UK set to miss fundraising goal but ‘heading in right direction’

Case president says vice-chancellors must provide strong support for philanthropy

September 9, 2019
Source: Getty

The UK’s universities are unlikely to hit their goal of raising £2 billion a year from philanthropy by 2022 but are “heading in the right direction”, according to a sector leader.

A review published in 2012 and led by Shirley Pearce, former vice-chancellor of Loughborough University, said that British institutions could reach that target if they adopted more imaginative fundraising strategies, expanded alumni giving and promoted the positive impact of philanthropy.

Institutions in the UK and Ireland raised £1.08 billion from fundraising in 2017-18, up from £979 million the year before, and £693 million when the Pearce review was written.

But Sue Cunningham, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, acknowledged that this left them some way off the £2 billion mark.

“Will we get to £2 billion by 2022? I think that is probably a bit of a stretch, but are we heading in that direction? I think as long as British universities continue to engage and take this work seriously, what with all else going on, we will get there,” Ms Cunningham said.

The “bottom line is that the investment is growing from philanthropists” in higher education in the UK, she added.

The latest Ross-Case survey of higher education philanthropy in the UK found that the proportion of alumni who donated to their university had remained fairly static over the past decade and currently stood at 1.3 per cent.

Vice-chancellors had a key role to play in maintaining the growth of fundraising, according to Ms Cunningham, who said that leadership could “make all the difference” between a university “really engaging in this and seeing it as something slightly peripheral”.

Ms Cunningham, a former director of development at the University of Oxford who went on to become vice-principal (advancement) at the University of Melbourne, has previously called on UK universities to promote more fundraising professionals to senior management positions.

She said that this work was “progressing” in the UK but that there was still “a way to go”.

“I think Australia has moved faster in taking senior advancement professionals up to the executive table,” Ms Cunningham said.

However, with Brexit adding to the uncertainty over funding, philanthropy was now seen as more than just the “icing on the cake” for UK universities, Ms Cunningham said. This was a result of the “increasing visibility of the impact that philanthropy can have and the reality of more and more people studying at university and the government’s investment therefore being more and more thinly spread”.

There have been high-profile debates this year over whether universities should accept funding from Chinese technology giant Huawei, while, in Australia, universities’ moves to accept funding for “Western civilisation” courses have provoked concern over institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

Ms Cunningham said that it was important for institutions to have “clear policies about what donors can expect and what donors cannot expect”.

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