In the early hours of last Friday, Rory Maw, the bursar of Magdalen College, Oxford, pulled away from his computer screen and drank “a whole bottle of champagne for me.”
After months of nightly video conferencing, Maw had just struck a successful real estate deal that will transform Magdalen’s fortunes, possibly making him the richest of Oxford’s 39 colleges.
Now, following the official announcement of Maw’s deal to sell a 40% stake in a science park the college owned to the Singapore sovereign wealth fund for £ 160million, the students are demanding that Magdalen and the other wealthy colleges share more of their “astounding wealth” with the communities they serve.
Jade Calder, a history student and co-chair of Class Act, a student campaign group supporting working-class students, said colleges were “already insanely wealthy” and should use their money to increase diversity.
“Nationwide, 93% of university students are educated at a public school, but in Oxford it’s 68.6%,” said Calder, from Manchester who is the first member of his family to attend. university. “They need to do more to close this gap. The university has the resources to support many more poor students than it has.
“You always have the feeling that the university could give you a little more money, it has billions of pounds in the bank. I have friends who are struggling to afford their housing, and you think who is benefiting from all this wealth?
Oxford Student Union President Anvee Bhutani also called on colleges to share their wealth more with current students and apply for scholarships to encourage more applications from minority groups.
“Oxford and its constituent colleges have a lot of money, but often having that money in investments and endowments means they can’t use it on a day-to-day basis,” said Bhutani, 20, an American Indian. who studies humanities. sciences in Madeleine.
“As president of the Oxford University student union, a lot of what I lobby for requires a monetary contribution from the colleges or the university and it’s hard to lobby for change when colleges are reluctant to use this money imminently. I truly hope and advise that colleges prioritize and financially support current initiatives around big issues such as sustainability, diversity, access and more, as these are what will shape Oxford for years to come. .
The huge salary – which values Oxford Science Park at 10 times its value just five years ago – will more than double the size of Magdalen’s endowment fund to over £ 600million.
The 563-year-old college, which has alumni Oscar Wilde, Julian Barnes and George Osborne, will now be scrambling with historically prosperous rivals St John’s and Christ Church for the title of Oxford’s richest college.
It also highlights the growing divide between the haves and have-nots in academia: Last year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that Covid-19 could threaten the viability of at least a dozen UK universities.
Dinah Rose, President of Magdalen, said the Science Park Agreement gives the college a “unique opportunity to protect the future of the College as a strong and inclusive community of exceptional scholarship, teaching and research.” . This would enable it “to meet the challenges of the coming decades, to encourage all our members to flourish and to prepare the college to make a substantial contribution to the public good.”
Maw, who is also chief executive of Oxford Science Park, said funds from the agreement would be re-injected into increased support for college education and scholarships, but warned there would be no d quick windfall for students.
The sale of the 40% stake values the science park at around £ 400million. That’s more than 10 times its value of £ 36.2million in 2016, when Magdalen bought a 50% stake that belonged to investment firm M&G.
Maw said the sale would inflate Magdalen’s endowment, which she uses to support students and research, from its official valuation of £ 304million last year to “comfortably to over £ 600million sterling”.
This would put Magdalen’s endowment above that of St John’s, historically the richest college in Oxford, with assets of £ 606million according to its latest accounts. However, St John’s wealth is likely to be further increased by its ongoing development of 64 acres of land north of Oxford into offices, laboratories and housing.
Maw, a former investment banker and private equity executive, said that increasing Magdalen’s endowment would have a “very significant impact on our ability to support education and research.”
But he warned it would take some time for the windfall to trickle down to students. “We are shifting 3.5% of the five-year moving average of the endowment to support current spending, so… it will take five years to fully fund it.”
Last year the college topped off the £ 3.1million it received in tuition fees with £ 7.8million taken from the endowment to cover its annual expenses of £ 12.1million sterling for teaching, research and accommodation.
The college, which opened the first stage of the 75-acre science park in 1991, said it would work with Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC to invest £ 150million in the development of an additional 10 acres in 300,000 square feet. additional offices and laboratories. “It’s already clear that we’re going to have to build higher and higher,” Maw said.
The park is already home to more than 100 companies, most of which originate from the university. Two of the companies – Oxford Nanopore, a genome sequencing company that has helped analyze Covid-19 variants, and artificial intelligence drugmaker Exscientia – went public last week with a combined market value of more of £ 6 billion.
Over coffee and baklava, Richard Simmonds, managing director of OrthoSon, a small Oxford Institute of Biomedical Engineering spin-off, explained the park’s benefits to scientists and investors.
“The three challenges for growing businesses are funding, recruiting and flexibility of space,” said Simmonds. “Here you have it all. “
Simmonds said rents at the park were likely about 30% higher than they would be at a nearby business park. “But here you get the buzz from the scientists and the university.” He added that if a business in the park fails, “the talent can be picked up fairly quickly by other businesses in the space.”
“You can see the money pouring in from all over the world to fund the things that are coming out of Oxford,” he said on a tour of the park, where the streets and buildings are named after famous ancient scientists. by Magdalen. “You see buildings going up all the time, there’s one over there that wasn’t there when we moved in, and at the other end of the park there are three or four buildings that didn’t exist. three years ago.
“The University of Oxford’s reputation and brand halo means you can get meetings with investors that you might not get if you distance yourself from other UK universities.”