Harvard receives largest ever gift

John Paulson donates $400M to Harvard
John Paulson donates $400M to Harvard

Harvard University received a $400 million endowment for its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences—its largest ever gift, the school announced Wednesday. (Tweet This)

The donation comes from John Paulson, the billionaire money manager behind Paulson & Co., who graduated from Harvard Business School. To honor his donation, the school (which counts former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson among its graduates) will be renamed the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the university said in a news release.

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"There is nothing more important to improve humanity than education," Paulson said in the release. "For 379 years, Harvard has had a profound global impact across a multitude of disciplines that benefits all of humanity. Today's gift will help continue that legacy by making SEAS a 21st-century engineering leader. It provides a solid endowment for faculty development, research, scholarships, and financial aid."

The university, generally considered to be the oldest in the U.S., has previously received major gifts like the $350 million donated by investor Gerald Chan to its School of Public Health. In fact, the donation is the third record-sized gift Harvard has received from alumni since last year, and comes two years into the Ivy League school's five-year campaign to raise $6.5 billion in donations. The campaign has already topped $5 billion. The school's $36.4 billion endowment, meanwhile, makes it the world's richest university.

Hedge-fund manager John Paulson
David A. Grogan | CNBC

"John Paulson's extraordinary gift will enable the growth and ensure the strength of engineering and applied sciences at Harvard for the benefit of generations to come," Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, said in the release.

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The renamed school plans to expand to new facilities adjacent to Harvard Business School, the university said.

Paulson's best-known bet against an overheated housing market before the financial crisis netted his fund $15 billion and cemented his personal fortune, now estimated by Forbes to total $11.2 billion.

While his funds' returns have gyrated some in recent years, his flagship Paulson Partners fund has compounded at 13.6 percent a year over the last two decades, handily beating the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

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In 2012, Paulson made his first prominent gift with a $100 million donation to Central Park, located close to his New York City home.

—Reuters contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the gift's size in relation to a country's GDP.