Alumni philanthropy gap between UK and US universities “narrowing”

A recent study has shown British universities are nearly as dependent on alumni donations as their American counterparts

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The proportion of UK and US alumni who have made a financial donation to their university is “narrowing”, according to a recent study.

In a report by the British market research agency Red Brick Research, has shown that a quarter of UK alumni under 30 have donated to their university.

The survey, which had a sample size of over 1,000 alumni from both countries, uncovered a generational gap in the willingness of alumni to donate. While there was a 21 percentage point difference in the proportion of British and American 51-60 year-olds who had donated to their alma mater, there was only a six percentage point difference in the proportion in 22-30 year-old alumni.

Oxford University has received increasing amounts from alumni philanthropy in recent years. In 2008, it launched Oxford Thinking: The Campaign for the University of Oxford, with the goal of raising £1.2 billion “to transform the collegiate University for many generations to come.” The University met the target in 2012 and a new goal of £3 billion was set, with £2 billion reached in May 2015.

Gifts from alumni to the University have included £4 million from Adrian Beecroft to construct the Beecroft Building in the Department of Physics, over £10 million in donations to support the university’s the Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholarship Programme, and Dickson Poon’s donation of £10 million towards the Dickson Poon University of Oxford China Centre Building. Many alumni gifts to scholarship funds have been matched by the University.

The study also revealed that 25 per cent of UK alumni aged between 22 and 30 had made a donation at least once, compared with 31 per cent of those in the same age bracket in the US. Meanwhile, just 3 per cent of 51-60 year-olds in the UK reported having donated, compared with 24 per cent in the US.

Red Brick Research told the Times Higher Education that the narrowing gap suggests the UK is having “some recent success in adopting a more US-style approach [to philanthropy].

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“This may be indicative of a change of attitude in recent years with real efforts made by many universities to invest in alumni departments, to improve contact databases and to try to engage alumni at the point of graduation.”

The group added that more British students are finishing university “with a good understanding of their alumni network and its value.”

Overall, however, American alumni are still far more likely to donate to their alma mater. Less than a third of UK respondents said that they have donated or would consider donating to their university, compared with 54 per cent of US respondents.

OUSU and the University of Oxford have been contacted for comment.