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‘Striking’ series of donations totalling more than £100m show British universities are a big draw for philanthropists, says BWB

‘Striking’ series of donations totalling more than £100m show British universities are a big draw for philanthropists, says BWB

A series of three of the largest donations in recent history show that British universities maintain serious pulling power over global philanthropists. Bates Wells Braithwaite, leading law firm for charities and philanthropic giving, acted for what are believed to be three of the largest ever gifts to UK universities in recent times. One is the most generous gift in its subject area in the university’s 900 years.

The largest of the three is a £75 million gift from the McCall MacBain Foundation to Oxford University, which reinvigorated the Rhodes Trust for the 21st Century. Most recently, BWB advised on a £20 million donation from Alphawood Foundation to School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. The third gift, amounting to over £26 million, accounted for the most generous gift to Humanities students in Oxford University’s 900-year history, establishing the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Graduate Scholarship Programme.

“Our team at Bates Wells Braithwaite have been struck by this series of gifts to higher education institutions in the UK – £26 million, £75 million and £20 million respectively is really quite remarkable,’ said Julian Blake, Partner and joint head of the charities department at BWB.

“It is striking that the number of donations over £10 million to higher education institutions in the UK continues to increase. This reflects the quality of research and teaching in UK universities, and is a sign that philanthropists are giving what seems to be a greater proportion of their wealth. This might be surprising to some, given continued difficult economic circumstances. Such gifts are also a reminder that British universities are often first to meet the world’s most pressing challenges across countless fields. BWB is thrilled to contribute its expertise in charity law to this important movement.”

BWB’s Stephanie Biden and Julian Blake advised the McCall MacBain Foundation, a grant-making organisation established by John and Marcy McCall MacBain, on its £75 million donation to the Rhodes Trust, towards the future of its prestigious scholarship programme. The gift – the largest since the establishment of the Scholarship in 1903 –will enable the Trust to continue to send future global leaders to the University of Oxford.

BWB’s Laura Soley advised SOAS, University of London, in relation to a £20 million donation from the Alphawood Foundation in Chicago. One of the biggest gifts ever to a UK University, Alphawood’s donation provides £15 million for an ambitious programme to advance the study and preservation of Southeast Asian art – including funding three academic posts and over 80 scholarships, and £5 million towards SOAS’ building redevelopment in Bloomsbury.

BWB’s Philip Kirkpatrick advised in a £26 million donation to establish The Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Graduate Scholarship Programme in the Humanities at Oxford University. The Scholarships were launched in 2012, with 15 scholarships a year, and will eventually be endowed in perpetuity to support at least 35 fully-funded graduate Humanities scholars in any one year.


BWB, founded in 1970, is a commercial law firm servicing a wide range of commercial, statutory, charity and social enterprises (and their owners and managers). The breadth and quality of our work is acknowledged by the UK’s two independent directories, Legal 500 and Chambers UK, in 21 areas. With 183 staff, solicitors and partners, we are large enough to provide a complete range of commercial services but small enough to provide a personal service to every client.

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Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

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