Philantropy & Higher Education

Universities are becoming popular with donors. A recent report from private banking firm Coutts in association with The Centre for Philanthropy, Humanitarianism and Social Justice University of Kent showed that in the UK, rich donors are more likely to give to universities than any other good cause. The Coutts Million Pound Donors Report (pdf) indicates that higher education received 45 donations of over a million pounds in 2006-2007. The total value of million-pound-plus donations to higher education was £296.5 million. Of direct donations over 1 million pounds in the UK, 42% went to higher education, folowed by Health (13.8%), International Aid (11.5%) and Arts & Culture (8.2%).


The Financial Times discusses the issue and asks whether rich people should be giving their money to institutions that also receive millions from government and are in some cases quite wealthy. The fundraising director of Oxfam Cathy Ferrier seems to concur and her words show that there is fierce competition in philanthropy land:

“The higher education sector have very effectively used their contacts, despite the fact there’s state funding for this stuff”. She suggested that rich donors liked schemes which were “highly tangible, relatively visible and close to them”, such as university buildings that “they feel are their legacy”.

The country of million dollar donations is of course the US. According to the Chronicle, the country’s colleges and universities raised $28-billion in private donations in the 2006 fiscal year, $2.4-billion, or 9.4 percent, more than in 2005. Stanford receiving 400 million from Wiliam Hewlett; David G. Booth donating 300 million to the University of Chicago business school; Ratan Tata giving 50 million to his alma mater Cornell, etc. But also outside the Anglo-American world multi-million dollars are being¬† donated to universities. The Singapore based Lee Foundation donated 50 million to the Singapore Management University – matched by the government with 3 S$ for every donated S$. Coffee magnate and Adecco chairman Klaus Jacobs for instance donated 200 million to the private International University Bremen. Compared to all this, the Netherlands has a long way to go. In 2005, all education and research received 277 million Euros, with 232 coming from business (see Geven in Nederland 2007, pdf).

As for Ferrier’s critique, I think that needs some nuance. Giving 300 million to a business school in order to see your name attached to it – yes it became the University of Chicago Booth School of Business – is not necessarily helping humankind progress all that much. But on the other side, donations for scientific research on HIV or cancer or research on other pressing issues are not necessarily in conflict with donations for health or international aid. Ratan Tata’s donation to Cornell for instance was given for agriculture and nutrition programs in India and for the education of Indian students at Cornell. I’m sure even Oxfam wouldn’t disagree with those objectives.

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