Academic alumni must cough up

August 11, 2000

Norman Cantor's letter (THES, August 4) is a useful corrective in the comparisons between US and UK higher education.

There is little question that we are heading towards a system where fees will provide a substantial proportion of a university's income. This means that unless there are adequate safeguards, admission risks being dependent on ability to pay, rather than on ability to benefit.

UK universities' endowments for student financial aid are, in the most part, pitiful, so money must be found from other sources, including alumni who benefited in the past.

As a fundraiser I find it ironic that one of the groups most resistant to this suggestion (with honourable exceptions) are academic staff in universities. And without this leadership from people "in" the system, how can we expect alumni outside HE to give?

I know pay is low almost universally, and morale is low in many places. But most British staff working in UK universities are products of our own system, and most of us were educated substantially for free: our successors, those we teach or serve, do not have this privilege. They are paying in a way that most of us never did, and in future will pay more.

If we are still committed to the high Robbins ideal of education for all those qualified to benefit, then we must put what little money we have where our mouths are, and start giving. If just 10 per cent of the alumni of the university for which I work gave the equivalent of a gallon a petrol a week, we would generate over Pounds 1.25 million each year for student support. But we need the "internal" example to be set.

Adrian P. Beney, Deputy director, development and alumni relations, University of Durham

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