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UCL Provost Malcolm Grant launches biggest ever fundraising campaign by a UK university

Publication date: Feb 24, 2006 4:16:14 PM

UK universities must lose the idea that asking for money is somehow ‘not the British thing to do,’ and be far more proactive as fundraisers if they are to continue to compete effectively with international institutions who give fundraising a higher priority, Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of University College London (UCL), said today.

Professor Grant was speaking at the launch in London of Advancing London’s Global University – the Campaign for UCL, the largest fundraising programme ever carried out by a UK university. UCL aims to raise some £300 million over the next decade to fund a range of ground-breaking projects and reinforce London’s status as one of the world’s great centres of knowledge.

The Campaign for UCL will seek to raise the £300 million to support this activity through the support of UCL’s alumni, staff and friends, alongside donations from the corporate sector, charitable trusts and industry. Some of the major projects to be supported by the Campaign include:

• The Institute of Women’s Health - this will make a major contribution to the health care of women through research, education and clinical care, addressing the health needs of women across their entire life span;

• The Ear Institute - the Campaign will help to fund a new national centre in London, working to find a cure for conditions such as tinnitus, that afflicts millions of people (the Campaign aims to fund an endowed chair in tinnitus research);

• Wilkins Building – a major refurbishment of this London landmark, using state of the art technology to ensure the library collection it houses becomes an important international resource for academics, researchers and students;

• The Spinal Repair Unit – UCL has recruited a world-renowned research team who aim to move to clinical trials as they work to restore lost movement to spinal cord patients;

• The Panopticon – A new museum in the heart of London that would house one of the world’s largest collections of ancient Egyptian artefacts, and an art collection that includes works by Durer, Rembrandt, Turner and Constable.

£50 million of the targeted funds are earmarked to provide support for students and the next generation of academics, in the form of bursaries, scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships.

“The resources that a successful Campaign would make available would enable UCL to deliver innovation and research with the potential to make a difference to the lives of millions of people and reinforce London’s status as one of the world’s great centres of knowledge,” said Professor Grant.

“This Campaign will enable UCL, a real British success story, to enjoy the kind of resources to enable us to compete with the world’s very best academic institutions.”

For the Campaign at UCL to succeed and for UK universities more generally to be better able to raise the levels of philanthropic donation received will require both a far more professional approach to fundraising and a change in public attitudes to university fundraising, Professor Grant continued.

“The challenge that we and the rest of the sector in the UK face is in increasing the proportion of overall philanthropic donation that universities receive. Compared to the USA, the higher education sector takes a far smaller share of the country’s overall level of philanthropic donation.

“As the Thomas report on increasing voluntary giving to higher education stated, it is unrealistic to expect UK institutions to build endowments that rival those of the Ivy League universities. However, it is legitimate to seek to match the share of individual donations that goes to higher education in the US, where some 16% of philanthropic donation goes to university, compared with a figure closer to 2.5% in this country.

“The Thomas report estimates that if we achieved a similar share, even without an increase in overall total giving, the higher education sector in the UK would receive £600 million a year in individual donations, over £400 for every UK undergraduate..

“I have heard it suggested that the concept of philanthropy is somewhow alien to the national psyche, and that asking for money is not the British thing to do. This is, frankly, nonsense. Most of our leading universities owe their origins to philanthropy. Without the generosity of our founding fathers, UCL would never have seen the light of day back in 1826.”

While philanthropy alone does not hold the answer to the funding gap faced by UK universities, continued Professor Grant, universities like UCL need to give fundraising a far higher priority, enabling them to exercise more control over their destiny, and seize opportunities for new initiatives.

“Historically, we have received extremely generous grants from foundations and charities, but we need to look beyond these now, and do a great deal more to build our relationships with alumni.

“We now have a huge, educated and wealthy middle class, who have benefited massively from the opportunities afforded them by a university education, and many of whom would be only too willing to support their institution were they given the opportunity.

“But if the relationship is seen by universities purely as a one-way request for funds, then they are failing in their mission. Alumni are part of the lifeblood of any successful university, contributing knowledge and advice, acting as ambassadors and role models within the wider community. I regard our alumni as life members of the UCL community, not as temporary passengers on a conveyor belt whose connection is severed the day that they physically leave the institution.

“We need, in the university sector, to actively develop a culture both of asking, and a culture of giving. The human capital that we enjoy – both here at UCL and in the sector as a whole – is immense, but to fulfil our vision and begin to compete on a level playing field with the world’s very best institutions, we need to get serious about fundraising. For UCL, this Campaign represents a first, significant step in that direction.”

Speaking of the financial context within which the Campaign has been launched, Professor Grant spoke of the ‘paradoxical situation’ which sees UK universities contributing hugely to the nation and increasing numbers of international students choosing to study here, while the country’s best institutions do not enjoy the resources of their major international competitors.

“I frequently find that my international counterparts are bewildered by the fact that an institution such as ours, with an annual turnover of some £500 million, and respected worldwide, still faces such a challenge to break even each year.

“The growth in student numbers in the sector, and the government’s current commitment to a participation rate of 50 per cent in higher education, has not been matched by a commensurate increase in funding. This growth has resulted in a doubling of the student-to-staff ratio, the scandalous neglect of academic pay, and the running down of much of the universities’ estate.

“Despite these handicaps, we retain many of our traditional strengths, thanks largely to the human capital that we enjoy in our universities in the UK. In the recent league table of the world’s top 500 universities produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, UCL was the 4th ranked UK institution, contributing to an overall second place, behind only the US, in the country table of the most successful institutions. No fewer than15 UK universities appeared in the top 150.

“The performance of our universities does not, to my mind, receive anything like the credit that it should. A recent article put it very well when it argued that the UK’s second place position in the Shanghai rankings was surely of greater note than the UK’s tenth place performance in the Olympics. And yet this performance slipped by relatively unnoticed.

“To my mind it is vitally important that we learn to celebrate the worth of this sector. This is not purely a matter of prestige. The UK has the second largest global market share, again behind only the US, which is worth up to £11 billion directly and £12 billion indirectly to the UK economy each year.

“Students come here because our universities historically enjoy a high reputation for academic excellence. But just because that was true in the past does not mean it will always remain so. Our competitors are not standing still, and that the competition, internationally, is growing fast. Failure to invest adequately in this area could prove to be an expensive mistake.”

Notes for Editors

1. Launched on Wednesday 6th October, Advancing London’s Global University – the Campaign for UCL is a strategic plan aimed at providing the university with the resources to develop a range of ground-breaking new projects, while reinforcing London’s status as one of the world’s great centres of knowledge. The Campaign will seek to raise £300 million over the coming decade.

2. The Campaign President is Digby Jones, Campaign President and Director General of the CBI. Digby Jones’s speech at the launch of the Campaign is also available from the UCL Media Relations Office.

3. For further information, contact Dominique Fourniol in the UCL Media Relations Office on 0207 679 9728.