Top Australian universities ‘raise four times as much as rivals’

While overall fundraising haul is down, report says annual variations are to be expected

November 25, 2019
Australian dollars symbolising alleged underpayment of academics in casual employment
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Australia’s old guard universities draw more than four times the philanthropic support that goes to their younger counterparts, a new report suggests.

A study by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case) has found that Group of Eight (Go8) members attracted donations, gifts and bequests worth A$51 million (£26.9 million) last year, on average, compared with A$12 million at other Australian and New Zealand institutions.

Go8 universities collectively secured almost double the tally of new funds garnered by the other 18 institutions that participated in the study. New bequests at Go8s typically exceeded A$6 million compared with about A$200,000 at the other universities.

The findings, from Case’s seventh annual Australia and New Zealand survey, highlight the advantage that established institutions enjoy in attracting philanthropic support. The report notes that advancement programmes “operating at different stages of maturity” can reap wildly differing results, and that clinical research programmes also have a “significant impact” on institutions’ fundraising prowess.

Australia’s two oldest universities, the universities of Sydney and Melbourne, have achieved or are close to achieving A$1 billion fundraising campaigns. Most other Go8 members have set targets of A$400 million or more, compared with A$100 million or less at non-Go8 institutions.

The imbalance reflects the rich universities’ head start in luring big-spending international students. Last year, the 10 Australian universities with the highest foreign student earnings – including most Go8s – attracted roughly twice as much in international tuition fees as the other 27 public universities combined.

Such gaps translate to huge differences in institutional revenue flows. The value of education exports rose 15 per cent last financial year to A$37.6 billion, according to new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While Go8 members monopolise philanthropic support in Australia, they invest heavily to achieve it. The Case study found that they had 45 fundraising staff, on average, compared with 14 at the other universities.

Comparisons with UK data suggest that established British universities such as Russell Group members are more efficient fundraisers than the Go8. Australia’s prestigious universities expend 19 cents for every dollar raised, compared to 14 cents across the Russell Group institutions, which tend to have more alumni donors than their Australian counterparts.

The A$630 million fundraised last year by all 26 institutions in the survey was 6 per cent less than in 2017, when takings rose 15 per cent on the year before. The report says that such fluctuations are common. “Large gifts or pledges – often secured in the early stages of a campaign – drive numbers up in one year, leading to a comparative decline in the subsequent year,” it says.

It says that a single university attracted about one-seventh of Australia’s total fundraising support in 2017 and suffered a “significant decrease” in 2018. Leaving aside that institution, the overall fundraising haul rose 7 per cent last year.

The report says that other indicators “bode well for the future”, including a 3 per cent increase in donor numbers and a 9 per cent jump in non-alumni benefactors.  

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