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Notes from Cambridge A Bursar reveals the challenges and delights of managing the finances of an Oxbridge college

Investor's Notebook

Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge

Since 2013 I have been Bursar and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, part of Cambridge University. Before that I spent 26 years in finance, predominantly in equity capital markets at Citigroup (where I led the ECM business for Europe, Middle East and Africa) and Schroders. Having moved to the Cambridge area it became increasingly difficult to sustain any quality of family life while giving the appropriate commitment to the business, so a second career beckoned, a generation after graduating in English from Queens’ College. As Bursar I look after the non-academic side of the college: investments, strategic and operational finance, our staff and the stewardship of our estate which has two campuses. Collectively the Bursars of the 31 colleges collaborate extensively to smooth interaction between the colleges (which are autonomous charities) and with the university. Corpus, founded in 1352, is one of the older and smaller colleges, with c.60 Fellows and 500 students. It has a more balanced mix between undergraduates and postgraduates than many others and is the only Oxbridge college founded by the guilds of its native town. 

Working with the college’s Investment Committee to manage the endowment effectively is a critical part of the job. However most of my time is spent managing staff, helping out the Fellows wherever possible and looking after our extraordinary estate in the centre of town, where William Wilkins’ pride and joy, New Court, sits side by side with the more intimate medieval beauty of Old Court (we’re imaginative with names). I’m currently engaged in trying to fit a 21st century institutional kitchen into a 14th century building while making the overall project a conservation ‘win’. By and large I adored my time in the City but the view here beats Canary Wharf hands down and it is an extraordinary privilege to be able to play a part in sustaining the flourishing of Corpus and the university and the life- and world-changing opportunities they offer in teaching and research. It also exposes me to many issues relating to the region (demographics, planning, infrastructure and affordability) and the sector (access and its role in promoting social mobility, fees, pensions) that offer opportunity and frustration in varying measure. For a small community we have a very wide variety of people and circumstances to deal with so my day might begin with a discussion about site security and safety for a forthcoming student event with the Head Porter, move onto a pitch from a fund manager or a call with a member of the Investment Committee to discuss asset allocation and take a detour into the niceties of a Fellowship competition via a visit from the Senior Tutor. I will be writing a periodic column talking about the aspects of this mixture that are hopefully relevant to this readership.

It was encouraging to see support in the budget for the National Infrastructure Commission’s thoughtful and ambitious proposals for the Cambridge/Milton Keynes/Oxford arc. Sorting the byzantine network of local and regional authorities into entities that can turn words into railways, housing and tarmac will be an enormous challenge, as will achieving this without wholesale planning reform, but the prize is great; rail and expressway links open by 2030 and a million more new homes by 2050. Let us hope that this Adonis is not impaled on the tusks of parochialism.

Investor's Notebook

About Tim Harvey-Samuel

Tim Harvey-Samuel

Tim Harvey-Samuel has been Bursar and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge since 2013. He also lectures for the Master of Finance programme at the Judge Business School. He spent 26 years in investment banking, mainly at Schroders and Citigroup where he led the Equity Capital Markets business for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The views expressed here are personal.

Articles by Tim Harvey-Samuel

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