Universities as philanthropy

Nieuws | de redactie
10 juli 2014 | “Since the economic crisis the environment in which research universities operate has changed profoundly. Demands on higher education are escalating, yet public funding is being rolled back.” LERU sees philanthropy as a possible solution.

“Universities face radical cuts to the direct income they previously received from the state. Funding specifically for academic research is under threat. This situation is unlikely to change in the longer term, and universities will have to identify different sources of funding if they are to continue to fulfill their core mission to pursue excellence in teaching and research, and remain competitive with other universities worldwide,” LERU, League of European Research Universities, states in their note ‘Philanthropy at research-intensive universities’.  

“The note is meant as a stimulus for these universities to invest in fundraising from philanthropic sources, which for many institutions is still very much undiscovered ground. Philanthropy cannot substitute for public funding, but it can help universities to be ambitious about what they want to achieve and provide the means to actually realize these ambitions. Successful development activities require a strong support and active engagement of university leadership. The note can also help to convince incoming university presidents, rectors or vice-chancellors to consider these activities a crucial part of their new role in the institution,” says Kurt Deketelaere, LERU’s Secretary-General.

No substitute for public funding

“With greater weight and reliance being placed upon the individual and the private sector, it is no surprise that the role and importance of philanthropy is being drawn into ever-sharper focus. Philanthropy cannot substitute for public funding, but it can help universities to be ambitious about what they want to achieve and provide the means to actually realize these ambitions.” 

“The European university philanthropy landscape is very diverse. In some countries, in particular in the UK, universities have actively engaged with philanthropy for many years, in some cases even decades. In other countries, however, philanthropy has only recently been put on universities’ agendas or is not considered to be important at all. LERU wishes this note to be a stimulus for universities to invest in fundraising from philanthropy where that is not yet the case.”

No ‘culture of asking’

“Europe has a diverse history of philanthropic giving to universities and it is interesting to note that a number of remarkable gifts to higher education have come from benefactors who are not alumni. Universities attract support because, when people look at the challenges the world faces, they see that leading universities are places with a proven capacity to make a real and varied contribution to solving them.” 

LERU calls upon policy makers and politicians to consider how they could better support philanthropic giving to universities. Methods will differ between countries, but possible incentives might include the establishment of favorable fiscal frameworks, the removal of barriers to universities being able to accept donations directly or the creation of match funding schemes. Many universities would be encouraged to invest more in fundraising if incentives such as these were to be available, LERU states. 

“The research universities realize that the culture and history of philanthropy and fundraising is very different across Europe. In particular, the culture of asking is often absent. Despite these differences, LERU strongly recommends that its members and other ambitious research-intensive universities in Europe should invest in fundraising from philanthropic sources.”

“Successful fundraising requires financial investment, institutional development plans, the active involvement of university leadership and patience. However, it can help a university to realize ambitious research goals, support more students, construct new buildings or engage differently with business and society at large. Donations can enable a university to do things differently, but philanthropy is not, and should never be, a substitute for public funding. It could however be the crucial key to unlocking every last drop of potential from our research-intensive universities.”


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