Oxford ignores alumni, claims Shadow Chancellor

November 30, 2007

He is one of Oxford's most high-profile graduates and expects one day to control the purse strings of Government, yet George Osborne says his main contact with his alma mater is through a magazine that arrives once a year in the post, writes John Gill.

The Shadow Chancellor, who read modern history at Magdalen College, says that UK universities have much to learn from their American counterparts when it comes to cashing in on the goodwill of alumni in order to diversify income sources.

Speaking at an event organised by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts last week, Mr Osborne said: "I went briefly to a university in North Carolina, and I have more contact from that university than I have from Oxford.

"I get a magazine sent to me by Oxford University once a year, which is very nice and I read it occasionally, but there's no attempt to get me really engaged as an alumnus. I'm sure if I had been to an American university of anything like Oxford's reputation there would have been a much more developed alumni programme."

Mr Osborne said that a strong alumni base is key if universities are to reduce their dependency on government funding. He also called for UK higher education to improve its links with business and industry.

There is a long tradition of giving to higher education in the US by alumni, but the sums received by UK universities are far less significant.

Oxford University, which is among the UK institutions with the highest level of donor support, says it receives gifts from alumni, companies, trusts, foundations and others totalling around £100 million a year. In contrast, Harvard University banked a total of $614 million (£297 million) from benefactors last year.

And whereas just over 10 per cent of Oxford alumni give money to their college or to the university, the figure is as high as 60 per cent among alumni of Ivy League universities in the US.

Oxford University's current endowment and investments total about £900 million, generating an income of £28 million in 2005-06. Its colleges manage their own endowments of £2.4 billion.

Harvard's endowment stood at $34.9 billion (£17 billion) last year.

An Oxford University spokeswoman said that alumni can stay in touch through their colleges or via a global alumni network, which has 120 branches in 60 countries.

She added that it was "no secret" that the tradition of asking alumni for money was stronger in the US than in the UK.

She said the university recognised that it would benefit from greater contact and is working to achieve that aim. It held its first university- wide alumni reunion weekend earlier this year.

The Oxford spokeswoman said: "Plans for next year's reunion are already under way, and Mr Osborne can look forward to receiving an invitation for the event soon."

The university is also set to launch a major fundraising campaign next year.

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