The introduction of £9,000 tuition fees is unlikely to damage philanthropic giving to universities by alumni and may even encourage it, a conference has heard.
Kate Hunter, executive director of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education Europe, said higher fees did not necessarily mean that alumni would feel that they had paid for their education and would therefore be less likely to donate.
Speaking as the issue was debated by a panel at the Strategic Fundraising for Leaders in Higher Education conference in London on 22 January, she said the “fundamental relationship” between universities and alumni had changed to become “a lifelong investment”.
“Students are making that investment themselves in education; it’s not a three- or four-year transaction,” she said, adding that there were now “rich opportunities” to encourage philanthropy over a longer period “so ultimately it will not impact on future giving”.
David Greenaway, vice-chancellor of the University of Nottingham, said he took heart from levels of giving to universities in the US, where tuition fees tend to be much higher, and from the success of his own institution in attracting donations from alumni of its campus in China.
Broadcaster Simon Fanshawe, former chair of the governing body at the University of Sussex, added: “I wonder whether the idea that [students] have contributed [themselves] increasingly reminds [them] that universities are not state-funded institutions, they are not part of the public sector and their funding is very mixed. I wonder whether it will have a positive effect.”
Speakers at the event, organised jointly by Universities UK and Case Europe, also debated the ethics of fundraising – in particular the fallout from the London School of Economics’ acceptance of a £1.5 million donation from the Libyan regime of Mu’ammer Gaddafi.
Lorna Somers, director of development at McMaster University in Ontario, said fundraisers were wrong to sometimes regard ethical rules as “being more malleable and flexible” than they were.
Mr Fanshawe said he would be against accepting a donation from any serving politician because they were a “reputational risk” and added that it would also be hazardous to give a donor an honorary degree or a seat on the university council.
A better option, as adopted at Sussex, he said, was to introduce a vice-chancellor’s medal for philanthropy. “It’s extremely important to recognise philanthropy, but it is important not to confuse it with the governance of an institution or with the granting of favours,” Mr Fanshawe said.
The latest debate in this field is around investment in, and donations funded by, the fossil fuel industry – an issue that Laura Gibbs, registrar of Soas, University of London, told the event her institution was “struggling” with.
Mr Fanshawe said students were “not always right” on this topic and argued that universities should not “kowtow” to “what appears to be populist politics”.
But Ms Somers warned that students, staff and alumni had strong feelings on the issue, and that many institutions were taking action, despite the “huge impact” it could have on finances. “It’s a little wave that can become a tsunami very quickly,” she added.