Uni philanthropy: the case for more give than take

Glyn Davis knows a bit about philanthropy. After running Uni Melbourne, he ran the Paul Ramsay Foundation ($800m distributed so far). He also knows a bunch about public policy, useful in his present job, secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Both roles are a base for his considered Kenneth Myer Lecture for the National Library. It focuses on the interface between the two – where philanthropy runs programs to improve the circumstances of disadvantage people at a local level, which siloed government departments are not designed to do. 

“When trust in institutions is under such challenge, government can partner with foundations and communities around a new approach,” he suggested.

There may have been a message in this for universities, the apex predators of Australian fundraising. The University of Melbourne’s Believe campaign raised $1.165bn. Where it went is a ways away from philanthropy as test engine for reducing disadvantage beyond Parkville – $610m for research, $187 for student support (“developing the leaders of tomorrow”) $104m for campus development, $47m for “the University’s highest priorities.”

Certainly Believe funded $87m worth of community engagement, but Uni Melbourne moves in rarified circles, describing it as, “initiatives that enrich our cultural and social life, such as museums and collections and public lecture programmes.”

In an 2017 speech, Professor Davis suggested universities create “meaningful links between a university and its many constituencies, and communicating the fact that this is what we do.

“When we engage, we encourage local forces to defend the value of universities whenever politicians stoke resentment. We make clear the campus offers more than qualifications and traffic – the university is, in a real sense, part of the community.”

Perhaps raising money for teaching with a community purpose, might work.



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