Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Ivory Towers of Academia

 Oxford and Cambridge have access to a staggering pool of wealth totalling almost £21bn, more than the combined investments of the other 22 members of the Russell Group of elite research universities, such as University College London. Cambridge’s Trinity College is wealthier than all UK universities other than Manchester, Edinburgh and Imperial College London. Trinity’s net assets have grown by nearly £160m in the space of a year in its most recent accounts – more than Oxford’s Balliol College has accumulated over 750 years. Trinity’s huge £563m investment fund recently included shares in the world’s largest arms companies, several partners in the Dakota Access pipeline, and Arconic, the supplier of the notorious cladding on Grenfell Tower.

Their assets could pay the tuition fees of every home and international student at UK universities and colleges for a year – and still leave £3bn to spare.

Trinity College, Cambridge, is the wealthiest of the individual colleges with published assets worth £1.3bn in its latest accounts. In Oxford, St John’s College tops the table with close to £600m in assets.

The financial advantage enjoyed by Oxford and Cambridge over their domestic rivals is set to widen even further. In the last two years the pair have used their high credit ratings and international reputations to issue bonds worth hundreds of millions of pounds on the capital markets.
Last December Oxford raised £750m after issuing a bond to be repaid in 100 years’ time, while Cambridge has this month announced plans to raise a further £600m by issuing bonds to take advantage of low interest rates. That tranche of debt follows Cambridge’s £350m bond issue in 2016, used to finance large-scale property developments in north Cambridge.
The figures also reveal how Oxbridge has continued to build on its inherited wealth. The 2002-2003 accounts for Oxford’s collegesshowed combined assets of more than £1.6bn. Some 15 years of investments and fundraising later, the 2017 accounts suggest that figure has risen to £5.8bn. Cambridge leads the way with consolidated net assets worth nearly £11.8bn across the university and its colleges – which equates to £390,000 per head for each of its 30,000 students and staff. Despite Cambridge’s colleges alone sitting on assets worth just under £7bn, Queens’ College remains the only one accredited by the Living Wage Foundation, which currently sets the UK living wage at £8.75 an hour. Despite their enormous wealth, the Oxbridge colleges earlier this year after backed revisions to the main university staff pension scheme that would have led to staff across the UK seeing diminished pensions after retirement.

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