Michael Moritz, a venture capitalist who was an early backer of Google Inc., and his wife will give 75 million pounds ($117 million) to Oxford University to fund scholarships.
The donation is the biggest gift to support undergraduate education in European history, according to the university, which held a presentation today at the Royal Society in London. The scholarships will help Oxford attract low-income students as U.K. tuition fees are tripling.
Moritz, who was born in Wales, is chairman of Sequoia Capital, a Menlo Park, California-based venture capital firm that has also invested in Yahoo! Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. Moritz and his wife, author Harriet Heyman, donated $50 million in 2008 to Oxford’s Christ Church College, which Moritz attended. The idea for today’s gift came from Oxford Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton, who discussed the financial concerns of low-income students at a San Francisco fundraiser, Moritz said.
“We felt very strongly that it was too easy for people to forget about high school students for whom life could too easily be derailed,” Moritz said in an interview yesterday in his suite at Claridge’s Hotel. “This is a way to ignite thousands of lights that might otherwise be extinguished.”
The gift will serve 100 students in its first year, starting with this year’s incoming class, Hamilton said today.
Moritz said he was inspired to support undergraduate education because his father was a beneficiary of scholarships. A Jew from Munich, his father was sent to the U.K. by his parents in 1936 to escape the Nazis and he attended St. Paul’s School and Oxford. He became a professor of classics at the University of Cardiff, Moritz said.
An uncle and cousin also received scholarships and went on to positions of prominence, he said.
“There was no way any of these then-children could have done any of this without the incredible kindness and generosity of strangers,” Moritz said.
After studying history at Oxford, Moritz became a reporter for Time magazine, first in Detroit and then in the Bay Area, where he developed contacts in Silicon Valley, he said. He co-founded VentureWire, a news service that covered venture capital, in 1984, and joined Sequoia Capital in 1986.
In May, Moritz said he is suffering from “a rare medical condition which can be managed but is incurable.” His donation wasn’t related to his illness, he said yesterday.
Moritz and Heyman’s gift will be used as part of a matching challenge designed to raise 300 million pounds. His funds will be donated in allotments of 25 million pounds, which will be matched from the endowment, to create a sum of 50 million. That 50 million will then be used to attract another 50 million in matching gifts from other donors. Once 100 million pounds in total has been raised, Moritz will release the next 25 million.
The goal is to create “an organism in perpetuity that will finance the path of people from less fortunate backgrounds,” he said.
The money will be used to eliminate the fees for room and board and reduce the tuition from 9,000 pounds to 3,500 pounds for more than half of Oxford’s low-income undergraduates in the program’s first three years. Oxford has about 1,000 undergraduates, or a 10th of the total, whose families make less than 16,000 pounds a year.
“I hope that today marks the day from which every headmistress, every headmaster, every teacher throughout the United Kingdom understands that there is no obstacle whatsoever for any of their students, any pupil who has the academic ability and talent to merit a place at Oxford, to gain a place,” Moritz said today.
Oxford, along with all public universities in England, is facing reductions in the subsidies it receives from the government for teaching. In 2012-2013, the funds will be cut 21 percent, to 43.4 million pounds. In return, the government has raised the tuition universities can charge to 9,000 pounds a year, an increase from 3,465 pounds last year.
Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, with the first teaching in the city recorded around 1096. 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.