Wealthy and influential universities have long benefited from the philanthropic donations of affluent alumni, collecting millions of pounds a year for libraries, sports facilities and other endeavours. But now the universities have a serious rival: private schools.
Over the past 10 years, the private school sector has tripled the amount it collects through fundraising. Experts say that the sector, which includes renowned schools such as Eton College and Harrow School, will raise some #163;115 million this year, up from #163;40 million in 2003.
Analysts say that schools have been creating fundraising departments as they come under pressure to limit fee rises during the economic downturn and provide bursaries for poorer children. Schools are also using the money to offer discounts to parents who have fallen on hard times.
The trend, highlighted in this year's National Independent Schools' Benchmarking Survey, follows a long tradition of fundraising in the US, where many schools rely on the extra income it generates. More than 1,000 firms offer fundraising services to schools, and schools raise millions of dollars a year by selling consumer products and collecting donations from parents and alumni networks.
According to the latest report - presented to the annual conference of the Institute of Development Professionals in Education (IDPE) recently, about 40 per cent of fundraising departments were established in the past five years.
Lord Wandsworth College, a small boarding school in Hampshire, has raised #163;3.3 million in five years to feed into a fund that offers bursaries to children who have lost one or both of their parents.
"Our foundation is one of Hampshire's leading children's charities and we have supported more than 2,500 children since we were established 100 years ago," headmaster Fergus Livingstone said. "Fundraising is essential to our ability to continue offering this level of support."
Kate Chernyshov, development director at the school and vice-chair of the fast-growing IDPE, said: "Schools are increasingly looking to diversify their income streams. There is pressure to do more than just straightforward teaching of lessons and do more outreach, break down barriers and understand that there's a community around us."
She denied that the fundraising boom had been driven by the recession and said private schools had become more skilled at communicating the impact of bursaries, helping schools "to place our work among the work of other charities".
"When people leave the school and want to make a donation to a charity, they trust us to use it well," Ms Chernyshov said.
Other schools that have trumpeted their fundraising success include King Edward's School in Birmingham, which has raised #163;5 million over the past three years from 800 donors. The cash will be used to provide bursaries for clever boys from deprived backgrounds who could not otherwise attend the school.
Some state schools have also got in on the act, but selective grammar schools are likely to benefit most. Dr Challoner's Grammar School in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, has received several million pounds in recent years, and recently raised #163;750,000 in nine months to build a new sixth-form centre.
Fundraising in the state sector is likely to be supported by projects such as Future First, which helps state schools to establish and exploit alumni networks.