University alumni donations tops £1 billion

My university alumni emails

Every week I receive emails from my former university giving me news of the latest graduate successes. Staff changes, prize-winning alumni and global meet-ups. It makes me feel old but also quite nostalgic for my former haunts. The language lab, backstage at the college theater and riverside alleyways where we would sit and dream up ideas that never won any prizes.

The alumni office emails offer a good selection of emblemed sweatshirts, crested keyrings, and cufflinks. But there’s also a section enabling me to contribute financially.  They seek gifts for new buildings fund, bicentenary coffers, support for a new sports center, bursaries and general campus improvements.

British Universities are much better funded than twenty years ago. But also very keen for their former students to make substantial offerings to their Alma mater – with tax breaks and easy-to-fill-in standing order forms. Gifts to British universities topped £1 billion for the first time last year with 230,000 former students choosing to donate. It’s a significant amount raised. However the UK has over 10 million former students. So, at 2.3%, it’s just a tiny percentage of possible benefactors. Should it be a duty? Will student loans prohibit the desire to give something back?

University alumni donations

Alongside the fundraising, many universities ask alumni to contribute in other ways. They seek time, assistance, internships at their current companies, mentoring, all of which are ways to give something back. It’s a philanthropic ideal but one gaining in popularity. I benefited from two travel scholarships when I was at university and won a few college prizes. At the time, the awards were just titles from another world, the Knowleson Trust or Alarcon Prize.  Thinking back, many were named after former students. They wanted future scholars to benefit from resources put back into their former institution.

Looking at the huge impact of alumni contributions, Sir David Greenway, the recently-retired Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, spoke to the Sunday Times. He said “If you look at the US experience, the most successful institutions are those that charge the highest fees. They tend to have the most successful graduates, who have paid very high upfront fees – yet still they support their alma mater.”  Neither does he believe student debt will limit university ambitions to seek further donations. The mathematics are very positive. Spending on fundraising costs universities an average £1 million per year but they typically receive £10 million each from alumni donations


With twenty years’ experience as an international journalist and travel writer, Jon Bryant has written for The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer and The Times. He also teaches journalism at the EDJ in Nice, France. He is the co-author of the Financial literacy book for children ‘It Doesn’t Grow On Trees’.