Lampl says: ask and you'll receive

December 15, 2006

A Sutton Trust report says all staff must seek alumni contributions to raise endowments to US levels, writes Jessica Shepherd

Academics must rethink their attitude towards university fundraising if they are to help raise the billions of pounds needed to compete with American universities, the educational philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl said this week.

A report by the Sutton Trust, a charity set up by Sir Peter to help disadvantaged young people, suggests that UK academics should follow the example set by their peers in the US, where alumni giving is the norm and academics at all levels are part of the "asking culture".

The report says that Harvard University has an endowment of £13.4 billion, while the combined endowment of all UK universities is £7.8 billion - and most of that was given to Oxbridge.

The report says that although UK universities have improved fundraising efforts in the past three years, a step change is needed. In three years, the gap between the ten largest university endowments in the UK and the US has widened by £12.5 billion.

Sir Peter said: "I think some academics and vice-chancellors think 'why bother' with fundraising from alumni when the amounts of money are so small.

"I don't think academics are against fundraising, but some just see it as irrelevant. But for US universities it makes a huge difference, and it can for UK universities, too. We need to develop an 'asking culture' in our universities."

Sir Peter said that university development offices should expand and that vice-chancellors and heads of departments should have a clearer fundraising role.

He recommended giving senior members of staff, such as pro vice-chancellors, some responsibility for alumni fundraising.

The report, University Fundraising: An Update , confirmed that most of the money donated to UK universities was given to Oxford and Cambridge universities.

The two ancient universities held endowments worth £6 billion in 2004-05, while the combined endowment of all other UK universities was £1.9 billion. One in every ten alumni donated to Oxbridge; the figure for other universities was closer to one in every 100. Only 13 UK universities raised more than £5 million in 2004-05.

Sir Peter's report recommends that the Government match pound-for-pound donations up to £5 million at each institution. It calls on ministers to simplify tax laws to encourage giving and says universities should be more open about how much they are raising from their alumni.

Sir Peter said: "Changing this situation is certainly possible, and the model should be American state universities, where annual fundraising and endowments have only been built up in the past 25 years or so."

But Alasdair Smith, the vice-chancellor of Sussex University, said: "Fundraising is already seen as a very significant role. We are moving fast in this area as a sector. But universities do not find it easy to recruit top-class development professionals. That is the main barrier to pushing forward their development campaigns. Inevitably, there will also be an element of suspicion about development campaigns until they prove their worth."

GIVING AND GETTING

  • The Sutton Trust wants the Government to match donations to universities pound for pound up to a maximum of £5 million each
  • The combined endowment of all UK universities is £7.8 billion. Harvard University alone has an endowment of £13.4 billion
  • The difference between the ten largest university endowments in the UK and US has widened by some £12.5 billion in three years.

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