The Financial History of Cambridge University

The Financial History of Cambridge University

By Robert Neild

Robert Neild traces how Cambridge – having since 1945 received money, public and private, that carried it to the top of the world rankings of universities – is suffering at the hand of cuts in government funding and a tide of political intervention.

Hardback, 142 Pages


June 2012

£14.99, $19.95

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About This Book

Adopting a long view that stretches back to the mid-nineteenth century, Robert Neild investigates why in recent years the University of Cambridge has been cutting expenditure, appealing for money and losing its academic independence. Using the university’s financial records and other statistics, Neild reveals the nature and scale of the changes experienced by the university since 1850 – particularly those affecting the extent of its scientific research, the sources and size of the its income, the social origin of its students, and its relationship with the British government.

Having suffered hard times both before and after the First World War, Cambridge prospered during the post-war years up until the 1970s. During that period government grants burgeoned, and both parties backed rapid university expansion. By the end of the 1970s this golden age had faded – largely as a result of inflation, economic crises and the revival of market economics. Both political parties have since cut grants, pushed universities to behave more like businesses, and taken steps to reintroduce fees. The university itself has achieved great success in acquiring non-government research grants and contracts – particularly in the biomedical sciences. Yet it has not escaped a financial squeeze, caused by repeated cuts in government funding and has suffered increases in governmental intervention. Thus, Neild shows, Cambridge’s academic independence and its finances are under threat.


‘Neild is to be thanked and congratulated for shining a light into the murky finances not only of Trinity Cambridge as Oxbridge’s wealthiest college […] but now also of the University of Cambridge itself.’ —David Palfreyman, Bursar of New College, University of Oxford, in ‘Oxford Magazine’

‘Prof Robert Neild of Trinity has turned his attention to a detailed study of Cambridge University finances… Until the Second World War, the educational aspect of university life was less important than the opportunity it gave rich young men to establish friendships with others… Prof Neild glimpsed the last of those days when he himself was at Trinity in 1957.’ —Mike Petty, ‘Cambridge News’

 ‘A fascinating and highly readable account of the twists and turns of university funding in Britain, seen with wit and insight through the experiences of Cambridge.’ —William Brown, Master of Darwin College, Cambridge

‘Robert Neild brings the eye of a distinguished economist and economic historian to the complex story of the financial development of the University of Cambridge since the mid-nineteenth century. Drawing on original research in the archives and official publications of the university, and using figures compiled from sometimes recondite or opaque sources, he brings out very clearly how the decades between 1945 and the late 1970s represented the high point of the direct public funding of Cambridge, and he itemizes in unsparing detail how the policies of successive governments since the 1980s have resulted in disproportionate increases in the scale of administrative costs even as the share of income from public sources has been reduced. In prose that is always readable and accessible to the general reader, this book provides a valuable, detailed, and notably tough-minded, account of the recent financial history of one of the world’s major universities.’ —Stefan Collini, author of ‘What Are Universities For?’ (2012)

Author Information

Robert Neild is a fellow of Trinity College and an emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Preface; List of Tables and Charts; Chapter 1 Financial Infancy and Reform; Chapter 2 Impoverishment; Chapter 3 The Government Steps In; Chapter 4 The Inter-war Years and the 1939–45 War; Chapter 5 The Acquisition of Land for Expansion; Chapter 6 The Ancien Régime; Chapter 7 Government Policy since 1945; Chapter 8 Income and Expenditure since 1945; Index


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