V-c puts hand in pocket to revive philanthropic tradition

Birmingham head donates £40,000 of own cash to Circles of Influence project. John Morgan reports

November 5, 2009

Philanthropy begins at home for one vice-chancellor, who will donate £40,000 to his own university's £60 million fundraising campaign.

David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham and former chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said he wanted to give "credibility" to Birmingham's Circles of Influence campaign, which entered its public phase last week.

The campaign aims to fund a range of projects, from brain injury and energy research to a new concert hall, a targeted scholarships programme and a centre for heritage and cultural learning.

Professor Eastwood highlighted his desire to revive the university's philanthropic tradition, which stretches back to its foundation in 1900 by Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham's Mayor and MP. In common with other Victorian civic universities, Birmingham was founded using private donations, rather than state aid.

Professor Eastwood said: "There is a great tradition of philanthropy here, and we are trying to re-establish that."

He added: "Clearly, if a university has a major campaign, then a vice-chancellor has to lead it. If you are credibly to ask for significant benefactions to a university, you have to indicate that you're prepared to do the same."

Professor Eastwood has been at the helm of Birmingham since April. Michael Sterling, his predecessor, earned £292,000 including benefits in 2007-08.

Professor Eastwood is not the only vice-chancellor to decide that a major personal donation is necessary to encourage alumni and others to put their hands in their pockets.

Earlier this year, Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, described how he had been tapped up for a £10,000 donation by his own staff over a boozy dinner.

He said it was crucial that vice-chancellors donated a "painful" sum of money before asking others to do the same.

But he joked: "If you are going to give a significant gift, you had better discuss it with your partner. Fortunately, I am still married."

Liesl Elder, director of development at the University of Edinburgh, said that this was a trend she would like to see continue. "I think vice-chancellors demonstrating support for their own campaigns is critically important," she said. "We hope all university leadership would think fundraising is worth investing in."

Professor Eastwood added that in spite of the economic downturn, the first phase of Birmingham's fundraising campaign had been a success.

"We have been struck by the willingness of people to donate where they see projects that make a real difference," he said.

Donations from alumni, companies and charitable trusts have already raised £43 million for Circles of Influence, with the public phase seeking to reach the £60 million target. Professor Eastwood's donation will go towards the Chancellor's Court Auditorium, which will create a state-of-the-art concert hall and a new home for Birmingham's School of Music.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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