Universities raise big donations, because pledging money to these institutions is perceived as a grand act of philanthropy. Besides the $200 million raised by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), the renaming of the College of Alice and Peter Tan (here) in NUS’s University Town raised eyebrows as well. A journalist from The Straits Times, Miss Janice Heng, did a great job of explaining the motivations for donating to universities on Sunday.
Even if it is not edifice complex, where donors derive satisfaction from having buildings or auditoriums named after them, “[d]onations to universities fit into a vision of progress and a brighter future in a way that donations to a cancer charity, say, may not”.
These donations are not necessarily negative. Faculties and colleges need funds for research and purchases of resources, and we need the institutions to spearhead academic endeavours in the region. Furthermore, the sums that go into the scholarships and bursaries will help students from low-income households to cope, and not be unduly worried about expenses. The value of the financial input would be greatly magnified, and benefit more individuals.
Based on this line of reasoning however, Miss Heng makes the intelligent proposition that such enthusiasm for investment should be extended throughout the education system.
Figures and statistics are not publicly available, which makes it difficult to draw accurate comparisons. Thus, it seems impossible to determine if the big donations going to Singapore’s universities dwarf the combined contributions to the primary and secondary schools (though intuitively, this assumption isn’t too ridiculous).
The next question is: how then do we encourage donors to do the same in our schools?
Leveraging upon strong alumni networks will be a good strategy. It wouldn’t be surprising to know that schools – with a notable history and tradition – would find it easier to attract their graduates to gift large sums to their alma maters. Publicity, based on the “every school is a good school” maxim, can prove helpful too. In addition, the Ministry of Education (MOE) could nudge big-time donors and foundations in the right direction, to convince them that investment in education is a long-term one. Schools in need of more bursaries and scholarships (perhaps premised upon socio-economic backgrounds of the students’ household) or infrastructural enhancements can be prioritised, and these private donations can complement the endeavours of the MOE and the community organisations.