Philanthropic support vital to health of Oxford’s colleges

Oxford University’s 36 independent colleges today publish their financial statements for the year ended 31 July 2011.

All the colleges are now registered charities and this year, for the first time, their accounts are presented in accordance with the Statement of Recommended Practice for Charities (the 'Charity SORP').

Incoming resources amounted in aggregate to £361m, up 12% on the previous year. Resources expended amounted to £303m, an increase of 3%.

The increase in incoming resources is largely attributable to substantially higher donations and legacies, which rose from £66m to £101m. By contrast, income from the colleges’ core activities was virtually unchanged in nominal terms, and lower in real terms.  

The colleges, through the tutorial system, undertake a substantial proportion of Oxford’s undergraduate teaching, as well as supporting graduate studies and research. Academic income (from fees and HEFCE funding) remained unchanged at £80m. The direct costs of these activities amounted to £105m, of which £75m was attributable to salaries, pension contributions and national insurance.

The colleges also provide accommodation for 14,000 of Oxford’s 19,000 students, and catering services for all of them. Income from board and lodging rose by 4% to £63m, due to a combination of higher student numbers, more college accommodation and price increases. However, these services remain heavily subsidised by colleges: the cost of providing board and lodging to members amounted to £130m.

The colleges use their resources to ensure that the total costs of an Oxford education – living costs as well as fees – are among the lowest of any Russell Group university. In addition to across-the-board subsidies of tuition and living costs, in 2010-11 the colleges provided £15m in bursaries and grants to ensure that no undergraduate was prevented from pursuing their studies because of financial pressures. Colleges have both public and private funding, but the public contribution (directly or through grants and loans to students) represents well below one third of the total, and is declining year by year.

Of the £58m net inflow of resources, £12.5m was attributable to unrestricted funds – the closest equivalent, in Charity SORP terms, to the operating surplus in corporate accounts. This surplus equates to 4% of total income and, whilst an improvement on the previous year, is flattered by a depreciation charge which, at £21m, is less than half of the estimated annual cost of renewing college buildings. The bulk of the net inflow is accounted for in restricted funds (£16m) and endowed funds (£29m). In both cases, new gifts and legacies exceeded expenditure and transfers by a considerable margin.

The value of college endowments grew by 10.2% during the year to a record level of £2.87bn. College endowments are unevenly distributed: the five best-endowed colleges account for more than 40% of total wealth, whilst the five least-endowed account for less than 2%. Mean wealth, at £80m per college, is double that of the median college. Nevertheless, all colleges are able to support their core activities effectively through a combination of self-help (conference and other trading income) and inter-collegiate support (an internal taxation system, which provides a fund to make grants to poorer colleges).

Commenting on the results, Tim Gardam, Principal of St Anne’s College and Chairman of the Conference of Colleges, said: 'These numbers demonstrate the enormous philanthropic contribution made from Oxford colleges' charitable resources to the education of its students. As government support for universities diminishes, and student debt rises, it is the collegiate structure of Oxford that enables the University to continue to support its students through the tutorial system and subsidised livings costs and so fulfil its commitment to academic excellence and opportunity.'