Reasons to look to Canada as giving to UK universities tops £500m for first time

by Stephen Tall on September 6, 2010

An interesting report in this week’s Times Higher, Recession hits US private fundraising, but others do better, illustrates the expansion in charitable giving to universities in the UK:

The Ross-CASE survey 2010, published by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in Europe, suggests that British universities survived the downturn when it came to donor income. Donations to the higher education sector topped £500 million for the first time in 2008-09, with cash income also significantly increased. Over one year, the value of gifts grew from £430 million to £511 million, partly as a result of the government’s popular match-funding scheme, under which donations to higher education institutions were matched by the state.

There are signs of growth, too, in other countries, especially the Far East:

… as Asian universities become better at fundraising, and if they manage to prove their quality and rise up global league tables such as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, rich donors from the area may be expected to lend their support to institutions closer to home.

It’s US higher education philanthropy which has suffered most during the economic downturn

Gifts made to American colleges and universities … plunged by nearly 12 per cent during 2009, to $27.9 billion (£18.4 billion) – the biggest decline on record. … The 20 US universities that raised the most in 2009 picked up $7.28 billion between them – $1.13 billion less than the previous year – while the overall number of contributing alumni declined by almost 6 per cent.

What this demonstrates is that while HE philanthropy in the US is a mature market, and therefore likely to rise and fall in line with market conditions, in much of the rest of the world it is an emergent market, still with great scope for growth even in the face of a Siberian economic climate.

Or as Joanna Motion, vice-president of international operations at CASE, puts it:

“They are at different points in the wheel [from countries such as the US],” she said. “Given that most of the rest of the world has not been putting a great deal of muscle into this for more than 10 years, it’s really still quite new. There are times when that’s a hindrance and there are times when it provides some extra energy.”

And to where should the UK look to learn lessons? Canada, says Joanna:

When the country faced its own period of austerity in the 1990s, universities used public funding cuts as a spur to generate a greater interest in alumni fundraising. “They got serious about this when their backs were to the wall because of the economy. It was a driver for them to invest and to get creative about their discussions with supporters. I find that quite encouraging,” she said.