Development and alumni

Governments of every political persuasion in the UK (ie both sides of the class war) are cutting back on funding for institutions such as Schools and Universities. These organisations are now looking across the Atlantic for an example of how to make ends meet.  They see that eg Stanford receives donations from alumni of $3M a day and, understandably they want to emulate that approach to economic sustainability.

There are however a few crucial differences between these regimes:

  1. The US is a vast, internal marketplace with an entrepreneurial culture. Alumni can make money more easily and donate within a tax regime that encourages this.
  2. In general, US Universities don’t try to retain the intellectual property of alumni. They recognise that this is counterproductive and that Universities have no clue about making money.
  3. UK universities believe that academics, being smart, will be naturally accomplished in business and ‘deserve’ investment (-which they call funding). Nobody will talk about generating cash because that’s embarrassing (and requires management skills that academics hold in contempt).
  4. In the US, educational establishments take their academic freedom very seriously. They are happy to undertake research which addresses industrial problems but they won’t be directed by companies. In the UK, universities are queueing up to become low-cost contract R+D houses -they have become too big, too numerous and diluted their excellence.
  5. Universities in the US, at least the solvent ones, understand that they must give their students the best possible education/training. Their economic and intellectual future depends on developing this mutually supportive relationship. UK universities have inherited the belief that the Government will pay, irrespective of how inattentive they are to their charges (Imperial College, I’m looking at you).

Beyond these considerations is the issue that Development is basically begging. What exactly is being developed? If you get a place at Oxford, you can expect to be telephoned afterwards by current undergraduates who will chat intelligently, using information retained from your time among the dreaming spires. Then they will ask you to remember the brand from which you now benefit and get out your (Oxonian) credit card in its defence.

It seems to me that Universities need to stop asking for cash until they can start proving that they added at least corresponding value to their students. Maybe they should also start offering some entrepreneurship courses (run by real entrepreneurs).

How about rejecting begging and deciding instead to buy products and services from their own student startups?