Endowment Asset Management:
Investment Strategies in Oxford and Cambridge
with Elroy Dimson

Image of book cover for title Dreams That Spell The Light
Oxford University Press, UK; 2007
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  • A unique study which provides a view of the institutional framework of endowment management at a number of Oxford and Cambridge colleges
  • Uses a combination of interviews, historical evidence, and survey data to understand how institutions provide for the future
  • Comparisons with US practice is consistently made

There is a profound linkage between the quality of a university and its financial resources. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge rank among the world's finest educational institutions, and are able to draw on invested assets that are large by any standards. Endowment Asset Management explores how the colleges that comprise these two great universities make their investment decisions.

Oxford and Cambridge are collegiate institutions, each consisting of a federal university and over 30 constituent colleges. While the colleges may have ostensibly similar missions, they are governed independently. Since they interpret their investment objectives differently, this gives rise to some remarkably dissimilar approaches to investment, which the authors explore in detail.

The first study of its kind, Endowment Asset Management analyses the objectives, investment philosophy, asset management and governance of over 60 college and university endowment funds. Drawing on exhaustive research and detailed discussions with Oxford and Cambridge investment bursars, the authors investigate issues such as asset allocation and spending policy, which have a major influence on the institutions' financial health. This study reveals the colleges' individualism and diversity, and carefully analyses their strategies, which range from the traditional to cutting edge.

The authors' findings are thought provoking for anyone concerned with the assets of foundations, endowments, charities, family offices, or trusts. All investors with a long-term investment horizon will find it extremely engaging.


  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of abbreviations
  • 1. Endowment Definition
  • 2. The Investment Committee
  • 3. Investment Objective
  • 4. Spending Policy
  • 5. Asset Allocation
  • 6. Investing in Property
  • 7. Issues in Portfolio Management
  • 8. Portfolio Risk
  • 9. Consultant Selection and Monitoring
  • 10. Manager Selection and Monitoring
  • 11. Socially Responsible Investment
  • 12. Performance Measuremnt1
  • 13. Endowment Management Cost
  • 14. Fund Raising : Role of Gifts
  • 15. Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography


Endowment Asset Management is an extraordinary book. On the one hand it is the most thorough case study ever done of a set of major endowments. On the other it is an essential tool for endowment managers seeking to understand current practice and the major issues they confront. Acharya and Dimson have created an outstanding and very readable study that comprehends the broad range of issues in endowment management: from asset allocation to manager selection and monitoring to the challenges of connecting investment policy to the mission of the organization itself.

Endowment Asset Management is a rare look at some of the oldest and most important educational endowments in the world. It underscores the vital role that endowments play in building and maintaining sustaining institutional academic excellence.

William N. Goetzmann, Yale School of Management

Drawing on their own research on the Oxbridge colleges, the authors have a fascinating story to tell. The issues they analyse are common to all permanent endowments and the book looks set to become required reading for anyone involved in that world. Particularly interesting is their treatment of the fundamental question of how to balance the competing needs of the present and the future, one of the book’s leitmotivs.

Anthony Tomei, Director, The Nuffield Foundation

Shanta Acharya and Elroy Dimson have written a comprehensive and impressively detailed analysis of the history and management of educational endowments, with primary reference to the U.K. but with useful comparisons to the leading endowments in the United States. Their work sets a new standard for the category.

Anyone who aspires to be knowledgeable about endowments should make Endowment Asset Management part of their library, as it is both a comprehensive primer on the genre, and a valuable reference volume.

John S. Griswold, Executive Director, Commonfund Institute

This comprehensive and detailed study by leading academics provides a fascinating insight into the management of Oxford and Cambridge endowments and the financial challenges these institutions currently face. All of the critical questions related to endowment management are examined in turn and current policies compared to best practice.

Philip Coates, Chief Investment Officer, The Atlantic Philanthropies

This carefully researched analysis of the closed world of Oxbridge college endowments is truly a “tour de force”. It reveals how colleges have been successful over the long term, without heavy reliance on external consultants, consensus benchmarks or manager rotation. It is essential reading for investment professionals. Every asset manager, pension fund trustee, insurance company director, and investment consultant should buy a copy.

Rolf Banz, Chief Investment Architect, Pictet Asset Management


  1. Financial News (UK), ‘Time for Oxbridge performance appraisal’, 07 May 2007
  2. Institutional Investor, ‘The Americanization of Oxford and Cambridge,’ by Loch Adamson, 16 Nov 2006
  3. Oxford Magazine (UK), ‘Oxbridge Investments,’ by David Palfreyman, Michaelmas Term 2007