UK universities focus on fundraising as policy uncertainty grows

Institutions in the UK and Ireland raised £1.08 billion in 2017-18, up from £979 million the previous year

April 30, 2019
gift illustrating endowments to US universities
Source: iStock

Universities in the UK and Ireland are recognising the importance of philanthropy as they battle with financial uncertainty as a result of Brexit and England’s delayed funding review, an expert has claimed, as new figures show that the value of donations pledged to institutions increased by 11 per cent in the space of a year.

The annual Ross-Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case) survey found that universities secured £1.08 billion in philanthropic income in 2017-18, up from £979 million in 2016-17. The 2017-18 figure is based on responses from 100 institutions in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The amount of money that universities actually received increased as well, growing by 6 per cent during this period to £929.6 million, while the average value of an institution’s largest pledge has increased by 27 per cent to £2.39 million.

Despite the rises, the number of people who donate to their university has remained fairly static over the past 10 years and currently stands at 1.3 per cent.

While institutions’ total fundraising costs declined by 4 per cent to £112.8 million in 2017-18, total investment in alumni relations increased by 10 per cent to £51.6 million.

Overall, reported levels of fundraising have more than tripled in the past 13 years, with just £350 million worth of donations secured by 75 universities in 2004-05, according to the report, Giving to Excellence: Philanthropic Support for Higher Education, published on 30 April.

Bruce Bernstein, executive director of global engagement for Europe and Africa at Case Europe, said that there was “definitely a sense that as things are being delayed, [including] Brexit and the finance review, the individual donor is really important to the health and well-being of these institutions”.

Sue Cunningham, Case’s president, added that “building advancement and professional development activities is about committing for the long haul”.

“I think what we’re seeing is sustained effort and increased effort on the part of many British universities to build out the professionalisation of their programmes,” she said.

The Ross-Case report found that donations from organisations (including companies, trusts and foundations) consistently made up a smaller share of fundraising each year and now accounted for 40 per cent of income secured in new funds, down from 64 per cent in 2014-15.

The number of institutions other than the universities of Oxford and Cambridge now raising £5 million a year has nearly doubled over the past year – from 17 to 31, according to the data. However, the number of institutions raising more than £10 million fell slightly for the first time in five years, and the share of funding received by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge has continued to increase.

The two institutions accounted for 53 per cent of new funds secured in 2017-18, up from 46 per cent in 2015-16. The University of Cambridge became the first UK institution to cross the £300 million threshold for new funds secured in a single year in 2017-18.

When asked whether high-profile controversies over funding from industry, such as the Chinese technology giant Huawei, could endanger philanthropy, Ms Cunningham said: “I sincerely believe not and hope not. At the same time I think what the debate valuably does is broaden the debate about the importance of philanthropy and what goes into significant philanthropy in terms of relationships, time, and joining up passions of an institution with the passions of a donor.”


Print headline: UK institutions focus on fundraising amid policy uncertainty

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