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Record-breaking £100million donation to University of Cambridge by David and Claudia Harding Foundation

David and Claudia Harding
David and Claudia Harding

The University of Cambridge has been given a record-breaking £100million by a billionaire philanthropist to help it attract the most talented students from the UK and abroad.

The gift from the David and Claudia Harding Foundation will fund scholarships for PhD students, support undergraduates and help to encourage applications from under-represented groups.

It is biggest single gift made to a university in the UK by a British philanthropist.

After graduating from Cambridge in 1982, with a first class honours degree in natural sciences specialising in theoretical physics, David Harding made his fortune - which the Sunday Times Rich List puts at around £1billion - as a hedge fund manager.

He co-founded alternative investment fund Adam Harding and Lueck before establishing Winton Capital, now Winton Global Investment Management, in 1997. It has become one of the world’s largest hedge funds, using computing technology to apply mathematical and statistical methods to investing.

The 57-year-old said: “Claudia and I are very happy to make this gift to Cambridge to help to attract future generations of the world’s outstanding students to research and study there.

“Cambridge and other British centres of learning have down the ages contributed greatly to improvements in the human condition and can continue in future to address humanity’s great challenges.”

The university said the donation would propel an ambitious £500million fundraising drive, announced last autumn, aimed at increasing financial and wider support for students at Cambridge.

Winton scholar Dr Hannah Stern is among those whose positions have been funded by the Hardings' philanthropy. Picture: University of Cambridge
Winton scholar Dr Hannah Stern is among those whose positions have been funded by the Hardings' philanthropy. Picture: University of Cambridge

There are two main components to the gift:

  • £79milion will fund The Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholars Programme to provide fully-funded scholarships for the most talented PhD students.
  • £21million will support undergraduates. The £20million Harding Collegiate Cambridge Challenge Fund aims to encourage further donations from alumni for financial support to undergraduates, helping them to benefit from fee-free degrees, while a further £1million will be used to stimulate innovative approaches to attracting undergraduate students from under-represented groups.

University vice-chancellor Prof Stephen J Toope said: “This extraordinarily generous gift from David and Claudia Harding will be invaluable in sustaining Cambridge’s place among the world’s leading universities and will help to transform our offer to students. We want to attract, support and fund the most talented students we can find from all parts of the UK and the world.

“We are determined that Cambridge should nurture the finest academic talent, whatever the background or means of our students, to help us fulfil our mission 'to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence’.”

The Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholars Programme is designed to address the fact that Cambridge receives more outstanding PhD applicants than it can currently fund.

Starting in October, the programme will ultimately fully fund, in perpetuity, more than 100 PhD students in residence at any one time.

Scholarships will be available to the most talented students for research in any discipline, with the successful candidates will be offered places at applicable Cambridge colleges.

David Harding is an alumnus of St Catharine’s College, and it will receive £25million of the gift to support postgraduate scholars on the programme at the college, while undergraduates there will benefit from the wider purposes of the donation.

St Catharine's College. Picture: University of Cambridge (6966715)
St Catharine's College. Picture: University of Cambridge (6966715)

Prof Sir Mark Welland, master of St Catharine’s College, said: “The admirable philanthropy of David and Claudia Harding will have a tremendous and permanent impact on St Catharine’s as well as the university as a whole. We couldn’t be more honoured to receive this gift.”

The donation will help the university and colleges reach their target of increasing the number of postgraduates in residence by 13 per cent from 6,500 in 2016-17 to around 7,400 by the end of 2021.

It is not the Hardings’ first gift to Cambridge. In 2006 the Winton Charitable Foundation endowed a chair in the public understanding of risk at Cambridge University.

In 2011 they pledged £20m to establish the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability at the Cavendish Laboratory - a research programme applying physics to meet the growing demands on the earth’s natural resources.

And in 2016 they established the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, within the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics.

The money has funded research in fields from the search for exoplanets, financial history and data science.

Mark Welland, master of St Catharine's College. Picture: University of Cambridge (6966709)
Mark Welland, master of St Catharine's College. Picture: University of Cambridge (6966709)

Focusing their philanthropy on supporting basic scientific research and the communication of scientific ideas, they have also donated to the Science Museum, the Crick Institute and the Max Planck Institute in Berlin.

Meanwhile, the university and colleges have a £500million fundraising target to reach, announced in October 2018 by Prof Toope.

The Student Support Initiative (SSI) has three priorities:

- postgraduate studentships to ensure quality and diversity of postgraduates;

- undergraduate financial support and widening participation programmes; and

- student wellbeing, sport and cultural activities, to ensure students thrive and have the best possible experience at Cambridg

The largest single donation to a British university was the $210million given to Cambridge in 2000 to establish an endowment for graduate students. It came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up by the Microsoft founder his wife.

The previous biggest British donation was £75million to Oxford in 2015 from venture capitalist Sir Michael Moritz and his wife, the writer Harriet Heyman, which created the Moritz-Heyman Scholarship Programme.

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