Venture capitalist gives £75m for Oxford’s poorest students

Venture capitalist gives £75m for Oxford’s poorest students

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on July 11, 2012

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Oxford University

42.3% of Oxford’s UK undergraduate intake in 2011 was from private schools. Photograph: Alamy

It is common for altruistic billionaires to make their mark in brick, steel and glass on a university campus or to sponsor one of the more fashionable branches of research, but Michael Moritz will leave a legacy in flesh and blood.

The venture capitalist, born in Wales and living in California, announced the biggest philanthropic gift for undergraduate financial support in European history on Wednesday. A £75m gift from the multimillionaire investor and his wife, the novelist Harriet Heyman, will fund £11,000 scholarships for the poorest 10% of Oxford students.

Moritz, who attended state school in Cardiff and graduated from Christ Church, Oxford with a degree in history, said he was moved to help others by his father’s escape from nazism.

Moritz, who has invested in a string of internet successes including Google, PayPal and YouTube, said he owed his existence to “the generosity of strangers”.

Speaking at a press conference in London, he said: “My father was plucked as a teenager from Nazi Germany. He was able to attend a very good school here in London entirely on a scholarship. He went on to study at Oxford and had a PhD financed entirely from a scholarship.”

The Moritz-Heyman scholarships will be available to students whose family income is less than £16,000, who are selected for Oxford. The first 100 will be awarded this autumn.

Moritz-Heyman scholars will receive financial support to cover living costs, while the university will waive most of the £9,000 tuition fee. They will have to find £3,500 for tuition, which can be borrowed as a government-backed loan.

In addition, they will receive financial support during the holidays and will participate in a tailor-made internship programme to help them on to the career ladder. In the first wave, priority will be given to students of science subjects and those who are disadvantaged, such as coming from a school that performs below the national average at A-level or being in care.

Charlotte Anderson, an Oxford undergraduate who was sitting alongside Moritz at the press conference, said: “Having been offered a place it was a serious consideration by my parents, who had never been to university, whether I was able to take my place, simply because of whether they would be able to afford it. That seems absurd now, but all they saw was the idea of a huge debt and the stress that is attached.”

The latest figures, for 2011 entry, show 42.3% of Oxford’s UK undergraduate intake were from private schools. Less than a quarter of the intake were from comprehensives. Nationally, a third of all those achieving three A grades at A-level are privately educated.

The scholarship gift will be made in three tranches of £25m, which will be matched by £25m from the university’s endowment. Oxford aims to raise a further £50m from donations. The next slice of Moritz-Heyman funding will be given when £100m has been raised for student support.

At present just under 1,000 Oxford undergraduates – about one in 10 – are in the lowest family income bracket.

Within three years, it is expected more than half of these students will receive a Moritz-Heyman scholarship, and Oxford envisages this scheme or an equivalent scholarship will be extended to all the poorest students.

The scholars will be asked to return to their schools and encourage pupils to apply to Oxford.

Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Professor 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.”

Moritz described the initiative as a “fresh approach” to student funding in Britain which was “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”.

David Cameron welcomed the gift, saying it meant students from disadvantaged backgrounds would get help to study at a world-leading university.

Moritz stepped back from the day-to-day running of his firm Sequoia Capital in May after announcing he had a manageable but incurable disease. He remains chairman.

Before joining Sequoia, Moritz was San Francisco bureau chief for Time magazine.

In 2008, he and his wife donated more than £25m to Christ Church, the biggest single gift in the college’s recent history.

Oxford said the new pledge was believed to be the biggest gift for undergraduate support in European history. It is believed to be one of top five philanthropic gifts ever made in the UK for any single cause.

How the gift compares

Cambridge

The Gates Cambridge scholarships were established in 2000 with a $210m donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This was the biggest single donation Cambridge has received. The scholarships enable applicants from outside the UK to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject at Cambridge.

Harvard

In 2008, David M Rockefeller gave $100m to Harvard, his alma mater, to support international study for undergraduates and expand arts education. Harvard’s biggest ever gift was $125m from the Swiss philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss to fund a bioengineering institute. Harvard has the largest endowment fund of any university in the world, with assets of around $31bn, according to Forbes.

Stanford

In 2001, the Hewlett Foundation gave $400m to help build Stanford’s endowment for the humanities and sciences and for undergraduate education. William Hewlett, who set up the foundation, qualified as an electrical engineer at Stanford before founding the Hewlett-Packard company, better known as HP, in 1939.

Charity tax row: Oxbridge joins revolt

Charity tax row: Oxbridge joins revolt

BBC |April 13, 2012

Oxford, Cambridge and other universities have joined the growing disquiet over government plans to curb tax breaks on charitable donations.

The Oxford and Cambridge vice-chancellors wrote privately to Chancellor George Osborne saying his plans risked undermining the culture of university philanthropy.

UK universities, which raised some £560m from charitable gifts last year, want him to rethink.

Ministers want to stop tax avoidance.

Mr Osborne says he is shocked by the scale of legal tax avoidance by multi-millionaires.

Under current rules, higher-rate taxpayers can donate unlimited amounts of money to charity and offset it against their tax bill to effectively bring the amount of tax they pay down, sometimes to zero.

But from 2013, uncapped tax reliefs – including those on charitable donations – are to be capped at £50,000 or 25% of a person’s income, whichever is higher.

Opposition to the plans has been gathering pace. On Thursday, Business Secretary Vince Cable openly voiced concerns after hearing from universities first hand about how the changes could affect them.

And Oxford vice-chancellor Andrew Hamilton wrote a private letter to Mr Osborne pointing out how reliant the university was on charitable donations.

The leading university raised more than £1.25bn over the past eight years, with many of the gifts topping what would be the yearly £50,000 limit.

‘Ill-considered’An Oxford University spokeswoman said that the government’s own policy emphasised the role of private and philanthropic investment, rather than the public purse.

“A step that penalises the government’s own approach seems ill-considered.

“Oxford’s fund-raising campaign recently passed its initial target over £1.25bn and we are continuing to seek support.

“The generosity of Oxford’s donors provides huge public benefit, contributing to teaching, research and student bursaries.

“We have done our best, along with other universities and charities, to foster a culture of giving in the UK, and this move risks undermining that culture.”

Cambridge vice-chancellor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz has also written privately to the chancellor reflecting similar concerns.

The two universities account for 44.2% of philanthropic funds secured by British universities last year.

Meanwhile Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of umbrella body Universities UK, said the considerable sums raised by universities made a major contribution to what they could offer.

The funds raised were used to offer students support through bursaries, scholarships, to improve facilities and fund research.

“Because universities are the preferred cause of major donors (gifts over £1m), we anticipate that they would be particularly hard-hit by the change in the budget.

“After a period in which universities have stepped up their game in fund-raising, this could undo some of the excellent progress they have made.”

But ministers have said they intend to stick to the plans.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander acknowledged they were proving controversial, but said: “We have put in place a cap on unlimited reliefs, we have done so for the very good reason that everyone should pay a decent proportion of their income in tax and that is a policy that we are going to stick to.”

But he did say the government would work with charities and philanthropists “to ensure the removal of the tax relief does not have a significant impact on charities which depend on large donations”.

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