Running Robinson College:  current and future funding

The College was conceived in the 1970s thanks to the vision and generosity of one man, Sir David Robinson, who paid for the construction of the main College building.  However, it was always Sir David’s intention that having established the new College, it would be for others to build its academic community and credentials and to fund its future activities.  The College matriculated its first few undergraduate students in 1979 to join a small number of graduate students and founding Fellows already in place, with its first large intake the following year, when the main College building was ready for occupation. 

Although Robinson is only a few decades old, it continues more than 8 centuries of the Cambridge tradition of educating and training the best minds from around the world to achieve their potential and contribute to the wellbeing and advancement of society and the communities in which they live.  Such contributions range across the sciences from the work of Newton and Darwin to that of Crick and Watson; and the arts and humanities with great collections such as the Fitzwilliam and the work of leading minds such as Trevelyan, Wittgenstein and Russell.  Notwithstanding its very recent foundation, Robinson alumni are already making significant contributions to the arts, politics, scientific research, education and academic and public life, as well as major areas of industry and commerce.

After more than thirty-five years of integrated undergraduate and postgraduate education at Robinson and over eight centuries of Cambridge University research and teaching, the world of higher education had changed and developed, not least in how it is funded.  We must also change and develop in order to meet the new challenges ahead and ensure that Robinsonians continue to excel and to contribute to society. 

Historically, prior to Robinson’s foundation, universities and colleges were amongst many socially, economically and culturally important institutions that were funded privately in the UK, through charging of fees and the receipt of charitable gifts.  Robinson was conceived, founded and began its life in the 1970s and 1980s, during a relatively brief period when university education was significantly state funded in the UK, with proportionally little private and philanthropic funding needed at the undergraduate level and with various sources of funding available for graduate students and research.  However, a Cambridge undergraduate education differed from that available at almost every other British university (Oxford being the other exception) because of the central importance of small group teaching (supervisions) in groups of two or three students.  This system secures outstanding outcomes from those able to benefit from such a system, as well as yielding the lowest drop-out rate of any UK university, but always required the support of private donors, endowment and conference income to sustain it, since the costs of its provision exceeded the support available from the State. This is even more the case today since direct state support of undergraduate teaching has all but been withdrawn.  The main source of such funding is now the fee paid by each student which, in the case of “Home” undergraduates, usually comes to the University and the College via a student loan. The current level of fees paid, while undoubtedly a long-term burden on individual students who have to repay their student loans out of their future incomes, nowhere near covers the costs of an undergraduate education, which the College still has to subsidise to the tune of at least £2,000 per undergraduate – a figure that in individual cases can exceed that figure by some margin in the case of those in receipt of College bursaries and hardship support. 

The College costs £9 million per annum to run.  In 2014/15 27% of Robinson’s income was raised through academic fees and charges; 10.8% was provided from endowment income; 2.4% from donations taken directly into our income and expenditure account for the year, rather than into the endowment; 56% from our conference business, student residence charges and catering.  Of this income, 41% was expended upon education; 51% on the costs of providing student residence, catering and conference facilities and services and 7% on other costs.

Income

2013/14

 

2014/15

 

Notes

Academic fees and charges £2,349,000.00 27.48% £2,459,000.00 26.77%  
Residence, catering, conferences £5,077,000.00 59.40% £5,135,000.00 55.91%  
Endowment/investment £794,000.00 9.29% £995,000.00 10.83%  
Donations and grants (not to endowment) £239,000.00 2.80% £224,000.00 2.44% 1
Other income £88,000.00 1.03% £371,000.00 4.04%  
  £8,547,000.00   £9,184,000.00    

Note 1

In 2013/14, the  College  received  £1,711,000  in  donations,  as  well  as  substantial  support  from  other  Colleges  and endowments to aid its teaching and research activities. A total of £2,308,000 was received from all these sources.
In 2014/15, the  College  received  £582,000  in  donations,  as  well  as  substantial  support  from  other  Colleges  and endowments to aid its teaching and research activities. A total of £1,203,000 was received from all these sources.

Expenditure

2013/14

 

2014/15

 

Education £3,663,000.00 41.93% £3,657,000.00 40.65%
Residence, catering and conferences £4,433,000.00 50.74% £4,672,000.00 51.93%
Other expenditure £640,000.00 7.33% £668,000.00 7.42%
  £8,736,000.00   £8,997,000.00  

To continue to ensure excellence at Robinson, there are three main tasks.  We must:

  • enable the best students to come to Robinson, regardless of their origin or financial circumstances;
  • attract the best supervisors, scholars and researchers from around the world; and
  • maintain and enhance the College: Robinson’s teaching and research environment.

To fulfil these goals, we must increase the College’s endowment to give it a reliable and independent source of annual income and to build a reserve to renew the buildings.

The College’s investment assets were £27.6M as at 30th June 2014.  This sounds like (and is) a very large sum.  A College of Robinson’s size requires a sizeable investment portfolio to support its charitable objects, maintain the estate and absorb the removal of public funding from the 2012 matriculands onwards, without reducing the quality of the education it offers, or reducing its support for research.  

The three main drivers of endowment growth are investment returns, fundraising and the operating result.  We have a clear strategy that inter-locks these to enable growth in the endowment. We aim to produce a normalised operating result (operating result less donations for the general use of the College) of no worse than zero and to be cash-flow positive. This will allow us to take a long-term view of endowment assets (20 years) and to allocate investment capital to those assets which are most likely to produce superior long-term returns. If the operating result is zero or above, all donations for general use can be used to allow the endowment to grow and so increase the annual income drawn from the endowment to help the College meet its educational goals each year.

Potential Value of the Endowment

Again, the 3 areas which significantly affect a College’s ability to grow its endowment are:

  • Investment return
  • Donations
  • Control of operating spend.

The most likely path to achieve the goal is therefore to:

  • Achieve the expected nominal investment return of 8% per annum
  • Raise £500K of donations a year
  • Run a break-even normal operating result

Achieving our investment returns and normal operating results targets are the responsibility of the College, its students and Fellows. By committing to these goals we can promise that the generosity of you, our alumni, members, friends and supporters, will have the maximum possible impact on the future well-being of the College.  It is possible to contribute to this endowment growth by donating in one, or more, of a number of ways, via the:

Discretionary fund
College teaching funds
Bursaries and scholarship funds
New building and amenity funds