Oxbridge uplift disguises a drop in the size of average UK endowment

Institutions still ‘lag well behind’ US counterparts, which are piling on funds

June 26, 2014

Source: Kobal

Average endowments at UK universities, excluding Oxford and Cambridge, have shrunk during the past decade, according to a report that shows they are falling even further behind their counterparts in the US.

US universities such as Stanford and Princeton have increased their endowments by more than 50 per cent since 2012 and are now sitting on more than £10 billion each.

In the UK, however, endowments have not grown and remain tiny in comparison, according to Academic Assets: University Fundraising – An Update, released on 26 June by the Sutton Trust.

The trust, which works towards getting more students from disadvantaged backgrounds into university, points out in the report that the hugely wealthy Ivy League universities have used income from their endowments to allow “needs blind” admissions by providing financial support to poor students.

Between 2002 and 2012, the average endowment (in 2012 prices) of the largest 100 funds in the UK grew from £79.8 million to £109 million, the report shows.

But this increase is due “almost entirely” to the success of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In 2012, the pair accounted for 79 per cent of the total, up from 70 per cent a decade before, the report shows. If those two institutions are stripped out, the size of the average endowment fell over the decade by almost £1 million to £23 million.

In the US, the average endowment of the top 500 universities, also excluding the top two, grew by almost a quarter to £418 million.

The report also looks specifically at the top 10 endowments in both countries (see tables, below).

Only Oxford and Cambridge managed to grow their endowments at rates comparable to US institutions. At four of the top 10 UK universities, endowments actually shrank between 2002 and 2012, with University College London’s down nearly a quarter.

The report blames their lacklustre performance on the smaller size of the endowments and a “conservative” approach to managing them. But it also points out that although fundraising is “more widespread” in the UK than it was a decade ago, it still “lags well behind” the US.

The latest data on philanthropy from the annual Ross/CASE survey show that although UK universities’ fundraising income grew in 2012-13, the amount of money pledged for the future fell.

The Sutton Trust report recommends that the government reintroduce a matched funding programme like the one run between 2008 and 2011 but with funds allocated in such a way that money is not “swallowed up entirely” by Oxford and Cambridge, and a “simplification” of tax laws to spur more donations.


Endowments: UK poor cousins to well-resourced US

UK’s 10 largest endowments 
* Includes colleges. Figures from 2012
Source: Academic Assets: University Fundraising - An Update, Sutton Trust.
1University of Cambridge*4,900
2University of Oxford*3,772
3University of Edinburgh238
4University of Manchester154
5University of Liverpool138
6King’s College London131
7University of Glasgow129
8University College London86
9University of Birmingham83
10London School of Economics83


US’ 10 largest endowments 
1Harvard University19,300
2Yale University12,400
3University of Texas System12,200
4Stanford University11,200
5Princeton University10,900
6Massachusetts Institute of Technology6,600
7Texas A&M University System and Foundations5,220
8University of Michigan5,010
9Columbia University4,900
10Northwestern University4,710


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