For almost 1,000 years, the leaders of the University of Oxford sought aid in medieval courts and cathedrals. In April, Andrew Hamilton, Oxford’s vice chancellor, found a new venue: the mansion of a Silicon Valley billionaire.
Over artichoke soup and halibut at the San Francisco home of Michael Moritz, an Oxford alumnus and venture capitalist who was an early investor in Google Inc., Hamilton made the case to about 50 technology entrepreneurs that the oldest university in the English-speaking world needs their support.
As Oxford faces an estimated 78 percent, or 47 million-pound ($75 million), cut in annual government funding for teaching, Hamilton is pleading for money around the world. The former provost of Yale University, Hamilton, 58, is importing American techniques for fundraising and heads a record-setting $1.25 billion-pound capital campaign. Among his priorities is introducing the culture of lifelong alumni loyalty akin to that at U.S. institutions.
“There are twice the number of alumni of Oxford than at Yale,” Hamilton said in an interview in his office. “Our undergraduate body is twice the size of Harvard’s, twice the size of Yale’s, twice the size of Stanford’s. The potential for Oxford is enormous.”
The British-born Hamilton is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan who also taught at Princeton University and the University of Pittsburgh. He’s bringing American energy and expertise across the Atlantic while managing through a U.K. financial climate marked by the first decline in real income since 1981 and government budget cuts that threaten more than 300,000 public-sector jobs by 2015.
Since joining Oxford in October 2009, Hamilton has increased financial aid for low-income students; hired the former director of alumni relations at Harvard Business School to head a similar office at Oxford; and recruited Peter Tufano, a professor at Harvard Business School, to run Oxford’s Said Business School.
Under Hamilton, Oxford set a fundraising record in 2009-2010, when it hauled in 240 million pounds, more than doubling the previous year’s total.
“He conforms to the spirit of American optimism,” said Mark Damazer, the master of Oxford’s St. Peter’s College. “You want someone who doesn’t look as if, every time there’s an incoming piece of artillery, he’ll be knocked over by it.”
At Yale, where he worked for 11 years starting in 1997, Hamilton overhauled the tenure process and confronted sexist behavior at a fraternity. As provost -- the chief academic officer -- of the New Haven, Connecticut-based university, he headed the integration of Yale’s West Campus, a 136-acre research park purchased in 2007 from Bayer AG, and promoted the hiring of women and minority professors.
Hamilton also had a role in fundraising, which is becoming his top priority at Oxford as the British government slashes subsidies to higher education by at least 2 billion pounds by 2015 to help reduce the national deficit, according to Universities UK, which represents higher-education institutions in the country. Oxford said it will lose about 4,700 pounds per student in government funds starting in 2012. To compensate, parliament is allowing colleges in England to raise their maximum tuition to 9,000 pounds a year from 3,375 pounds.
Oxford receives 280 million pounds a year from the government for research, a sum that isn’t expected to change, said Anthony Monaco, the pro vice chancellor for planning and resources. On Aug. 1, Monaco will take over as president of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.
To attract charitable contributions, Hamilton must also overcome a culture that has regarded higher education as a free right. U.K. college students paid nothing for tuition until 1998, when they were charged 1,000 pounds and received grants and loans for living expenses. In 2006, tuition was raised to 3,000 pounds.
“For years and years people just became used to the idea that university was paid for by the state,” said Giles Henderson, the master of Oxford’s Pembroke College. “That was broadly the position, which was completely daft, and particularly daft at Oxford.”
An Oxford education, where students are tutored by faculty in groups of two, is the product of a “Rolls Royce teaching system,” and the graduates who benefit should be expected to give back, Henderson said.
In December, thousands of students from Oxford and other universities marched in central London to protest the tuition hikes, erupting in riots that swarmed the limousine of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Oxford’s faculty voted 283 to 5 on June 7 to pass a no-confidence resolution in the policies of Britain’s higher-education minister, David Willetts. It was the first vote about political affairs since 1985, when the faculty voted to deny Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree.
While Oxford was built through philanthropy -- Balliol College, for example, was founded for poor students by John de Balliol in the 13th century -- it lacks a modern tradition of alumni giving, Hamilton said.
Only about 15 percent of Oxford graduates donate to the school, he said. That compares with 47 percent at Princeton University, 44 percent at Dartmouth College, and 19 percent for Harvard, according to 2010 data compiled by the Council for Aid to Education, a New York research group.
As Oxford becomes reliant on private sources of funding, it needs to look at U.S. institutions for lessons on raising and managing money, Hamilton said. The combined endowments of Oxford and its colleges of 3.33 billion pounds in 2010 were dwarfed by those of the richest U.S. schools, and Oxford needs to catch up, he said.
“There is much we can learn from the leading universities in the United States,” Hamilton said.
The endowment of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was $27.4 billion on June 30, 2010. Yale’s was $16.7 billion.
Hamilton is spearheading the Oxford Thinking fundraising campaign, which has collected more than 1 billion pounds since its official start in 2008 on its way to a goal of 1.25 billion pounds. That includes a 75 million-pound donation in September from U.S. billionaire Len Blavatnik, chairman of New York-based Access Industries LLC, to establish a school of government.
At Moritz’s San Francisco home overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Hamilton piqued the interest of wealthy Americans who had no connection to Oxford, said Moritz, a partner at Sequoia Capital, based in Menlo Park, California.
“Andy captivated them,” said Moritz, who, with his wife, donated $50 million to his college, Christ Church, in 2008. “He spoke from that place between the brain and the heart and touched people’s emotions and aroused their curiosity.”
Educating the Elite
Oxford is so old that no one knows when it was founded although the first teaching in the city was recorded at about 1096. Oxford, along with the University of Cambridge, has educated England’s elite for centuries. Its alumni include 26 prime ministers, 20 archbishops of Canterbury and 12 saints. Adam Smith, William Penn, Cecil Rhodes and Rupert Murdoch all attended Oxford.
Oxford consists of 38 colleges, many dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, surrounding gardens and grassy courtyards. On sunny June days, students sprawl on the lawns, studying among blooming roses beneath gothic spires.
The idyllic scene belies unease over the university’s future.
“There has not been a period of such turbulence in the funding of higher education in the United Kingdom than that we are passing through now,” Hamilton said. “What is happening, whether we like it or not, is that we are being transitioned from a principally publicly funded university to a principally privately funded university.”
As U.K. universities become more like American institutions, they should be aware of the disparities in the U.S. system, said Howard Hotson, a history professor at Oxford. While the best U.S. schools are excellent, the quality falls off sharply and “the value for money isn’t very good,” he said.
“I’ve noticed an unthinking admiration and emulation of the U.S., especially on the right, which is not coupled with any sustained study of how the U.S. system works” said Hotson, who writes about education for the London Review of Books.
U.K. education leaders should also question the motives behind American philanthropy, Hotson said. In many cases, U.S. donors give to improve the odds of admission for their children, he said.
“You have to ask the question if benefactors are giving purely for altruistic purposes,” Hotson said. “An awful lot of this giving is to sustain your dynasty.”
Oxford University Press
To increase the endowment, Hamilton transferred almost 200 million pounds from the reserves of the Oxford University Press, the publishing company established in 1586. The funds will generate 7 million pounds a year, half of which will go to scholarships, said Monaco, the pro vice chancellor.
The son of two teachers, Hamilton was raised in Guildford, southwest of London, and studied at the University of Exeter. He earned a masters degree at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge.
He applied for teaching positions in the U.S. in 1981 when the recession meant there were no openings in the U.K., and found work first at Princeton, in Princeton, New Jersey, then at Pittsburgh. In 1997, he left for Yale.
In Hamilton’s Oxford office are photographs of himself with Yale President Richard Levin, and with two fellow former Yale provosts, Susan Hockfield, now president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Alison Richard, the former vice chancellor of Cambridge.
Levin, Yale’s president for 18 years, said Hamilton managed through consensus during his time there. That ability makes him well suited for the top job at Oxford, where the colleges are financially independent entities and the vice chancellor must lead through persuasion, said Levin, who attended Oxford’s Merton College from 1968 to 1970.
“Andy is a natural collaborator and, as provost, was very much someone who tried to work with faculty to try and reach agreements, instead of imposing his views,” Levin said. “The Oxford job suits both his personality and the way he operated at Yale.”
Hamilton has won praise from Oxford faculty for steering the university’s response to the government’s cuts in funding and proposed tuition increases.
“He got us discussing it very early on and that gave us a big advantage,” said Susan Cooper, a professor of experimental physics. “He understood that he needs to work with the whole of the Oxford community and bring us to a consensus.”
Students question if Hamilton and other leaders of universities could have fought the budget cuts and tuition hikes. They are particularly critical of the tuition increase and the debt of as much as 27,000 pounds incurred after three years of study, said David Barclay, president of the Oxford University Student Union.
“It’s the very real sense around the kitchen table in communities up and down the country that taking on something like that is just not viable,” said Barclay, 22, from Glasgow. “It’s a very difficult conversation for a 16-year-old, when parents say ‘We earn less than this in a year, how can you take on this level of debt?’”
Hamilton remains an active researcher and manages a group in the chemistry department that investigates how synthetic molecules interact with molecules in living cells. Hamilton’s team published 11 papers last year, he said.
After two years at Oxford, Hamilton said he is now thoroughly “Oxonian” and chortles when discussing the university’s rowing triumph over Cambridge, his former school, in March. At official university functions, he wears the traditional black robe and mortarboard and is preceded into functions by a bearer carrying a ceremonial silver mace.
“People like him and gravitate to him,” said Moritz. “And he’s not shy about asking for money.”