Come on, graduates. Give back

Some graduates, particularly those who got their university education for free, seem to think they owe nothing to the institutions that helped them into a lucrative career

Share

There is a shocking figure in the new  Ross-CASE survey of giving to universities published today. The report surveyed a wide sample of universities. In 2011-12, the mean proportion of their traceable alumni who made a gift was just over 1 per cent. At only seven UK universities did more than four per cent of alumni make a gift.

The report is basically good news: new funds secured from donations in 2011-12 rose by 14 per cent, to £774m. Universities in general seem to be working harder at fundraising from alumni, and alumni seem to be responding. But there are wide variations: 45 per cent of donations went to Oxford and Cambridge. Most universities could clearly do much more, and their alumni could help them.

Perhaps, because I head an ancient Oxford University college, I have it easy: last year, an astonishing 37 per cent of our alumni made a gift to Exeter. Many of the young gave modest amounts. I signed one thank-you letter to a woman who gave us £1. I bet she gives more this year.

The Ross-CASE survey suggests that much of the money universities receive comes from large gifts and legacies. Large gifts are splendid, of course, but too much emphasis on them affects the perception of alumni. Quite a lot of our former students say, “If I were rich, I would give you money.” I explain that a gift of £35, once a year, is at least as good as a one-off £1,000: they provide much the same in annual spending power. And there are other benefits. Such links give alumni a continuing interest and investment in the fate of higher education and of their old university.

There are still alumni who believe that the government should pay the whole bill for university education. Such folk often belong to those lucky generations who paid almost nothing for their university education – and then walked into jobs at salaries much higher than the average non-graduate. Coming from those generations myself, I have always thought there was a social contract: earlier generations helped to educate me, and I have some obligation to contribute to the education of those who have followed.

Persuading more people to give is not just a matter of an annual begging letter. You need to keep excellent records: as the joke goes, if Osama bin Laden had attended Harvard Business School, it would have found him in 24 hours. It is also important to remember that a gift is a sort of purchase: the donor needs to feel satisfaction. Universities must ensure that alumni enjoy the relationship.

I told one grumpy non-donor, who had hated his time at Exeter, “You will enjoy being an alumnus much more than you enjoyed being a student.” He is now planning a gift.

Frances Cairncross is Rector of Exeter College, Oxford University

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)