Despite saying that government grants, even with cuts, will still constitute the bulk of their income, Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics are increasingly looking eastward to diversify funding, writes Ng Yuk-hang at the South China Morning Post.
"Oxford University has put an increasing emphasis on our relationship with China and Hong Kong," a spokesman for the university said. "We are looking more to philanthropy."
Last year Hong Kong businessmen donated at least £2 million to the top three English universities — and this is expected to increase over the next two years.
"At a time when the UK government has sharply reduced funding of higher education, we, like all universities, increasingly have to look to alternative sources of funding," a London School of Economics spokesman said.
The Tory-led coalition government has drastically cut public spending to reduce their heavy deficit. As tuition fees triple, all but one of England's 130 universities will get less money from the government. Oxford's funding will be cut by 1 per cent in real terms and government grants to Cambridge will drop 3 per cent.
But some Hong Kong tycoons are coming to the rescue. Dickson Poon, whose companies include Harvey Nichols, donated £1 million last October to St Hugh's College, Oxford, for the creation of a China Centre. Construction of the 6,600 square meter building, to bear Poon's name, starts next year.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Poon and the other donors who are making the China Centre possible, despite the financial climate," said Professor Andrew Hamilton, the university's vice chancellor.
Former Sun Hung Kai Properties chairman Walter Kwok Ping-sheung also donated to Oxford. And recently the Walter Kwok Foundation pledged £100,000 to set up a scholarship for Hong Kong students to study politics at Oxford.
"The reason why I chose to partner with UK universities is because Hong Kong inherited its entire legal system from Britain," Kwok said.
The billionaire said he was also thinking sponsoring a joint undergraduate degree program between Oxford and the University of Hong Kong.