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.

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2 Comments on “The answer to higher education problems: philanthropy?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    My worry is that this so called philanthropy is instead of tax rather than as well as tax.To my mind there is little point in getting back to a situation where the universities survive on a current manifestation of tithes where those in control of the giving are those that benefit of its results.
    You’d have to wonder though with some if a cost analysis wouldn’t toss up some amusing results. Would it be cheaper and better if a course was done outside the State and have the set up and running costs borne elsewhere.

  2. megan232 Says:

    In America we struggle with the same problem. The university I go to use to be funded 75% from the state government and is now only funded 25%. I work at a call center where we try to raise enough money to make up for the money we no longer get from the state, and I can say first hand, although philanthropy does help, it is not enough.


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