The University of Oxford aims to raise £1.25 billion over the next few years to help fund extra undergraduate bursaries, new academic posts and new buildings through a campaign launched this week.
John Hood, the vice-chancellor, said the campaign had been three and a half years in preparation and had already raised £575 million. He said: "We concluded that we simply needed to be wealthier if colleges were to achieve their aspirations."
No deadline has been set for reaching the target, but Professor Hood said: "We hope to be revising the target upwards in a few years."
The funds will be raised by targeting "old members and friends of the university, be they individuals or corporations", he said. "A successful campaign of this nature is about imbuing a sense of responsibility in old members and the wider constituency of Oxford."
He noted that there had been a rapid culture change with respect to giving to universities. Between 1 August 2004 and 31 March 2008, Oxford received more than 100,000 gifts from more than 60,000 donors. Most donations were of £25,000 or less. In 2005, the University of Cambridge announced a campaign to raise £1 billion and had raised £663 million by August 2007.
Some of Oxford's cash will help to ensure that qualified students are not deterred from applying for financial reasons. "Through time, we hope to reduce the debt burden on students," Professor Hood said.
Alison Richard, vice-chancellor of Cambridge, said: "Achieving sustained levels of philanthropic support is critical to both Oxford and Cambridge if we are to ensure that we retain our positions in the top rank of universities worldwide, while at the same time making our outstanding education available to the most talented students whatever their background.
"We wish Oxford every success in its ambitious campaign."
DONOR SCHEME TO GET FORMAL STATUS
The University of Oxford is reviewing its process for vetting donors following concerns raised by academics and students about past benefactors.
Oxford confirmed that it was considering plans to give its Donations/Acceptance Review Committee (Darc) formal status. The remit and membership of Darc is also being examined.
A recent editorial in the Oxford Magazine suggested that Darc was more concerned with what the university did with the money than with its provenance. The editor, Gavin Williams, a politics fellow, noted that Darc members include managers responsible for soliciting money, creating a conflict of interest.
The Oxford Student newspaper has carried a series of articles expressing concerns about major donations, including gifts from Wafic Said, Prince Sultan Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and Stanley Ho, the Macau casino magnate.
Mr Williams said: "The university's reputation will always be at risk from unwise decisions, especially when the ambitious Campaign of Campaigns is launched."
An Oxford spokeswoman said: "The university periodically reviews all areas of operation. Given the (£1.25 billion fundraising) campaign launch, it was agreed by the ruling council that consideration should be given to Darc's formal inclusion in the university's official institutional regulations, and that this would be a timely opportunity to ensure that its remit and membership meet the needs of this major fundraising initiative. That process is currently in hand."