of the top five philanthropic gifts ever made in the UK for a single cause, and the biggest for any European university.

The donation is from Michael Moritz, an Oxford alumnus originally from Cardiff, and his wife, the novelist Harriet Heyman. Moritz today lives in California and is chairman of the venture capital firm, Sequoia Capital. Packages of £11,000 will be available per student per year for those from families with an income below £16,000 per year. Under the scheme, students will therefore only have to borrow the £3,500 per year from the government towards tuition fees, as opposed to the £9,000 being charged from October this year. Recipients of the scholarships will also receive financial support during the holidays, alongside funding for participation in a tailor-made internship programme.

About one in ten Oxford students are from families with earnings below the £16,000 threshold, and the first 100 scholarships will be awarded this autumn. This first wave of scholarships will prioritise students studying science subjects, but the hope is that later on all students from lower-income families will be able to benefit.

The announcement of this scheme signals yet another sign of a transition towards the US model of financing universities. These packages will continue in perpetuity by using the investment income from the donation, and marks a step towards self-funding from philanthropy, with the result a lessened reliance on state funds. Such endowments are the biggest source of Harvard’s income, currently worth £24 billion. Fees account for only a fifth of its operating costs. Oxford, in contrast, currently receives most of its income from external research, accounting for two-fifths of overall costs.

Mr Moritz, who graduated from Christ Church College, Oxford (pictured above) with a History degree in the 1970s, said that for families on an income of £16,000 per year, the level of student debt which the tuition fee rise to £9,000 represents is “a terrifying figure”. He spoke too of his personal motivations for the donation, noting that his family, as refugees from Nazi Germany, had owed much to benefactors. “I would not be here today were it not for the generosity of strangers,” he said.

Oxford students welcomed the news as a positive step in encouraging access. First-year student at Lady Margaret Hall, Katherine Grundy, said, “I think it’s a good idea because Oxford still has the reputation of being elitist (even though the percentage of people going from private schools is less than half).” She added, “When there are stories like this in the newspapers, it shows that people from less well-off backgrounds are being helped and encouraged. I’m sure there will be lots of people who think this is a bad idea, but it’s nice to hear that someone is trying to do something well-meaning with his money.”

Louise Ashwell – News Reporter

Photo: aperrypic