The Exeter College Incentive Scheme (ECIS) was set up by David Webb, a Mathematics graduate from 1983, who explains, “The plan is simple: each year, donors pledge a certain amount for each first class undergraduate degree in the following finals, and the result determines how much the College actually collects.” This academic year takes ECIS into its seventh year, having received over £179,000 in its first five years.

How the money is allocated is up to the College. David continued, “I wanted to incentivise what I regard as the most important outcome of university education: academic excellence. I have no idea how to achieve that outcome, so don’t tell them where to allocate my money, but they will get more if they achieve that outcome. I also wanted to incentivise students to do their best.”

He added, “Students also know that their performance contributes directly to fundraising and to the future sustainability of their College.”

It is questionable just how much students will be motivated to work harder, by the knowledge that their efforts secure more money for their College. One Exeter student said, “All donations are obviously welcome, but I don’t think we’re going to see students hitting the books instead of the bop juices!”

However, ECIS is also intended to incentivise good tutoring and good decision-making by the Rector and Fellows in how best to allocate the available funds. It then may not be a matter of incentivising students, but providing a better education, in order to promote academic success.

The pledge form inviting alumni to donate observes, “some potential donors may feel that in helping the College, they want to see a connection between their philanthropy and academic performance.”

However, some students feel that the funds could be better used in pursuing alternative objectives. Edward Nickell, the JCR President at Exeter, suggested: “Alumni should get creative and choose something less arbitrary than the Norrington table! Donations could be linked to student satisfaction or the number of rustications. My future four figure donation will be contingent on the abolishing of the catering charge.”

Another student at Exeter commented, “To be frank, students are perfectly happy with the teaching. Rather, there is discontent with living costs, and these donations may be going to the wrong cause. Improving things like welfare may affect results to a larger extent than simply spending more on tuition.”

Of course, many students are appreciative of the scheme, despite any beliefs about how the money should be used. One student remarked, “Obviously it’s good that he wants to donate.”