ABERDEEN University this week became the latest Scottish university to announce a bursary scheme to pay tuition fees for selected entrants, writes Olga Wojtas.
Thirty bursaries will be awarded to high-fliers, each of whom will be given Pounds 1,000 a year for their course. But the figure could rise exponentially in the wake of fund-raising plans by principal Duncan Rice.
Professor Rice, who took over last session, is an Aberdeen history graduate who has returned from the United States, where he was head of New York University. He was leader of a fund-raising campaign that rescued NYU from the brink of ruin and brought in $1 billion (Pounds 600 million) in only ten years.
Professor Rice still has to put a formal plan to the university court for approval, but the new academic year could see Aberdeen embarking on a ten-year campaign to raise more than Pounds 100 million.
There is a cultural assumption in the US that while higher education attracts some public funds, other sources are a key to quality.
Professor Rice said a long-term approach is more effective than the standard practice of mailshots followed by parties and receptions.
"There's a great saying that you raise money never through the mail, rarely by telephone, and almost always through shoe leather. What that means in effect is that you're going from meeting to meeting trying to form relationships with particular individuals. In the end, those who give are not those who have been approached in the previous week."
He predicted that universities will appoint more professional fund-raisers to identify benefactors. "In the early stages you probably do not know much about what they are interested in. Over time you will find that they may be particularly concerned about some aspect of the university's work and eventually become intrigued by the idea that they might support it," he said.
He would welcome a shift to the US system whereby high earners give only about half of what they donate: someone donating $1,000 would be excused $480 in tax. There are many other incentives: Professor Rice cites the example of someone donating a painting, bought for $10,000, now worth $100,000 and getting tax relief of $90,000 to set against liabilities.
Aberdeen is well placed to capitalise on the success of its 1995 quincentenary campaign, which raised Pounds 22 million, he said. "It familiarised people with the fact that major universities need very large amounts of money to do things that are socially important. It developed relations with our community of graduates and our regional community, which had not been so good before."
Aberdeen's four faculties are already drawing up their priorities for extra funding, which has produced "some absolutely remarkably interesting ideas".
A key aim will be to alleviate student hardship. Applications to NYU have nearly doubled since 1980, and although it has high tuition fees, a big proportion of students receive help from the university. "It's not an unfamiliar idea to go to a donor and say 'We'd love you to leave X amount because that will help a student who would not otherwise be able to come to university'," Professor Rice said.