One of Britain's most successful universities is appealing to its wealthiest alumni in an attempt to raise £300 million to maintain its world class status.
University College London, one of the top four establishments in the country and recently ranked 25th in the world, will imitate its American rivals this week by trying to persuade former students to donate a proportion of their income to university coffers.
It will be followed by a similar campaign by Cambridge University, which will be launched to coincide with its 800th anniversary in 2009.
Among possible benefactors to UCL's campaign are Ricky Gervais, the star of BBC2's hit comedy The Office, Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion and Guy Berryman from Coldplay, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, Jonathan Dimbleby, the broadcaster, Sir Tom Courtney, the actor, and Digby Jones, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry.The campaign aims to create a new culture of giving among British graduates, who currently donate a tiny amount compared with American graduates. It is estimated that the most successful British universities receive donations from about 10 per cent of alumni, compared with more than 50 per cent who give in the United States.
Prof Malcolm Grant, the Provost of University College London, told the Telegraph that the £300 million which he hoped to raise in the next decade was vital to the university's competitiveness. This year, the institution dropped its world ranking by five places.
"Top-up fees will bring just £12 million to an overall annual budget of £520 million," he said. "It will not help us improve the basic infrastructure or improve staff salaries, which are a national disgrace in this country. We are losing academics to the US at an alarming rate. This afternoon I will be in discussions to try and put together a package for one of our scientists who has been offered a brilliant deal by a US institution. This major fund-raising campaign is essential to the university."
Prof Grant said that British universities were reticent about pursuing money from former students.
"We need to develop a culture of asking, as well as giving," he said. "We need to build relationships with high net worth individuals. In the US, huge donations are made by wealthy individuals and charitable foundations. I think it was Andrew Carnegie who said that 'the man who dies rich, dies disgraced'."
Alumni of the university signalled their support for the campaign last night.
Mike Burleigh, a novelist and historian, who donates to history department scholarships, said: "The best institutions in this country are chronically underfunded. If they were to properly pay staff and stop them moving abroad then they have got to get more money than the Government is paying them. Some American universities are like paradise in comparison."
David Lodge, the award-winning author, who graduated from the university in English in 1955, said: "American universities have been seeking help from alumni for some time. British universities could struggle to imitate them. I do, however, think it is a good idea."
The university plans to employ 30 staff to write to and call the 85,000 graduates on its mailing list.
Hamish Stewart, the director of fund-raising, said: "We are saying to alumni that you have an opportunity to invest in UCL to maintain its position as a global player and the better respected UCL is internationally, the more your degree is worth. We also want to show how their money can make a huge difference to generation of alumni following them. For most we would be looking in the region of £5 to £20 a month."
American Ivy League universities employ hundreds of people to pursue former students as soon as they graduate to secure monthly payments. The generosity of alumni in the US has helped to create large endowments, which generate their own income.
Harvard University announced this month that its endowment had passed $20 billion (£11 billion) for the first time, providing the institution with an annual income of £630 million. No British university has endowments topping £500 million.
Mr Jones, a UCL law graduate, is president of the campaign.
"I have had nothing to do with UCL since I left, which is typical of many alumni. I was delighted to get involved in the campaign, not only to help my alma mater, but make some real statements about how the country has to change in terms of paying something back.
"We have quite a number of universities which are world class, but we don't seem to appreciate them. If UCL was in the US, those that had benefited from the excellent education it provides would be giving back, either personally or corporately. We as a generation have succeeded on the back of a university education we did not have to pay for. I may not be a big donor, but I will be making a regular contribution."
Cambridge University has put together a team to work out plans for its campaign. It will be led by Alison Richard, the vice-chancellor and a former provost of Yale.
Source: Telegraph Online
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