UK universities are “missing an opportunity” to secure more funding from industry owing to the uncoordinated structure of their institutions.
That is the view of university fundraising consultant John Kelly, who said many British institutions are being held back because their development departments tend to “almost exclusively” focus on donations from individuals and trusts, with corporate fundraising viewed as “outside their responsibility” and “probably outside their comfort area”.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Mr Kelly, president of the consulting firm Mira Kelly, said the UK could learn from universities on the Continent, which “pursue corporate fundraising just as vigorously as they do individual fundraising from within the same departments”.
He added that institutions in continental Europe have also recognised the importance of “tracking where alumni are working and using their networks to get companies to show an interest in the university”.
In the UK, he said, “the responsibility for corporate relations often sits under a pro vice-chancellor for research, whereas the responsibility for fundraising will go directly to either a vice-chancellor or a pro vice-chancellor for external relations”.
Such a set-up means institutions “are missing an opportunity, because [corporate relations] offices tend to be much more focused on making contracts with companies to do research for them or consultancy, and they don’t see the opportunity for getting donations or strategic investment”.
Mr Kelly, who has been a fundraising consultant for 25 years, said the issue is “particularly bad in the Russell Group”. But he singled out for praise the University of Birmingham, which has merged its business engagement and development departments.
He added that universities that are successful in this area have relationships with industry that extend beyond both philanthropy and research contracts, often facilitated by alumni within relevant organisations.
“If a company has a lot of research contracts with a university and they employ graduates from that institution they may say the university is a key strategic partner, without whom they could not manage,” he said.
“And if you’ve got that kind of relationship with a company, then you can start talking to them about what I call ‘soft strategic support’, possibly funding professorships, PhD students, scholarships or research programmes.”