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Annual donations to universities should top £400 per student

Press release issued: 13 May 2004

Universities can raise their levels of excellence and gain greater independence from the state by boosting their income through voluntary giving, according to a government task force report.

Universities can raise their levels of excellence and gain greater independence from the state by boosting their income through voluntary giving, according to a government task force report published today [13 May]. It suggests a sum of £600 million per year – equivalent to more than £400 per undergraduate – is within reach.

The report, Increasing Voluntary Giving to Higher Education, was commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills in the wake of the 2003 white paper on The Future of Higher Education. It says all universities should develop a professional approach to asking for money. They should review their current leadership arrangements with a view to the vice-chancellor and other senior players taking a stronger lead in this area of work.

Their efforts should be backed by specialist fundraisers. Current and potential donors should be involved, and there should be new tax rules making it simpler and more attractive to give to charities.      

Chaired by Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol and Chair of the Worldwide Universities Network, the task force tackles head-on the concern that if universities raised more through philanthropy, the government might use it as an excuse to cut state funding. The report dismisses such fears as “unrealistic”, pointing out that this has not happened in the US where donating to universities is much more prevalent. It claims that alumni and other donors give money to help universities achieve something extra, not to compensate for inadequate government support for the basics.

The task force also seeks to allay concerns that investing in a professional fundraising operation and putting the quest for donations near the top of the agenda is a diversion from the true priorities of a university. “There is nothing ignoble or vulgar about a university seeking to fundraise effectively. This is what all good charities do,” says the report.

The task force calls on the government to consider allowing people who make large donations to claim full income tax relief through self-assessment. It also recommends the extension of the classes of assets eligible for tax relief and the introduction of US-style “planned giving vehicles”, such as charitable gift annuities.

A further role for the government outlined in the report would be to help universities with the cost of setting up effective fundraising offices. It says this could be followed in due course by a scheme involving the matched funding by the government of philanthropic donations.

Professor Thomas said: “We have a lot to learn from our American counterparts. It is a myth that people in the UK are reluctant to give to universities, but we are not good enough at asking them. Most of us need to shift our efforts up a gear or two and adopt a more professional approach. This should be led from the top of the institution and sustained by a tax regime that makes charitable giving a more attractive bet.

”UK universities are already a major success story, but voluntary giving as part of a diversified income stream should help them raise their game still higher as well as achieve an even greater degree of autonomy.” 

The other members of the task force were Dr Mary Blair, Director of Development and Alumni Relations at the LSE; Tom Hughes-Hallett, Chief Executive of Marie Curie Cancer Care; and Sir Peter Lampl, Chair of The Sutton Trust.

The Task Force report Increasing Voluntary Giving to Higher Education is at

Hard copies are available from the Department for Education and Skills, tel 0845 6022260.

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