As inflation sores universities are claiming they are struggling financially. Rather than cutting the bloated wages of management, bosses are looking for any other financial solution. Of course, this comes at the cost of students and staff. In the latest attack on our education, university bosses are looking to get philanthropic donations from the ultra wealthy.  However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. This will further damage universities and broaden the class divide. 

UK Universities, in their search to cover costs, are increasingly accepting philanthropic donations from the ultra-wealthy. At Bristol University, amounts raised through philanthropy increased by 219% between 2017 and 2021. 

This represents another nail in the coffin for the future of British higher education. The whims of the ultra-rich must be kept out of our education and research institutions. In order to do this we must turn back the clock on marketisation. 

Problems of marketisation 

Since 2016, the University College Union (UCU) has struck every year. Last year, UNISON, which organises non-academic staff on campus, also came out to the pickets in their own strike. 

This was due to poor working conditions and pension cuts for lecturers. As we have explained before, the marketisation of education means universities are run like any other business. Management cut costs by attacking workers (though continue to pay themselves bloated salaries). Their metric for success lies in their ability to make as much money as possible. 

The increase in the acceptance of private donations that we are seeing follows this trend. The money acquired allows for huge vanity projects. This is done to attract more students, who in turn bring money. Thus the cycle continues. 

So-called charity 

It has been claimed by Imperial College’s Hugh Brady that over the past decade attitudes towards taking gifts from wealthy donors has “changed immensely”. Substantial increases in philanthropy are being seen in many Universities. Bristol is not alone. Imperial saw £55mn in donations in 2021 compared with the £5mn they secured in 2011. 

These donations are defended by explanations that the money is needed to offer a quality of student experience and research output that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. It is a disgrace that Universities have faced such severe cuts that they must look for other ways to fill the University coffers. Where does the money go?

According to the UCU, universities made a record breaking £41.1bn in 2020/21.They had  £3.4bn more cash in the bank than in the year before. Rather than invest this in the staff or students, universities are spending this money on vanity projects. Like the University of Reading’s new campus in Malaysia, which was forced to backtrack after losing the university millions.

The reality is that, for the capitalists, philanthropy is rarely philanthropic. As Engels said “the bourgeoisie assumes a hypocritical, boundless philanthropy, but only when its own interests require it.”  Universities relying on these donations poses a huge risk to academia – specifically what projects are funded.

A comparison can be made with the pharmaceutical industry, in which the private sector is guided not by compassion to cure or ease illness, but by what ensures the most reliable profits. 

This is seen in AIDs research. In 2003 the drug Fuzeon was introduced which would cost patients a devastating $20,000 a year. Although there has more recently been a push to fund research for a vaccine, the funding for this has been almost entirely done by the government or non-profit groups. 

The pharmaceutical industry and private donors act within their own interests when donating to universities. This will only be compounded with the reliance of our research and education institutions on rich donors. 

Nepotism strengthened 

As if the ultra-wealthy won’t have enough ability to bend education to benefit them, research shows that reliance on big donors comes with the price of accepting the children of these donors into Universities. Mandee Heller Adler, founder of the International College Counselors, said that ‘a less competitive application can become an accept’ if it comes from the child of a donor. 

It is clear that this further damages the ability of working class youth to receive an education, keeping some great minds without the necessary education to fulfill their potential and drive society forwards. 

End marketised education! 

With the deepening crisis of capitalism, the representatives of this system are making mistake after mistake. While this reliance on philanthropy may allow some capitalists to increase their profits by picking and choosing which research to fund, this will only lead to a greater crisis for the whole capitalist system. 

The further warping of British education and research in favour of the profit motive will damage Britain’s long term reputation in international relations even further. Rather than stabilising education, as the vice-chancellors, who are suggesting this, wish, the reliance on the ultra-wealthy will only damage education more. 

For students and workers, the problem of limited resources and burnt out staff will not be solved by this decision. In fact, letting those who are profit hungry and self interested have a say in the direction of Universities will lead to a worsening of the conditions in education. 

The only solution to the rapid decline of British education is a fully funded education system, planned and controlled by students and staff. For this, a socialist transformation of society is needed. 

End the marketisation of education! Democratically plan universities by students and staff!

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