Your reward for losing £50m? £683,000

Oxford University fund manager was paid £683,000 despite investment failings
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The Independent Online

The financier responsible for Oxford University's investment portfolio claimed more than £37,000 in expenses last year and was paid nearly £700,000 even though the value of the endowments she managed fell by nearly £50m.

Sandra Robertson, who is employed by the university to manage funds totalling around £1bn, took home a total pay packet last year of £683,000, including pension contributions, according to accounts recently published online.

A separate freedom of information request by The Independent also revealed that Ms Robertson claimed more than £37,000 in expenses on top of her salary.

During the same period, however, the endowment she managed fell by 5 per cent, earning no income for the university or its colleges. The university did, however, earn £692,000 from charging its own colleges to invest with the fund.

Faced with cuts of up to £398m over the coming 12 months, Britain's universities will be more reliant than ever on topping up their incomes through investing endowments from donors and benefactors. But instability in the financial markets has seen the value of endowments take a steep tumble. In the States, where universities receive much less funding from the taxpayer and rely heavily on invested endowments, some Ivy League establishments have seen falls as high as 20 per cent.

Some dons believe the head of Oxford's primary investment fund should have tried to cut down on her expenses at a time when faculties and staff are facing widespread cuts. "I think these 'subsistence' claims are indefensible in a climate where we are talking of layoffs and cutting student numbers," said Diane Purkiss, an English tutor at Keble College. "Paying this woman a jet-setting salary does not in any way guarantee performance."

Before she was appointed head of Oxford University Endowment Management (OUEM) Ltd in September 2007, Robertson was co-head of portfolio management at the Wellcome Trust, the UK's largest charity. She is also a non-executive director of the Rothschild Investment Trust, controlled by the Rothschild dynasty. The OUEM, which is listed in records at Companies House as "a wholly owned subsidiary" of Oxford University, invests endowments for all but five of the university's colleges as well as the university itself. It boasts funds totalling approximately £900m compared to Cambridge's £1bn.

Robertson's income is more than double that of Oxford's vice-chancellor and more than six times higher than most academics are paid. A spokesperson said that claims were for travel and subsistence, including frequent trips to the United States.

In comparison the total salaries bill for four staff at Oxford Investment Partners, a rival investment company which manages endowments for five colleges, came to £350,000.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "This Oxford Rich List makes the university look out of touch with both economic reality and with the people who pay to keep them in their ivory towers. Next time the university demands more money from the taxpayer or from students, these figures will be remembered."

A spokesperson for the university defended Robertson's claims and her overall salary increase. "Endowments are managed for long-term returns, within which there are inevitable short-term fluctuations," she said. "The idea is to get a rising line – obviously that rising trend will have ups and downs within it depending on the markets. Minus 5 per cent is a good performance given comparator institutions and the global economic crisis."

She added: "All institutions and companies, whether public, charitable or private, allow staff to claim expenses for meetings and travel undertaken for work; salary is irrelevant. Investment professionals need to research and examine different investment opportunities, funds and managers, in different countries, in order to do their jobs."


Value of funds under Sandra Robertson's control.