Debating the Role of Philanthropy in Higher Education

On April 10th, the Centre for Philanthropy held the last in a series of 3 debates to discuss the role of philanthropy in higher education. These three ‘Great Debates’ form part of our ‘Transforming Kent’s Culture of Philanthropy’ Beacon Project, which aims to shine a light on the history of philanthropic gifts to the University and to higher education in general.

The debates have featured key stakeholders in higher education funding, including academics; university fundraisers and research administration; scholarship recipients; philanthropists; charity directors; leading philanthropy academics and volunteer workers among others.


Let me briefly highlight some of the key arguments of each debate:

The first debate took place in Athens in February, where the discussion centred around ethics and the moral accountability of universities when dealing with money from a private source, as well as a need for alternative funding sources in Greek higher education due to the knock-on effects of the recent economic situation in Greece. Members of the British Council and UK Trade & Investment at the British Embassy in Athens, as well as representatives of charities and Greek higher education institutions contributed to the discussion. They emphasised concerns around the lack of provision of training and resources for potential higher education fundraisers.


This differed from our second event held on the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus in March. The focus here was one of logistics and the management of philanthropic money, particularly in relation to charities and the funding of research by charitable trusts and foundations. Several academics spoke of the difficulties with philanthropic financial costings, which made applications for philanthropic funding less attractive; although efforts made by charitable trusts and foundations such as Leverhulme, Nuffield, Rowntree and Wellcome to ‘fit in’ with the processes recognised by funding councils made these larger funders more appealing.


Our final event, held in early April on our Medway campus, returned to the issue of ethics, but also discussed how philanthropy contributes to engagement, and relationship-building with industry and the local community. Contributors discussed the potential conflict of interest between donor desires and academic plans, and there was a heated debate about the egalitarian role of universities being threatened by selective giving, promoting elitism between institutions (e.g. giving to Oxbridge rather than newer universities) as well as within them (e.g. funding certain disciplines more than others).


The debates encouraged all participants to reflect on the following recurring themes of tension in UK higher education funding:

  • The likely expansion of fundraising staff in universities, predicted by the HEFCE/More Partnership Report in 2014, was seen as necessary in connecting the needs of the university to the supply of donor money.
  • Relatedly, how HE philanthropy would become more strategic, not only in terms of universities conducting more targeted campaigns, but also in the changing objectives of funders such as foundations. An attendee who had held a post at a major charitable trust remarked in the Canterbury debate that foundations are moving towards the provision of ‘interested support’, i.e. funding work in universities that best pursues their foundation’s own objectives.
  • The more active role of academics in building philanthropic relationships, either as charity trustees, through research, or as fundraisers themselves. This builds upon the HEFCE/More Partnership 2012 Report’s recommendation of embedding philanthropy into the daily practice of those working on university campuses, many of whom will already be bringing in money through various means.


Our Beacon project will culminate with a conference on ‘Understanding Philanthropy’ on 29th June 2015, which will launch the book ‘Hidden History: Philanthropy at the University of Kent’, alongside talks from key international philanthropy theorists and practitioners.

Books-in-kind: Philanthropic resources for a new 1960s University

The Universities of the 1960s started out exceptionally short on books and other library resources. They were especially sensitive to the fact that this set them back behind the long-established ancient and Red Brick Universities in Britain and their vast, distinguished and often donated collections.

The first University of Kent library was housed one mile away from the campus, above a shop on Station Road West near to the Canterbury city walls. No provision was available for a library building at the time, so the library remained at that site until October 1964, when the need for further space for the library collection necessitated some resources relocating back up the hill to a hut on Beverley Farm.

The first Librarian at the University was a man called G.S. Darlow, himself a philanthropic donor to the University (a cup bearing his name and years of service sits in the silverstore of Eliot College, a gift from the librarian when he left in 1977).  Darlow recorded in his first report in January 1964 that, in addition to those purchased by the University, over 3,000 books had been donated to his catalogue. By 1970, donated books had risen to a formidable total of 36,638 – one fifth of the entire library collection[1].

An early appeal was made through the Kent Messenger Newspaper and through that over 12,000 volumes were collected by the arrival of the first intake in 1965.

The early Templeman Library Catalogue


Many volumes came from early benefactors, including Pfizer; from the Sponsors of the University, such as Lord Cornwallis, and from the first members of staff and early recipients of honorary doctorates such as Bonamy Dobrée.

Other early library donations of note include volumes from the Labour Party library, the French Foreign Office, London Transport, the Navy League, United Africa Company, Wye College (with whom Kent would later collaborate to host courses in the Medway area); even three of Kent’s fellow 1960s Universities, Lancaster, Sussex and Essex, donated small collections of books to the library.

Unpacking books arriving at the University Library, late 1960s.


However, perhaps the most esteemed donations to the University library were in the form of collections, including the T.S. Eliot Collection (given in part by Bonamy Dobrée, including some with inscriptions from Eliot himself), the Darwin Collection (given by Maidstone donor Jack Johns, a collector of books on evolutionary theory and biology), the Weatherill papers (some of which were given by Lord Weatherill himself, including many personal correspondence), the Melville Collection (given by Andrew Melville III’s widow Joan, featuring documents that span over 100 years of the Melville family’s theatrical history) and the John Crowe collection (a collection of Shakespearean texts that formed the basis for the University of Kent’s Special Collections archive back in the 1970s), among others.

The first Templeman library opened in 1968. It has continued to grow and and is currently undergoing a £12 million extension and a £10 million refurbishment. The early philanthropic gifts may well get forgotten as the library grows and far exceeds the University’s early plan for it to house 1 million books and room for 2,500 people to study. But these first books-in-kind – and the benefactors who gave them – are remembered here as part of the philanthropic groundwork of the University of Kent.

(This blog contains excerpts from the forthcoming book ‘Hidden History: Philanthropy at the University of Kent’, available from 29th June 2015)

[1] King, P.G. (1970) “Progress and Developments in the Library of the University of Kent at Canterbury”, Masters in Arts thesis, University of Loughborough. p.44

Professional fundraisers or ‘the personal approach’?

“The tongue is mightier than the pen.”

Sir Cecil Syers, head of the University of Kent Appeal Committee.

In September of 1962, Dr. Geoffrey Templeman, soon to be Kent’s first Vice-Chancellor, wrote to the Sponsors of a University in Kent describing his admiration of what he described as the ‘Rootes’ method of fundraising. Lord Rootes was a Coventry industrialist, whose efforts as Chairman of the promotion campaign for the new University of Warwick were credited with successfully fundraising £4 million.


Rootes had operated through using his personal and business connections, securing £150,000 from Jaguar alone. Templeman, concerned that Kent was ‘lagging behind’ the other new British universities, insisted that the University also capitalised upon these kinds of networks. This was one reason why  the University decided not to use a professional fundraising company, believing that the Sponsors of the University could network to elicit money by themselves.

Another reason for abandoning the notion of using professional fundraisers was cost. Several companies solicited for the job, including John F Rich & Son, who had previously fundraised for Eton and other schools; and Hooker, Craigmyle & Co., Britain’s first fundraising consultancy. They were seen to be overpricing their services :Dr John Haynes, County Education Officer and Secretary of the Sponsors,  described the “£20,000 over three years with expenses of £10,000” asked of by Michael Hooker for his company’s services as “fantastically high”. Ultimately, after nearly a year of corresponding with various fundraising companies, the University Appeal was back at square one.

The appeal aim of £2,000,000 was reconsidered, to take account of any potential shortfall from industry donations. Haynes wrote to Lord Cornwallis that “York and Norwich have both appealed for £1,500,000 and I am that certain that we cannot do with less”. Without this money, the envisioned five residential colleges housing 3000 students by 1970 would not become a reality.

Eliot College
Watercolour of Eliot College and the then-unnamed second college, painted by University architect Lord Holford

The Appeal was showing signs of being in trouble. Donations simply weren’t coming in. On the 5th October 1964, Sir Cecil Syers, head of the Appeal committee, wrote that it was “unrealistic to hope for more than, at most, £1,250,000” in philanthropic donations, less than half of the original appeal aim.

This would be enough to build the first three colleges. It would be a while before even this preliminary goal was achieved. In retrospect, the use of professional fundraisers in place of Rootes’ personalised approach may well have benefited the early appeal and allowed construction to take place as planned. The tongue is not mightier than the pen, when the pen is wielded by those with experience.

Early fundraising: An approach to local industry

The philanthropic foundations of the University of Kent were laid during the early fundraising efforts of the ‘Sponsors of A University in Kent’; the collective of influential local people whose aim was to put forward a bid for a University in the county. Their first appeal began informally in June 1960 when University supporter Lord Alfred Charles Bossom, a former architect and Conservative MP, hosted a luncheon at his house in Carlton Gardens. The plan for the luncheon was to invite key local industrialists and businessmen, with an aim of enticing them to contribute to a fund for the new University in Kent.

Bossom’s invitation to Commander Thompson, courtesy of the University of Kent Archives.

Just prior to the luncheon, the Sponsors received word that Pfizer Ltd., an American pharmaceutical company, had pledged a donation of £50,000. This is equivalent to over £1 million in today’s money – the first and largest of any company donation. Pfizer had developed a subsidiary in the UK in the early 1950s, establishing a vast 80-acre site in Sandwich in 1954 and cementing its ties with the county.

Pfizer site at Sandwich, Kent. (image courtesy of

Pfizer remain one of the top donors in the history of giving to the University of Kent. In the last 20 years they have also funded a chair in Medical Statistics, provided over £500,000 to fund the head of Medway campus’ School of Pharmacy, and given £20,000 to the Kent Institute of Medicine and Health Sciences for library materials. Their strong bond with the University’s scientific and industrial progress is demonstrated by Kent Innovation and Enterprise (‘KIE’, the University’s dedicated business support department) moving some of their services to Discovery Park, the former Pfizer site in Sandwich, which is now an international hub of biotechnology, life sciences, medical research and business. Pfizer still retain a presence at the site, but the relocation of KIE will aid the development of networks and collaboration between industry, students and academics.

The original donation from Pfizer established a pattern of knowledge-transfer and industry partnerships which has an enduring legacy at the University of Kent.  Back in 1960,  the donation marked a momentous start to the University’s initial appeal. The gift was announced during Lord Bossom’s prestigious luncheon, and became a marketing tool for encourage other local industries (which included breweries, cement manufacturers, paper makers, oil refineries and engineering companies, among others) to themselves contribute. However, although the Pfizer donation was succeeded by many other generous donations by companies such as BP, Shell, Unilever and Associated Portland Cement, no early corporate donation came close to the £50,000 donation that started it all.

times pfizer donation
Image courtesy of “University News.” The Times [London, England] 1 June 1960: 16. The Times Digital Archive.

(This blog contains excerpts from the forthcoming book Kent: The Philanthropy Story, available from 29th June 2015)

Hidden Histories: The Beginnings of Philanthropy at Kent

It was late Spring in 1959.  A feeling of hope for the future was in the air. The number of young people staying on in education in Britain had recently risen dramatically. Continued economic growth was regarded as crucial… and increasingly dependent upon the quality of education of the new, post-war generation.

At the same time, the idea of putting in a bid for a local University was forming among members of the Education Committee for the county of Kent.

Correspondence from the Kent Further Education Sub-Committee, 1960.

At this point, the University could have been sited anywhere in Kent. Thanet Technical College, a small further education institution in Broadstairs, Kent, wrote a letter to Commander Thompson, then Chairman of the Kent Education Committee. In it, they proposed the formation of a ‘University of Thanet’. The detailed proposal for the institution included a siting of the University at Ramsgate Airport, a small 90 acre site in East Kent.

Ramsgate Airport Site, image courtesy of
Ramsgate Airport Site, image courtesy of

This proposal was one of the very first instances where philanthropy (or, the lack of it) became a point of contention for the prospective University of Kent. Committee members argued that, in addition to the airport site being “too small” and “costs underestimated”, the proposal could not go ahead because the body of potential sponsors simply “lacked influential people.” At that time, a requirement of the British University Grants Committee was for a University bid to show “ample evidence of strong local support”, translating to 10% of capital funds being contributed by donation to the University’s coffers. Without this support (both fiscally, and through endorsement), the University Grants Committee would not accept the proposal.

The future of the University of Kent was set: it would not be sited in Thanet. There was a place in Kent, however, that fit the requirements for affluent, and eminent, individuals…

Welcome to Kent: The Philanthropy Story!

This blog aims to document the illustrious history of philanthropy and giving at the University of Kent, as part of a Beacon-funded project that will be published as a book in June 2015. It will contain fascinating snippets of my research in the University archives, newspaper articles, photographs, case studies and interview segments about the remarkable 50 year legacy of donations and community engagement at UKC.

Do you have a story about philanthropy at Kent that you think deserves telling? Let us know! Contact Dr. Triona Fitton with your examples – any contributors will be offered a copy of the printed book, and an invitation to our conference on ‘Understanding Philanthropy’, University of Kent Canterbury Campus, 29th June 2015.


Rutherford Bench