UK: Donations to universities defy economic downturn

Philanthropic donations to UK universities have increased significantly since the start of a matched funding scheme in 2008, a study published last week has found. An expert believes this indicates a "culture shift" in favour of higher education philanthropy.

The study by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), on behalf of the Ross Group and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in Europe, shows an increase of 25% in philanthropic donations to UK universities since the 2007-08 academic year.

More than 185,000 people and organisations donated to UK universities, colleges and higher education institutions in 2009-10. The total value of the donations now exceeds £500 million (US$820 million).

"Such a significant increase in the number of people and organisations giving to universities reveals the early signs of a culture shift toward higher education philanthropy," said Joanna Motion, Vice President for international operations at CASE.

"Continued professionalisation of university fundraising combined with the impact that donors can see from their donations are making a real difference."

The study reports that the increase is even more noteworthy because US donations have stagnated, remaining the same in 2010 as in 2006. The difference in culture, however, is exemplified by the dramatic difference in total funds raised by colleges and universities in the US, adding up to a staggering US$28 billion, according to the New York-based Council for Aid to Education.

Part of the increase can be attributed to a matched funding scheme instituted by the UK government in 2008. Through the scheme, private donations are matched with money from a £200 million fund to encourage fundraising from philanthropic sources. In parallel, Wales operates its own fund of £10 million.

Philanthropic donations from alumni and others are particularly valuable for universities because they are typically not earmarked for specific purposes.

The full report can be found here.