published on thecitizen.org.au
written by Anders Furze
Philanthropy has become a top priority for Australia’s universities amid federal funding uncertainty, with specialist staff numbers rising sharply and pressure on senior leadership to court big donors.
Half of the elite Group of Eight universities are currently running distinct fundraising campaigns – hunting vast sums of money with strategic deadlines and goals. They are the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney, Western Australia and Queensland.
Increasingly, universities are recruiting specialist fund-raisers from overseas.
Sydney aims to raise $750 million by the end of the year. Interstate rival Melbourne University reached its goal two years early and now aims to raise $1 billion by 2021. Western Australia is aiming for $400 million, while Queensland is believed to be in the “quiet phase” of its campaign ahead of a formal announcement.
The fundraising push comes as universities fend off further federal government cuts to higher education in next month’s Budget, with vice chancellors fearing the imposition of an “efficiency dividend” on universities (link is external).
“In the face of shrinking government support, philanthropy is more important than ever,” says Tim Dolan, who heads up Sydney University’s fund-raising and alumni relations effort, known in the sector as an advancement office.
“For universities to not only survive, but thrive, in the current funding environment, [giving] must be a priority for university leadership.”
The bulk of university revenue – a combined $27.1 billion in 2014 – currently comes from federal government grants, subsidised student fee schemes such as HECS and FEE HELP, and international student fees.
“It seems unlikely the tertiary education sector will see an increase in government financial support in the next decade,” Sydney vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence said at the launch of the university’s ‘Inspired’ fundraising campaign.
“We need to think creatively about new funding avenues.”
In a sign of how fast things are moving, Graham and Louise Tuckwell’s 2013 donation of $50 million to Australian National University, at the time the largest ever single donation to an Australian university, has been well exceeded. In fact, three years later, they beat their own record by giving away a further $100 million to the university.
The current trend of alumni giving “transformative” gifts dates back to 2008, according to philanthropy consultant Clare Pullar. That’s when a donation worth $18 million from Wotif co-founders Graeme Wood and Andrew Brice kick-started an endowment at the University of Queensland.