The gift that keeps giving

June 11, 1999

Universities and students have benefited equally from the Carnegie Trust for nearly100 years. Olga Wojtas reports on plans to bring guest professors to its centenary celebrations.

In 1901, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie set up a trust to "improve and expand" Scottish universities. He provided a $10 million endowment at a time when the total government support for the sector's four universities was some Pounds 50,000 a year.

Since then, the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland has given nearly 100,000 people research grants or student fee support. It is now set to celebrate its centenary year in 2001 by bringing two of the world's leading academics to Scotland.

Alain Aspect, an optical physicist based at the Institut Optique in France, and Thomas Franck, professor of law at New York University, will respectively take up guest residencies at Strathclyde and Glasgow universities. Industrialist and administrator Sir Lewis Robertson, the Carnegie Trust's chairman, said that the professors would share their knowledge and experience with the entire higher education community in Scotland.

"These visits will mark the first of a continuing programme of centenary visiting professorships sponsored by the trust,'' he said. "In future years, we look forward to working with Scottish universities to ensure we can help them attract leading academics who will bring additional dimensions to higher education throughout Scotland."

The trust's charter says funds should be split equally between student fees and support for institutions, which includes capital grants, research awards and scholarships. But Sir Lewis praised Carnegie for building in "intelligent provisions", giving the trust flexibility if one area is underspent. Since the postwar advent of state support for students, more money has been diverted to research grants.

First-class honours graduates from the Scottish universities can apply for a three-year Carnegie scholarship, with 16 new scholars selected annually. The trust last year also awarded 190 personal research grants of a maximum Pounds 2,000, for work ranging from an evaluation of state subsidies for Japanese ferry services to an investigation of the biting midge of the Highlands. Most applications come from the humanities and social sciences, but all disciplines can benefit, Sir Lewis said. For a minimal sum, a researcher could, for example, extend an overseas conference visit to forge links with local institutions.

The trust recently launched a category of "larger grants", notionally up to Pounds 30,000, for projects intended to benefit the universities as a whole or a particular discipline. These include Pounds 15,000 to David Finkelstein at Napier University to set up a Scottish archive of print and publishing records, and Pounds 8,000 to Iseabail Macleod of the Scottish National Dictionary project based in Edinburgh University for a feasibility study of an electronic version of the dictionary.

"Carnegie helps researchers in money terms and in attracting other money," Sir Lewis said. "It is not among the largest of grant-giving trusts, but by its nature and its intelligently flexible constitution, and because of its well-defined constituency, it can produce benefits disproportionate to its size."

It has spendable income of Pounds 1.7 million. Sir Lewis said it was doomed to lose real value because of stringent requirements affecting trust investment policy until the late 1950s. "Trusts were obliged to invest quite a lot of capital in exceedingly unexciting stocks." It is now set to suffer another financial blow, losing 11 per cent of its income because of tax changes. Income will be cut by Pounds 200,000 in five years, when the chancellor's recent decision to abolish advance corporation tax is fully implemented.

"The fact that it is phased means our investment advisers will probably achieve an increase in income not too far below that, but in real terms there will be a fall,'' Sir Lewis said, although the trust is likely to continue lobbying against the change.

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