The answer to higher education problems: philanthropy?
At the Global Irish Economic Forum conducted over recent days in Dublin one of the topics for discussion was the state of Irish higher education. According to a report in the Examiner newspaper, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny suggested in reply to a comment (that US universities rely on private donations for success) that the Irish government will put in place a structured and transparent framework for philanthropic donations.
It should be emphasised that government support for philanthropy is welcome, but it is not without risk. I remember a debate in the Irish parliament about six years ago on university funding in which one member after another got up to suggest that private donations were the answer to all the funding problems. They are not. In the first place, almost no philanthropist will make donations designed to compensate for government funding cuts. More generally, donations are typically made to support capital investment, or perhaps make available support for disadvantaged students – but never to cover shortfalls in revenue for day to day spending. In my experience very few politicians understand that.
Philanthropy is playing – or certainly should be playing – a major role in allowing universities to develop themselves and to pursue innovative ambitions. But it is not a source of revenue to cover operating costs. Unless this is understood, fundraising will always fall short of its real potential.