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(Almost) all donations gratefully received

Universities need clear protocols for accepting money - particularly from outside the UK, argues Chris Higgins

Man handing woman a present (B&W)

Source: Corbis

International fundraising and academic integrity are vital issues for all universities, yet the fevered nature of public discourse sometimes seems to suggest that there is a fundamental conflict between the two.

It could be appropriate to accept funds from the tobacco industry to support a student who otherwise could not afford to study - as long as this was not used as an opportunity to promote smoking

It is self-evident that our leading universities are now global enterprises, educating students from every continent and delivering research with benefits around the world. It is also a fact that global competitiveness requires global resources.

As one of the most established higher education sectors, the UK has some historic advantages, but at a time of dwindling government funding at home it is clear that there is no option but to increase income from foundations, governments, businesses and individuals worldwide if we are to continue to compete.

In the US, where a high proportion of the income of leading universities, whether public or private, is philanthropic or non-governmental, weighty endowments enable universities to invest in scholarships for the most able PhD students and undergraduates in a needs-blind fashion – something that we in the UK can only dream of.

In a few years, if we are not careful, significant numbers of the UK’s most able young people will go to the US to study on full scholarships, and the most talented early career staff will be tempted away by superior research opportunities.

Many philanthropists, foundations, businesses and governments around the world are ready and willing to support research and education in the UK. Yet there is still significant angst, which sporadically bursts into the public domain, surrounding philanthropic and, particularly, international funding for our universities.

Part of the reason for this is cultural. The British are generous, yet they rarely see universities as a natural home for charitable giving. Indeed, there is often an innate suspicion that any non-government funding might somehow undermine integrity and social responsibility.

This emanates from the erroneous view that our universities are state-funded, public-sector bodies. They are not. Although they receive some state funding, most UK universities are charitable institutions established by statute or Royal Charter, each autonomous and governed independently by their trustees.

As those working in the sector are well aware, a decreasing proportion of university funding comes directly from the state. With recent changes in government support, our leading universities will next year receive perhaps 5 per cent of their teaching funds and less than a quarter of their total income directly from government grants, with the rest coming from tuition fees paid by students, both UK and international, and literally hundreds of other sources.

Although it is anathema to some “purists” to mix academic activity and money, universities have no option but to act in a businesslike fashion and have an obligation (as do all charities) to raise money wherever possible to help them fulfil their objectives.

UK endowment recipients: the haves and have-nots

Cash income received in 2011-12 by HEIs

Cash income received in 2011-12 by HEIs

Philanthropic funding and endowment income is growing among members of the research-intensive Russell Group of universities.

There is a widening gap, however, between the sums raised by different universities in the UK.

According to the most recent Ross-CASE Survey, four higher education institutions received more than £20 million in cash income in 2011-12 while 33 received less than £100,000.

The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge accounted for 45 per cent of all new funds secured during the same year.

Excluding Oxbridge, the Russell Group’s share of new funds rose from 26 per cent in 2009-10 to 38 per cent in 2011‑12.

Higher education institutions that were not formally part of any mission group saw their share of new philanthropic income fall from 15 per cent in 2009-10 to 10 per cent in 2011-12.

Times Higher Education reporters

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I'm afraid that Higgins has completely missed the point here (again). Is he trying to justify - and rebalance - the evidence of questionable staff conduct and fragmented ethics & governance at his own university - as reported in the last 12 months in this very magazine? Perhaps he's writing this as an open letter to his own board of governors...?

    In this article he repeatedly conflates the issue of bias with ethics. I don't recall reading of any objectors to Durham's funding from Iran, US State Dept, a disgraced Kuwaiti PM, or BA Tobacco being concerned with "academic bias" or about these deliberately generous donors "buying influence". It is an issue of ethics, plain and simple.

    Universities should not accept - and thus legitimize - the profits of organisations dealing in corruption, espionage, oppression or addiction. He knows this of course which is why - as THE exposed - his office buried info and shortcutted governance to receive such 'gifts'.
    I therefore take particular issue with Higgins' insistence - at the top of page 39 (in the print edition) that accepting tobacco funds to educate students who would otherwise miss out "can only do good".

    You're wrong Professor. Simply wrong (and I say that as a proud UoD graduate - so perhaps that makes this a position of bias - or is it ethics?!). I'm confused...

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