Like most students Farah Daher wants to be able to leave university with a well-rounded education.

But for Farah—like thousands of other students throughout Australia—that is not a possibility without financial help.

As the landscape of funding in Australian tertiary education goes through its most dramatic upheaval for decades, the role of philanthropy and encouraging a culture of giving to higher education is becoming a much more important and immediate concern for Australian universities.

For Daher, the gift of a scholarship meant she has been able to become involved in the extracurricular activities that are part of her double degree in law and international studies. She is one of 10 UOW students who are awarded a learning and development scholarship each year that gives them financial support of $3,000 per year for three years.

When it started in 2007, the Learning and Development Scholarship Fund was only able to offer a $1,000, one-off payment to one student in financial hardship, but with support from UOW staff through workplace giving, alumni and the community, the fund has grown to its present capacity.

“The scholarship means I can apply for citizenship activities that are part of the degree,” Daher said. “Without that extra financial support I couldn’t do those things. Travelling and parking, on top of textbooks, which can cost me $500 a semester, makes studying very expensive.”

The University of Wollongong has a strong history of philanthropy. The campus was built through the generous donations of community and industry in the Illawarra after the Lord Mayor, Albert Squires, set up an appeal which raised $100,279 by 1959 to get building works started on the then University of NSW satellite campus.

Since 1975, when the University gained its independence from UNSW, philanthropic support has been an integral part of the institution’s growth to date, however private support is essential to support world-class educational experiences and outcomes for the broader community.

But the reasons and message behind the case for support is changing, according to Director of Advancement at UOW, Monique Harper-Richardson. “Education changes lives and has an enormous impact not just on the individual but at a community and global level.

“Philanthropy through education has the ability to disrupt the current state for a bigger idea, a bigger vision and a wider impact. The fact that philanthropy helped create the University is a great example of what a game-changer education can be through the generosity of others. The University has been able to be part of the changing face of the Illawarra from a region which was once associated just with heavy industry to one that is now associated with education and innovation too,” Harper-Richardson said.

Philanthropy Australia estimates $3 billion is held in private foundations, up from around $2 billion in 2011. At least five per cent of that is donated to charity each year and, as more high-profile philanthropists go public with their donations, it is hoped average Australians will be encouraged to be more generous too. Multimillionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest, at the Philanthropy Australia Conference in August 2014, called on universities in Australia to get better at dealing with small and medium financial donors, rather than focusing their time to the biggest givers.

It’s a recommendation that Harper-Richardson says UOW is already following.

“Getting involved through philanthropy enables meaningful and purposeful relationships dedicated to making a change,” she said.

“The University has always engaged heavily with the community to develop relationships. Gifts of all sizes can make an impact.”

The University of Wollongong relies heavily on those smaller, community donations to not just fund things like the Learning and Development Scholarships, but also to facilitate relationships between the institution and business.

“UOW has the ability to align all the necessary elements—knowledge, relationships and aspiration—together to realise the potential of an idea, to shape society, and to change lives and regions as our mission states,” Harper-Richardson said.

Last year, more than $5.2 million in donations and gifts was received from community organisations, corporations and individuals who gave to a variety of projects, from dementia or cancer research to infrastructure projects and student scholarships.

The University was also one of the founding partners in this year’s Westpac Bicentennial Foundation—the single largest private education scholarship program in Australia’s history. The foundation is worth $100 million and will fund around 100 scholarships and awards every year in perpetuity to Australians from all walks of life who have the potential to shape 
Australia’s future.

Large donations—like the $7 million UOW received last year from Chris Abbott to help fund the building of the new Early Start learning, teaching and research facility due to open early in 2015—are often the gifts that get the most publicity. However, the smaller but no less significant gifts from community groups, individuals and local businesses are the strength of any university development office.

As part of the increasing focus on philanthropy and generating a culture of giving, this year the University of Wollongong USA Foundation was established. This next step in development represents the University’s commitment to having a strong and sustainable presence in North America. According to Harper-Richardson, there are approximately 6,000 UOW alumni currently living and working in the US, half of those having studied at UOW on exchange.

UOW is one of only a handful of Australian universities to have a public charity with 501 (c)(3) status allowing US taxpayers to claim donations as tax deductions. In accordance with this, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees will allocate all 
donated gifts.

And it is nurturing those supporters and encouraging their passion to help shape the future that is set to become the basis for future fundraising.

“UOW provides those who wish to support education financially with a link to where they may want their resources to be deployed, to change the shape of the future,” Harper-Richardson said. 

Philip Stevenson is adamant that education is one of the best gifts in life. And it is a gift that he and his wife wanted to make to UOW students though the establishment of a scholarship

For Philip Stevenson and his wife Elizabeth, donating to the University was a decision they made because they wanted to make a difference not just to the life of one student but future generations. 

Stevenson, who has returned to tertiary study, may be older than most of his fellow students— and lecturers as he likes to joke—but the Southern Highlands’ retiree is adamant that education is one of the best gifts in life. And it is a gift that he and his wife wanted to make to UOW students through the establishment of a scholarship in the social science faculty. 

The Stevenson Family Scholarship in Social Work is one of the first for UOW in this burgeoning field of study and an area about which both the Stevensons are extremely passionate. 

The ongoing scholarship will be offered as an encouragement to prospective students who are seeking to improve the lives of others through the completion of a Bachelor of Social Work or Bachelor of Social Science. 

“As a mature aged student at UOW I appreciate the value of education, perhaps more so than when I was trying to build my own career,” Stevenson said. 

“I also appreciate how much more difficult it is to get started in a career in the present era without scholastic qualifications and so my wife and I agreed that we should try to help those whose advancement is restricted by financial constraints. So we decided to become donors to the UOW Scholarship Program.” 

The Stevensons engaged with the University to see how they could best support students and after talking with the University’s Development Team decided a scholarship would be an ideal way to make a gift. 

“It’s through generous gifts and the support of people like the Stevensons that students at UOW can realise their potential and help make a difference to the world when they graduate,” Renee Burton, Senior Development Co-ordinator, Scholarships said. 

“We work with our scholarship donors to ensure their support is directed to an area they are passionate about, and are extremely grateful for their contribution to students, staff and the community. 

“It is inspiring to work with people like Philip and Elizabeth, who are living and breathing their philosophy of making the world a better place by not only supporting a scholarship but in a discipline that aims to serve the same purpose.”

For more information about how to support the University, through giving to scholarships, research or other areas of learning visit uow.edu.au/donations

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