Kent: The Philanthropy Story

This blog post is written by Dr Triona Fitton, Research Associate in the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent

The University of Kent, much like the ancient Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, has a long history of philanthropic donations. As one of the 1960s ‘plate-glass’ Universities – founded as part of a post-war drive to open up access to Higher Education, spearheaded by the then Government’s University Grants Committee (UGC) – the importance of their philanthropic foundations are often overlooked because these Universities are, to this day, treated as wholly state-funded institutions.

My current research into philanthropy in Higher Education has indicated that the uncelebrated early gifts that enabled the University to flourish are long overdue their fanfare. Key buildings on our campus (such as the Gulbenkian Theatre and the Colyer-Fergusson Building) would not have existed. The library would be understocked; our prestigious Law Clinic would be a pipe-dream; the beautiful art that appears across our campus would not have been commissioned; many scholarships and funded Chairs would not be possible to sustain.

Back in 1959, prior to the University having a site secured, the necessary presence of philanthropy was causing controversy. A proposal for a University of Thanet, by Thanet Technical College in what is now Broadstairs, Kent, was sent to the Kent Education Committee. It recommended the siting of the University at the old Ramsgate Airport, a small 90 acre space in East Kent.

Committee members did not accept the proposal, citing several conditions including the airport site being “too small”; “costs underestimated”; and most crucially, that the body of potential sponsors simply “lacked influential people.” At that time, the University Grants Committee required a University bid to demonstrate “ample evidence of strong local support” which would translate to at least 10% of capital funds being from private donations. Without this philanthropic support (both fiscally, and through endorsement), the proposal would not be accepted by the UGC.

As a result, Thanet did not receive its own University. The University of Kent was eventually built in Canterbury, on a hill top near Giles Lane. The dismissal of the Thanet Proposal was one of the first acknowledgements of the importance of fundraising for the Universities; but it would not be the last…

A Beacon Project at the Centre for Philanthropy aims to bring this, and other untold stories, to the fore by celebrating 50 years of philanthropic gifts to the University of Kent in a book, provisionally entitled ‘Kent: The Philanthropy Story’. The book will be launched at a major conference on “Understanding Philanthropy” to be held at the University of Kent on Monday 29th June 2015. The conference will welcome speakers from across the globe, both practitioners and theorists, to examine the meaning and mission of philanthropy in contemporary society. Our keynote speakers are Professor Michael Moody, author of ‘Understanding Philanthropy’, and Dr. René Bekkers, co-author of A Literature Review of Empirical Studies of Philanthropy.’

The conference is open to all, but registration is essential. Click here to register.

In addition, the Centre will be holding 2 debates on the role of philanthropy in Higher Education, one on our Canterbury Campus on 10th March and one on our Medway Campus on 10th April. The debates will be a discussion of the moral and practical implications of philanthropic funding for research and innovation. For more information please click here (Canterbury) or here (Medway).

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