Wealthy and influential universities have long benefited from the philanthropic donations of their affluent alumni, collecting millions of pounds a year for libraries, sports facilities and other endeavours. But now the universities have a serious rival: UK private schools.
Figures show that over the past 10 years the private school sector in Britain has tripled the amount that it collects through fundraising. Experts claim that the sector, which includes world-famous schools such as Eton College and Harrow School, will raise an estimated #163;115 million this year, up from #163;40 million in 2003.
Analysts say that schools have been hurriedly creating fundraising departments as they come under pressure to limit fee increases 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 that it generates. More than 1,000 companies 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.
'Fundraising is essential'
According to the latest report - presented to the annual conference of the Institute of Development Professionals in Education (IDPE) last week - the fundraising boom is nascent: about 40 per cent of fundraising departments were established in the past five years.
Lord Wandsworth College, a small boarding school in the county of Hampshire in the South of England, 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, added: "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, adding that private schools have 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 successes include the King Edward's School in Birmingham in the West Midlands, which has raised #163;5 million over the past three years from 800 donors. The money will be used to provide bursaries for clever boys from deprived backgrounds who could not otherwise attend the school.
A number of state schools have also got in on the act, although selective grammar schools are likely to reap the biggest rewards. Dr Challoner's Grammar School in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, has received several million pounds over the past five years, and recently raised #163;750,000 in nine months to build a new sixth-form centre for 16- to 18-year-olds.
The trend towards 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.