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Teaching universities lead UK’s £60 million crowdfunding haul

Written by: Ellie Bothwell
Published on: 5 May 2021

Competitors in a coal carrying race with large heavy sack on their back and one man from a crowd helping a sack on a competitors back as a metaphor  to Crowdfunding is increasingly a way for scholars and students at less prestigious universities to gain r

Crowdfunding is increasingly a way for scholars and students at less prestigious universities to gain resources, although doubts remain about its sustainability, according to research that reveals the UK sector raised £60 million on just two platforms over five years.

A study, based on data on academic and student crowdfunding projects on Hubbub and JustGiving between 2014 and 2018, found that the number of such campaigns had more than quadrupled over the five-year period, from 116 to more than 500.

Michele Meoli, associate professor of finance at the University of Bergamo and co-author of the paper, said that, overall, 58 per cent of the 1,767 crowdfunding projects analysed reached their target, but success rates varied widely across the two platforms, rising to 70 per cent for Hubbub – a free-of-charge platform where project creators must be a registered member of a university, college or school – and dropping to 27 per cent for JustGiving – a general platform for collecting charitable donations.

He added that £60 million was raised in total, an average of £34,000 per project.

Previous studies on crowdfunding in academia have focused on research projects, but the new analysis published in Higher Education presents a broader picture of the function of crowdfunding in the sector, with most projects analysed focused on teaching, learning and societal engagement initiatives. The projects involved the majority of the UK sector – 126 institutions in total – and mostly related to “student life” initiatives, such as courses to help disabled students, enhance curricula or fund theatres, and “creativity-oriented projects”, such as films or project-based learning activities.

The paper found that crowdfunding initiatives were most likely to be started by students and academics at institutions that were teaching-oriented and less prestigious and had more students from state schools and low socio-economic backgrounds and fewer international students.

The authors say the findings suggest that crowdfunding is being used to “supplement and/or complement resources to meet the learning experiences of students from universities that lack the resources to provide these experiences”.

However, the study also found that institutions with higher numbers of part-time students and lower numbers of academic and administrative staff (relative to their student populations) were less likely to participate in crowdfunding, suggesting that the activity “may not equally benefit all students from lower socio-economic backgrounds”.

The authors say this “underlines the importance of crowdfunding as an approach to gain resources that otherwise would be unobtainable, but at the same time raises doubts about whether crowdfunding can become a long-term, sustainable form of fundraising in environments with increasingly less public funding or for universities that predominantly enrol students from low socio-economic backgrounds”. It also “raises concerns about the use of crowdfunding as a burden to academics and students to find resources to meet learning experiences that ought to be provided by universities in the first place”.

However, Dr Meoli said that engaging in crowdfunding could be a useful activity for students for its own sake as it teaches them about the value of ideas, responsibility and engaging with society.