BOSTON - Harvard, the richest university in the United States, said on Saturday it would seek to raise some $6.5 billion in donations to fund new academic initiatives and bolster its financial aid programme.
The fundraising drive by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, institution is the university's biggest and believed to be the most ambitious ever undertaken by a university, ahead of one concluded last year by Stanford University in California that raised $6.2 billion (S$8.1 billion).
Harvard unveiled its campaign at an event featuring Bill Gates, who spent three years at the school in the 1970s before dropping out to co-found Microsoft Corp.
Gates, who was ranked by Forbes magazine this year as the world's second-richest person behind Mexico's Carlos Slim, joked about his decision to leave the university during a talk before alumni and donors.
"You never say that you are 'dropping out' of Harvard. I'went on leave' from Harvard," he said. "If things hadn't worked out for my company, Microsoft, I could have come back."
Gates did not say whether he intended to donate to the ambitious campaign. A spokesman for the billionaire, whose foundation has made several grants to the university, said later on Saturday there was nothing to announce.
The university has already raised $2.8 billion from more than 90,000 donors during the pre-launch phase of the campaign, its first major fundraising drive in more than a decade, it said in a press release.
Harvard's investment portfolio is worth about $30.7 billion, roughly the size of the annual gross domestic product of the Baltic nation of Latvia.