Be aware of fundraising risks, university leaders warned

Discussing growing influence of philanthropic donors, experts stress need for transparency and careful thinking

November 22, 2022
Source: iStock

Universities must think responsibly when trying to acquire more funding, sector leaders have been urged.

Delegates at the final day of the Times Higher Education Leadership & Management Summit were discussing how university leaders can create the conditions for world-class research.

State governments have long played a large role in research and innovation worldwide, with the UK government just announcing that it will increase annual funding to £20 billion by 2024 – but newer organisations have become key global players in just a few years.

“It is the case that there is increasing diversity in the sources of funding that are available to try for and I really do believe that diversity of funding is a good thing, not just because there is more resource available in total,” said Steven Hill, director of research at Research England.

He said a diversity of funders was very important, with schemes such as Schmidt Science Fellows and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focusing on specific challenges, alongside what national governments do.

“The challenge is how you make sure that diverse mix of funding does all point in a coherent direction,” Mr Hill added.

“It’s not to say that everyone should be doing the same thing but what we don’t want is a diversity that pulls the research in multiple directions.

“Another challenge particularly around businesses and their funding of research is that more and more research can be happening in corporate contexts that isn’t necessarily fully transparent – that may get in the way of progress.”

Also speaking at the session was Huiliang Li, professor of molecular and cellular neuroscience at UCL, who said diversity was good for researchers – provided the source of the funding was transparent.

The main priority for university leaders was to secure funding, he said, particularly when it is currently so difficult to obtain.

“It’s an important leadership competency to make sure you’re thinking about the challenges of funding in the round,” added Mark Sudbury, head of the World 100 reputation network, which is a THE company.

“I’ve seen many examples – particularly when dealing with philanthropy – of universities perhaps not thinking hard enough about the source of that funding and actually sometimes what the funder wants before grabbing hold of the money.”

Leaders in higher education should be awake to the fully transformative nature of philanthropy, but also aware that certain types of funding come with risks.

“The sector as a whole has benefited tremendously from that, but universities can’t necessarily rely on that piece of funding, just as they can’t necessarily rely on government funding for evermore,” Mr Sudbury said.

Earlier in the day, Nancy Ip, president of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, detailed some of the helpful funding interventions made by her “very supportive” government.

Investment schemes, such as InnoHK, and a newly launched government-backed talent scheme were key factors in helping build a “strong innovation technology ecosystem in Hong Kong”, she said.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles