Chemistry chief calls on Britain's wealthiest to aid university funding


10 October 2010

The chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry has called on Britain's rich to follow the American philanthropic model of donating to their former universities to maintain their world-class standing.

Dr Richard Pike said the nation's universities were in their hour of need and, with state funding of universities set to plummet, a financial gap needed filling as soon as possible in the post-Browne Review era. 

"For this gap to be plugged, the government needs to establish a better framework with incentives for wealthier individuals to donate to their alma mater," said Dr Pike. "The RSC believes that access to Higher Education should be regardless of ability to pay - whatever system is applied. With university budgets cuts, it's no secret that the student will be expected to shoulder further financial burdens with tuition fees expected to more than treble after Lord Browne's recommendations are published. This highlights the serious problem with state funding of universities. As a result, we need to take back from the United States what they learned from the British originally, namely how universities can raise a significant amount of money from their former students.

"Alumni donations were a British invention: the development of our Higher Education sector developed in large part through voluntary support but the tradition waned in the twentieth century. The United States looked at our model and copied it - Yale was the first university in the United States to set up an alumni fund in 1822 and collected more than $350m last year.

"In the UK today we have fewer tax incentives than the Americans for giving, little tradition for alumni loyal to their alma mater and a belief that charitable giving usurps what ought to be the role of government. It's time we took back control of that invention of university development through alumni donations to learn, and learn very quickly, how effective a well-oiled fundraising machine can be."

Most recent figures show that UK alumni contributions in 2006-07 totalled 548m, but more than half of that went to just two institutions - the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford. That was an increase of 168m on the 2005 figure but is still dwarfed by donations in the United States. Stanford alone was the biggest recipient of alumni donations in the last academic year (09-10) getting more than $640m. 

"The 1,029 US colleges surveyed received a whopping $27.9bn," said Dr Pike. "It's little wonder therefore that 13 of the world's top 20 universities are in the United States. We need to match them."

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