A gift of £2.75 million has been given to the Open University to support its work in Africa.
The gift, from the Allan and Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust, is the single largest private donation received by the OU in its -year history.
The university will use the donation in three ways: to support the development of primary school education in sub-Saharan Africa, to further research in African culture and to appoint a chair in international development.
The OU will help develop a school-based teacher-training programme up to 2010, while the support for research will be focused on projects that "enrich cross-cultural understanding".
Ian Steadman, director of the OU's development office, said the gift was the outcome of a 12-month "concerted effort" to attract private donations.
"The OU is inundated with requests from people from impoverished higher education systems wanting to come over and spend time here - and who ask if we can pay for it.
"It's been difficult for the OU to do that in the past, but this enables us to set up a structure that will allow us to support people who come here to network and for our people to go out and network there."
Mr Steadman added that the new professorial chair, although based at the university's Milton Keynes headquarters, would spend much of their time in Africa, pursuing research and developing the OU's links with academic institutions overseas.
"What we've also lacked in the past was a champion, preferably an African scholar, who could lead our development work in Africa," he said.
Brenda Gourley, the OU's vice-chancellor, said: "Challenging inequality is at the heart of the Open University.
"Pioneering work, carried out by OU researchers in collaboration with academics, non-governmental organisations and pressure groups in Africa, has already presented real short-term and long-term solutions.
"We are not in the business of imposing ideas but working in partnership, consulting and examining to see what solutions might be applied in an African context."