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Focus on philanthropy

Resource type: News

University Diary | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Ferdinand von Prondzynski

One possible fall-out from the Libyan uprising and the resignation of Sir Howard Davies as Director of the London School of Economics (which I covered in the previous post) could be a new debate about the role and impact of philanthropy in building up universities. The LSE accepted donations from the Gaddafi régime, as is now known, but in some of the emerging discussion about this some are starting to ask whether other donations, particularly those from the Islamic world, are also suspect. An example given has been the Said Business School in Oxford University, which was set up on the back of a major donation provided by Saudi businessman and arms dealer Wafic Said.

Philanthropy, like all other activities that affect or influence higher education, must of course be approached with high ethical standards. But it would be ludicrous to suggest, as some appear to be prepared to do, that all private donations should be seen as suspect. DCU, the university of which I was President for 10 years until last July, is now a highly respected university which has come from nowhere (as a very young institution) to enter the global rankings, where it sits alongside and in some cases out-performs much older traditional universities. This was possible because of the hugely generous approach of some major donors, chief amongst them being Irish-American philanthropist Chuck Feeney. The support of these donors allowed the university to build state-of-the-art facilities and to equip lecture spaces and laboratories to the highest standards. If we had waited for government support to achieve this, we would still be a poorly equipped minor college.

Of course universities need to maintain high standards of ethics and probity when they seek out and accept private donations. Of course they must ensure that donors cannot influence the outputs of research and the integrity of scholarship and teaching. But philanthropy properly managed has a vital role to play in university development and renewal, and moreover represents an important bond between universities and some of their graduates. Particularly in these times, this is not something we should abandon. 

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