Endowments17 August 2009
Endowments, particularly from alumni, are often bought up as a solution to the funding problem within universities. The inspiration is the multi-billion endowments seen at US universities, and several UK universities are trying to build up similar independent funds. However this drive is doomed to failure, mainly for the following reasons:
- Less culture of charity
- Right vs. appreciated privilege
- Its being driven by government
- Poor image of financial arrangements
Lack of culture of charityIn the US, there is more of a culture of charity; this is reinforced by the relative ease at which donations can be dedicated from tax bills. Over there charity is helped because it is known that there is no alternative support beyond this charity, and hence donations are more ingrained into their culture.
In the UK the tax & benefits system provides fallback that is not present in the US, and the perception of being forced to support others results in resentment. This is not helped either by the (admittedly exaggerated) image of benefit cheats, or the often misdirected efforts at weeding them out.
I suspect the National Lottery has also damaged the image of good causes in general. These days lottery funds are more or less regarded as government money in all but name, as shown by the diversion of much of these funds to the 2012 Olympics.
Right rather than privilegeThere is a tendency among UK home students to regard university education as a right rather than a privilege, and hence demand that someone else pay for it. When the most vocal people are those demanding free education, there is little desire to support them as a group.
Feeling of being short-changedThere is already a feeling among students that they are not getting value for money, which is partly due to the need of university departments to reduce the "unit cost" of teaching each student. This can appear as reduced contact hours, increased use of automated marking, smaller labs on the assumption that everyone has their own computer, PhD students doing teaching rather than dedicated teaching staff, and so on.
This feeling is particularly acute among overseas students; whereas home students it is more due to the shock of actually having to pay for education, overseas fees include a significant mark-up. Because this leaves overseas graduates with the feeling that they are treated as cash cows, they have minimal desire to give the university any more cash once they graduate.