Death and dinosaurs help make ends meet

January 21, 2000

Income generation to make up for falling state funding is a fact of life for universities around the world. But at the University of Malawi it is also a fact of death.

While several African universities generate income from funerary-related services, Malawi's medical school in Blantyre has gone a step further.

Blantyre had no funeral services apart from simple coffin-making by local carpenters. So, in 1998, the medical school's anatomy department began to offer embalming and other related services to the city's central and five private hospitals.

In its first four months, the operation raised an average of 20,000 kwacha (Pounds 268) a month, says an international study of income-generation activities by the Commonwealth Higher Education Management Service.

Similarly, the anatomy department at the University of Ghana raises money by renting its cold store to private individuals and undertakers who need temporary storage for corpses, and Chems reported that the University of Nairobi's human anatomy department is running a "flourishing" embalming service, with the university, even providing coffins.

Other university enterprises identified in a survey include:

A spin-off company at Canada's Simon Fraser University that produces pearls

The sale by the University of Central England of the licence to manufacture an ergonomic chair for musicians

An escort driver service for "impaired" (that is drunken) drivers run by volunteers at Laval Universite in Canada that has raised Can$200,000 (Pounds 84,000) a year in donations to support the university swimming team

The Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research at the University of the Wi****ersrand rents static and robotic models of dinosaurs, sabre-toothed tigers and hairy spiders for prehistoric reconstructions, dinosaur-related merchandising and dinosaur-themed birthday parties

The University of Auckland used 130 student fundraisers to follow up appeal letters from the vice-chancellor to 35,000 graduates and 4,000 staff, raising NZ$1 million (Pounds 300,000) in six months.

The study examined strategies adopted by universities across the Commonwealth to foster entrepreneurialism and to ensure returns on investments. Although some have opted for a separate commercial arm, others have sought to integrate income-generating activity more fully into the work of faculties and departments.

The response rate to the survey on income generation and cost-saving was not as high as the researchers had hoped - because institutions had no initiatives to report or were relectant to divulge sensitive commercial information.

But the report concludes: "There was evidence that higher education institutions in developed and developing countries are taking steps to transform the whole institutional culture so as to make income generation central to their mission."

Making and Saving Money, published by Commonwealth Higher Education Management Service, 36 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PF, £10.00. http:///

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