Cambridge University receives £100m gift from former student

The University of Cambridge is celebrating the largest single donation to an English university, after announcing a gift of £100m from the financier David Harding to support students.

Harding, a physics graduate from Cambridge who became a billionaire and hugely successful hedge fund manager, has pledged that some of the funds will go to promote access for students from disadvantaged and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The donations from the David and Claudia Harding Foundation will include £79m in scholarships and aid to postgraduate PhD students, with a further £20m as financial support for undergraduates. The final £1m will help fund Cambridge’s access programmes aimed at attracting disadvantaged students.

“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,” said Stephen Toope, Cambridge’s vice-chancellor.

The fund to support postgraduate students, to be known as the Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholars Programme, will begin this year. Cambridge said that 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 and the successful candidates will be offered places at applicable Cambridge colleges,” the university said in a statement.

Harding – whose hedge fund Winton is said to invest more than £20bn – 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.”

Harding, 57, studied at St Catherine’s College and graduated with a first-class degree in 1982, before working in the City of London as a stockbroker. In 1997 he founded the Winton Group, and he remains its chief executive.

The financier’s most recent high-profile donation was an estimated £3.5m to help fund the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign before the 2016 referendum.

The Hardings have previously supported research at Cambridge, including the Winton programme for physics at the university’s prestigious Cavendish laboratory, as well as donations to other leading institutions such as London’s Science Museum, the Crick Institute and the Max Planck Society in Berlin.

In historical terms the Harding donation, despite its nominal size, pales in comparison to the $10m donated to Scotland’s universities by Andrew Carnegie in 1902, or the massive endowment given to Oxford by Cecil Rhodes in his will, establishing the scholarship that bears his name.