The Potential of Philanthropy to Support Irish Higher Education

I still recall the international symposium held in Dublin on a growing crisis in Irish higher education which I attended in the end of September 2014. One of the many interesting presentations I enjoyed listening to was given by Ms Liesl Eler, Director of Development at Oxford University, who talked about the potential of philanthropy to support higher education sustainability.

Besides from sharing the successful story of Oxford University, Eler showed a comparison of fundraising results for UK universities in 2012/13 sorted by age of university, with the conventional wisdom thinking that the older a university is the larger the number of its alumni could be.

Table 1: Fundraising results for UK universities, 2012-13

Oxbridge Pre-1960 1960s 1990s
New funds secured (£000s) 178,349 6,142 2,113 639
Addressable alumni 208,928 105,968 93,895 77,429
All donors 40,155 2,763 1,583 208
Fundraising spend (£000s) 12,368 981 540 184
Number of fundraising staff 150 16 9 3
Cost per pound raised £0.07 £0.21 £0.33 £0.48
Note: All figures refer to medians for the group.

Source: Ross-CASE Survey 2012-13.

Copied from Elder’s presentation, Table 1 explains why philanthropy is much more successful in Oxford University than in the others. Obviously, Oxford University, as well as Cambridge University, invest heavily in fundraising through capital investment and human resource. On average, the two universities employed 150 fundraising staff in 2012-13, while the number for the rest pre-1960 institutions was only 16. Furthermore, Oxbridge seems to have a more efficient operation in terms of fundraising, costing just 7 pence to raise 1 pound, about one seventh of the cost of the 1990s institutions.

I have been wondering about the situation in Irish higher education, but did not have much time to look into the topic deeper. A few days ago, I came across a good paper – The Role of Philanthropy in Funding Irish Universities – written by Dennis O’Connor and Ruth Millar in 2012.

Table 2: Philanthropic income among universities in terms of GDP, per capita and per student

Ireland all third level UK all third level UK Oxbridge US all third level US research & doctorate level institutions
Total philanthropic donations €50m €856m €329m €23.1bn €15bn
As a % of GDP 0.03% 0.05% 0.20%
Per capita €11.14 €13.67 €74.14
Per student €258 €342 €8,226 €2,300 €3,075

Source: O’Connor and Millar (2012).

The authors, in Table 1, compared the level of philanthropic income among HEIs on a GDP, per capita and per student basis, and showed that Ireland lags far behind both the UK and the US. Whilst current Irish third level philanthropic income is comparable with the UK in terms of its share of GDP, it lags considerably when benchmarked based on all the other measures.

It was found by the authors that the information regarding philanthropic income in Ireland is, to a large extent, unavailable with one or two notable exceptions, which led the authors to argue that the amounts receivable are insignificant relevant to other forms of income. In the concluding section, the paper sets out the targets for each university if the sector in Ireland would like to catch up with the levels of Oxbridge, the UK, the US, and US research & doctorate level institutions based on per student basis.

Table 3: Targets for each university based on Oxbridge, the UK, US and US research & doctorate

UK Per Student Oxbridge Per Student US Per Student US R&D Per Student
UCD €8.5m €205m €57.3m €76.6m
UCC €6.5m €155m €43.3m €57.9m
TCD €5.7m €138m €38.5m €51.5m
DCU €3.8m €91.5m €25.6m €34.2m
NUIG €5.8m €92m €39.1m €52.3m
UL €3.4m €82.7m €23m €30.1m
NUIM €2.8m €69m €19m €25.8m

Source: O’Connor and Millar (2012).

The sub-totals of the targets under any column are considerably larger than the current level of the philanthropic income received by Irish third level institutions (which include both universities and institutes and technology). Although without the exact numbers for each individual institution, it suffices to say that if Irish HEIs seek to expand philanthropic income they need to consider it as a long-term strategy, have strong commitment from the board, and be prepared for the great challenges ahead.


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