Why it pays to keep in touch

五月 3, 2002

UK and German universities are now doing what the US and Australia are old hands at - tapping alumni for cash. But Italians still think it's all rather vulgar...

A significant proportion of the A$120 million (£45 million) that Australian universities collect every year in donations comes from alumni.

The oldest universities have long-established graduate groups, but until 1983 The University of Queensland was the only one to have an organisation actually called an alumni association. Today, most of the 40 public and private universities have graduate or alumni associations.

The University of Western Australia set up an office of alumni relations four years ago. It attracts A$10 million a year in donations and, with an annual investment income of more than A$50 million, is one of the wealthiest.

"Our alumni help us by giving feedback, by sitting on advisory boards and committees, by manning our visitor centre and by effectively opening doors to corporate partnerships, sponsorships and philanthropic gifts," said office director Peter Leunig. "Many leave us significant and generous bequests."

Geoffrey Sauer, who for 15 years to 2000 was alumni director at Adelaide University, said that in the past "there was little effective action to develop relationships between universities and their graduates".

But, over the past decade, universities have become more active in keeping in touch with their graduates. So much so that Australia is the only country in the world to hold a convention every two years for all of its alumni.

Australia's second oldest university, Melbourne, estimates it has 130,000 former students in 101 countries around the world. Melbourne was one of the first to move into cyberspace to improve communications.

Foreign students now contribute A$1 billion a year in fees to Melbourne's coffers, and vice-chancellors have come to see the value in maintaining contact with them after they graduate.

The University of Queensland is one of many that keeps in touch with its international alumni via annual events in their home countries.

Australian graduates, however, do not generally feel the same sort of attachment to their alma maters as their counterparts in America. Bob Naylor, director of alumni relations at Perth's Edith Cowan University, said this was partly because students at many US institutions spent at least some of their time in live-in colleges where study and social life intertwined.



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