Charitable donations to universities could treble to £2 billion a year within a decade if institutions continue to invest in fundraising, a report has claimed.
The Review of Philanthropy in Higher Education led by Shirley Pearce, former vice-chancellor of Loughborough University, found that just 1.2 per cent of UK alumni give to their alma maters compared with 10 per cent of US graduates.
The report says higher education institutions received £693 million in charitable donations in 2010-11, accounting for 2.2 per cent of the sector's income - 1.36 per cent when donations to Oxbridge are excluded.
But this could rise to £2 billion a year by 2022 if universities adopt more imaginative fundraising strategies, expand alumni giving and promote the positive impact of higher education philanthropy, it claims.
It calls for every university to develop an institutional strategy to promote private donations, build stronger links with major donors and compare fundraising programmes with other institutions.
The review, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and carried out by the More Partnership, also urges the government to continue tax relief for charitable donors, which it planned to cap until a public outcry prompted a U-turn in May.
The report asks the government to continue match-funding, highlighting how £143 million of public investment triggered about £580 million in donations to English universities between 2008 and 2011.
Ministers should also be "open-minded" about the introduction of "lifetime legacies", which allow wealthy individuals to give property, shares or cash to a charity but then use the assets during their lifetimes, allowing them to acquire certain tax breaks, the report says.
It also highlights the success of universities in fundraising over the past 10 years. For example, the University of Sheffield raised just £100 from six donors in 2002 when its alumni relations office was established. Over the next 10 years it raised more than £30 million from 12,000 donors, the report says.
About 204,000 people gave to universities last year, but this could reach 640,000 by 2022, it adds.
Professor Pearce said: "There is a real sense of momentum and this must be maintained."