Enhancing Effectiveness and Sustainability of Higher Education Through Fund Raising

‘The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.’ – Aristotle

As per AISHE 2020-21, India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education was 27.3%, an increase of 1.7% over the previous year, and that was the highest increase ever recorded. There were 1103 universities and 55092 colleges (including standalone institutions) in the country. The number of universities in the country had gone up by 70 in 2019-20 alone as compared to the previous year and it was in consonance with the trend that had started in the year 2006. There were 4.2 crore students enrolled in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). However, a major point of concern was that it was estimated that only about 25% of the students graduating from Indian universities and other HEIs are employable.

The pre-pandemic employment situation was already bad and with the current challenge the situation is really serious.  There is a crying need to improve the quality of education being provided in our HEIs.

There are two main challenges:

Firstly, is the availability of funds. Since independence numerous committees have recommended that 6% of the GDP should be expended on education but the actual allocation has never gone beyond 2.9%. The share of higher education has hovered around 0.6%. Even out of that, 90% of the funds allotted by the government to public HEIs are used for operational expenses, including salaries, which leaves very little for future development and quality improvement in teaching-learning and research. Situation in private institutions is equally bad mostly due to the prevalence of private motive of senior managements.

Secondly, it is estimated that another 3 crore students will be entering higher education by 2030 and the country probably does not have the funds to create the infrastructure required for this. As per a study, it requires Rs 4 lakhs to create an additional seat in a professional programme in any HEI.

Investment, in higher education, public or private, is critical and on this depends our future development and prosperity of the country.

Source of Funds

The system of supporting HEIs that was evolved just after independence, and has continued after that, relied mainly on funds from the government. Private sector has entered the higher education arena in a big way since the early 2000s. But, both the public and private sector HEIs have suffered due to paucity of finds. Lately, things have changed what with the stock market going north and the country has a large number of billionaires (also known as HNIs – High net worth individuals). Almost 40 HNIs were added just during the pandemic. These HNIs and alumni, within and outside the country, can support HEIs provided they see that the money they provide to the HEIs would be judiciously utilised. Indian School of Business, at Hyderabad and Mohali, is one such example.  Equally, the way Plaksha University is coming up in Mohali, is a case in point. Both these HEIs have come up from scratch with the support of businessmen and entrepreneur philanthropists. The list of co-founders is just amazing. Approached appropriately there is a great chance of success to receive funds from such sources. India has not explored this option.

There are a large number of Indian billionaires and HNIs donating to HEIs abroad. Cornell, Harvard, Wharton, and Yale universities, and LSE, Kings College have been prominent beneficiaries of funds from Indian alumni. These institutions have identified potential donors and kept them connected by inviting them to be part of various strategic development committees, Boards, Advisory Bodies etc. In short, they were being cultivated for a possible donation at the right time. Indian universities have not built and maintained relationships and engagements and have missed out on this possibility so far. Most of the HEIs are not even in touch with their alumni.

This environment has changed but the old system continues. It is time for a rethink. In the west most HEIs are raising funds from the community and are self-sufficient in resources. These are of course raised in a very professional manner. In the US alone the non-profit sector raises $ 470 bn a year and about $60 bn is spent on education. Most of the HEIs have a proper ‘development office’ whose role is to support its educational efforts and financial needs. A development office helps in creating a vision, a strategic plan for the future and identifies and builds relationship. This will help undertake fundraising to meet its future needs.

This is exactly what HEIs in India ought to do to ensure that they are future ready. Can we continue to deprive our students of quality education? Should we deny scholarship support to our talented students from EWS? This concept of ‘fundraising’ is alien to Indian HEIs but it is not rocket-science and with some support and a systematic approach a beginning can be made. It is not that the leaders in academia and bureaucracy are not aware of this fact. But there has been a lack of vision and know-how to embark on fund-raising campaigns.

The IITs, IIMs and some other institutions have been able to raise funds, mainly from their alumni in India and abroad, but it is only a small fraction of their potential. Moreover, it has been based on ad hoc approach and whims of individuals. Institutions will be able to achieve results if they do it in a professional way – The development office way. Fundraising, is a professional activity which demands capacity building, leadership, relationship building, patience and communication. In short it is an art. An institution can afford to put off a decision in this regard only at its own peril.

Here is what it takes for an institution to start fund raising:

A Decision. Actually, the decision is already made as almost all institutions wish to attain greater heights. There will be challenges along with the decision but each of these can be addressed with right approach.

Leadership. Providing leadership to an institution is the most important ingredient for success. Not only has it a great role in Fund Raising but in the entire strategic planning and implementation of all aspects. Creating a vision to make the institution ‘future ready’ and making and implementing an action plan with time lines contributes to success. An involved leadership that can make it happen. However, it will take the leaders time and connections.

Creating a Development Office. A development office is one that works with the leadership to create its strategy, creating objectives, identifying and building relationships and the brand of the institution.  It caters to public relations, publications, alumni relations, and development. Staff has to be specifically employed and then further trained. The mantra to success is: take one step at a time, start small and continue building further. There will have to be a senior functionary who has the ability to work on major donations and this requires initial training and finesse.

Vision and Dynamic Mission. An institution has to prepare itself on a 10-to-20-year horizon, understand the needs of the future and prepare for the next generation. This will lead to creating clear cut objectives that are relevant for communities.

Case for Support. The institution will have to create a Case for Support for the institution which is putting in one place all the positive attributes of the institution, which will appeal to the potential donors. It must project its credibility and achievements in lofty terms. The case for support has to aim high but yet sound to be achievable.

Feasibility Study. Before seeking any major investment for an institution it is often useful to undertake a feasibility study which can be done internally or preferably outsourced.

Fundraising for education is a crying need but has a great potential. It takes time but can be done with a systematic approach and proper guidance.

During my service with academia, I have come across Maj Gen Surat Sandhu who specialises in fund raising. As CEO of HelpAge India he has been successfully raising funds for that organisation. He has also been a consultant with Brakeley Management and Fundraising Consultants, UK, who specialise in Fundraising for HEIs. He has 26 years of experience in fund-raising. HEIs can contact him and he is available at surat21@gmail.com and is prepared to guide and help any HEI.


One thought on “Enhancing Effectiveness and Sustainability of Higher Education Through Fund Raising”
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