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New UCL Circle of Benefactors celebrates £1m+ donors

25 September 2017

New UCL Circle of Benefactors celebrates £1m+ donors

UCL has celebrated the first year of its ambitious philanthropy and engagement Campaign It’s All Academic with the launch of a new initiative to recognise its most generous donors.

circle

The UCL Circle of Benefactors recognises and celebrates donors who have given £1m or more to UCL, for research, student support and capital projects that have long-term impact on UCL and the world. Members of the Circle range from individuals and family-run trusts and foundations to national and international businesses and charities. Their impact is wide-ranging and includes support from Pears Foundation to create the unique UCL Centre for Holocaust Education to a coalition of leading retailers such as Iceland, Asda and Waitrose joining together to donate the new plastic bag 5p levy to advance dementia research.

The Circle was launched at an exclusive event in which members were officially inducted and presented with a replica of the UCL mace, symbolising the university’s independence and academic freedom. President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur told guests:

“Philanthropy founded UCL; it has always been vital to what we do and now it is shaping our future. Research, education, invention and application don’t happen in an ivory tower. The relationships that we have with you here today are genuinely transformative. The benefits are far-reaching, often surprising and much more than financial. For all of us, the sense that we are doing something really worthwhile is the greatest reward.”

The event also brought together a panel of leading academics to debate the continuing relevance of the famous maxim of UCL’s spiritual founder Jeremy Bentham – the greatest happiness for the greatest number. 

Answering the question Was Bentham Right?, the panel explored themes from medical ethics to the role of policy to understand how today’s research can promote happiness.

The debate was hosted by doctor, UCL PhD alumnus and TV presenter Chris Van Tulleken, who described the question as a “humble-brag” – an opportunity for UCL to boast about its liberal origins as the first university in England open to all regardless of gender or religious background. 

Addressing the question first, Professor Daniel Hochhauser, Director of the Cancer Research UK-UCL Centre, observed: “Benthamite utilitarianism is the foundaiton of what we do in cancer research and treatment. We’re consequentialists – we want an outcome that is an improvement in human health.”

He was followed by evolutionary biochemist Professor Nick Lane, who warned the audience that “every evolutionary biologist talks about sex” since it is that which produces the difference between individuals. He went on to draw a line between evolution, Bentham and UCL’s authority, saying: “The principle of liberty is the principle of academic freedom. UCL has always celebrated individuality, which enhances collaboration – in the same way that complex ecosystems are made possible because not everyone is the same.”

Moving from the origins of life to modern policy challenges, Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Founder and Director of the UCL Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose, asked whether the notion of ‘public good’ is restraining what policymakers think they can do. “They have been told that their job is to de-risk, administrate, fix the markets,” she argued. “But massive changes that made smart products came from ambitious mission-oriented policies.” 

Asked about the role of philanthropy at UCL, Professor Hochhauser replied: “Charity is the foundation of nearly all cancer research.” Agreeing that it was a vital source of funding, Professor Lane highlighted the importance of researchers having the ability to take risks.

“Risk and failure are among the most important things in the university system,” he said. “I work on the origins of life. I’m bound to fail, but I fail in interesting ways.”

The Circle of Excellence is part of an initiative to enhance the visibility of philanthropy at UCL. It will be followed in autumn 2018 with a high profile new donor wall at the heart of UCL’s Bloomsbury campus, designed by students from UCL’s Slade School of Fine Art.