Over here in the UK we’re used to our universities looking like paupers compared to America’s. Hell, every university looks like a pauper compared to the Ivy League.
But the University of Oxford has had enough. It wants to raise £1.25 billion (US$2.5bn) for new buildings and faculty (press release).
Even this won’t be enough to push the university up into the big league. Bloomberg points out that Harvard’s endowment stood at $34.9 billion on 30 June while Oxford’s stood at a paltry £3.4 billion (US$6.7bn).
In actual fundraising leagues however £1.25 billion is good going. Here’s what the Chronicle of Philanthropy thinks, and they should know:
Only three American universities have completed campaigns that raised more: Columbia University ($2.8 billion), the University of Southern California ($2.9 billion), and the University of California at Los Angeles ($3 billion).
Six others are still in drives with goals of $2.5 billion or more, including the three largest by Columbia University ($4 billion), Cornell University ($4 billion), and Stanford University ($4.3 billion).
Part of the reason British universities are skint, it seems, is that we’re all tightwads over here. Jon Dellandrea, pro-vice-chancellor at Oxford, told the Wall Street Journal that 12% of Oxford alumni give to the university while 40% of Ivy Leaguers do.
The Christian Science Monitor says, “The move sends two clear messages: First, Britain’s 100-plus universities will increasingly have to rely on their own fundraising efforts. Second, those that are less successful or resourceful will quickly lose status.”
So Oxford wants money. There’s one thing it doesn’t want though: more working class kids.
According to the Chancellor of Oxford, Lord Patten, part of what this money will achieve is to free the university from political pressure to take more state school pupils (PA). He basically put the blame for the pathetic number of state school pupils attending Oxford on failings lower down in the education system, and said universities should not be asked to compromise to “mend these problems by lowering our standards” (Times).
Unfortunately for Patten, last year a report showed that only 100 schools, nearly all from the private sector, accounted for nearly a third of those starting at Oxford or Cambridge (Guardian). And the statistics show that Oxford, Cambridge and the UK’s other ‘elite’ universities are generally awful at representing the cultural background of the UK.
Look at the widening participation statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency: Oxford takes 53.7% of its students from state schools, against a benchmark of 75.4%*.
There are a number of possibilities here:
1. There are so few good state-school pupils that only half of all spaces at Oxford can be filled by them without compromising academic standards.
2. Oxford is bad at picking out good state school pupils from those that do apply.
3. Good state-school pupils are put off applying to Oxford due to its image as an elitist bastion, as shown by the fact that it’s the alma mater of two of Britain’s poshest politicians, David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
Which is it, Lord Patten?
* for young full-time first degree entrants 2005/06.