Religious groups and BP among University’s top donors


The University has received at least £40m from donors over the past six years, according to data on donations of £10,000 or more obtained by Palatinate. Based on the most recent three years of donations, 37% (£4.8m) of donations from organisations came from religious, predominantly Christian, trusts and charities.

Most notably, this included a £3.4m donation for St John’s College from the Templeton Religion Trust in 2019. Other top donors in this three-year period include The Wolfson Foundation (£874k), The Laidlaw Foundation (£760k), The Congregation of La Retraite in England and Ireland (£410k) and Santander UK plc (£325k).

Oil and gas giant BP also features as a significant donor. It donated funds to Durham in 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19. BP funds scholarships, awards and research opportunities with Durham University’s Faculty of Science.

The controversial oil and gas company was found responsible for the largest marine oil spill in history and was reported to have been a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions due to its business activities. Durham University openly advertises careers with BP on their website.

£4.3m of donations have been channelled through DunelmUSA

A number of major law firms also frequently donate money to the University including Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, Baker McKenzie, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Forsters LLP, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, Hogan Lovells LLP and Clyde & Co LLP. £4.3m of donations have been channelled through DunelmUSA, a US-based charity that pools donations from benefactors in the United States to Durham University.

Where the origin of donations is known, a large proportion were awarded to scholarships and research grants. The large number of donations from religious organisations and law firms may be influenced by Durham Theology department’s standing in the world rankings, who have maintained a top 5 place over the past four years according to QS World Rankings.

However, high-level data indicates that roughly half of donations, some £18m, in the five year period between 2014/15 and 2018/19 were directed to capital projects. The vast majority of these came from individuals rather than organisations.

59% of funds donated from individuals were directed towards capital projects (£12.3m) compared with only 32% of donated funds from trusts, companies, and other organisations (£5.8m). The records show four £1m+ donations from individuals towards capital projects in this period.

Durham University was reluctant to hand over the names of its major donors, believing that doing so would violate the Data Protection Act

Durham University was reluctant to hand over the names of its major donors, believing that doing so would violate the Data Protection Act. Previous Palatinate investigations have also been rebuffed, as the University claimed it would “suffer commercial detriment” if the data was revealed. However, following a complaint made to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the University agreed to reveal the names of organisations that have donated over £10,000 over the past three years.

A number of donations to the University in the past have resulted in controversy, including donations from British American Tobacco, the Iranian government and the US State Department.

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor, told Palatinate: “We are proud that philanthropic giving to Durham University has increased substantially in recent years.

“This is a tangible sign of the levels of affection and engagement our global network of alumni and benefactors has with our University, and their shared belief in our mission and values.”

“Almost all of our philanthropic support is directed towards providing direct financial support to our students, pursuing transformative research, and nurturing an inspiring environment for our staff, students, and our community partners.

“We have rigorous policies in place to support our approach, including our Gift Acceptance Policy, which is publicly available and reviewed regularly.”

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