Universities should adopt innovative ways to raise funds

The last two articles have concentrated on matters affecting our Universities; both on the institutions as well as the students (after all, it takes two to tango). These generated interesting responses.  This is a discussion we need to have. The responses also clearly indicated that something needs to be done (and entrepreneurially so) to make things better.
Sam Kebongo
Sam Kebongo

The last two articles have concentrated on matters affecting our Universities; both on the institutions as well as the students (after all, it takes two to tango). These generated interesting responses.  This is a discussion we need to have. The responses also clearly indicated that something needs to be done (and entrepreneurially so) to make things better.

Rwanda’s academic heaven should be something like this; Universities are fully engaged with the society’s issues. Research and debate into better ways of doing things are at an all time high. Universities are leading the way in the quest for how to make things better in farming, doing business, governance, and indeed nationhood. Graduates from our universities come out with confidence knowing that they are rated as highly if not higher than graduates from some foreign capitals. Back to reality and the question is: how do we get to this heaven?

One of the responses I got was that the universities have no cash and therefore cannot help but give no more than lip service to their missions (that sounds familiar, it is everyone’s problem!). This is, nonetheless, a valid concern.

Public and private universities require stable funding streams to survive. New buildings, state-of-the-art facilities and top-notch faculty members require big money. Tuition hikes are the last thing students, parents and university officials want to see.

How should universities be expected to solve this problem, grow and flourish? To answer, consider the following fable:

John, a rich man walked into the Banking hall and asked the manager for a modest loan of 50,000FRW to use on his business trip to Dubai. The Bank manager naturally asked for collateral. John offered his car, a 70 million Franc Lamborghini, as security.

The disbelieving Bank manager insisted that John’s car be parked at the bank’s parking for the duration of his travel and until he pays up. John agreed. He got the loan.

John stayed out for three months and upon his return paid back the loan in full immediately. The bank relieved but intrigued Bank manager finally asked John why a rich man like him would ask for a 50,000 franc loan. “Where else can you park a Lamborghini safely and securely for free for three months”, John replied. 

Like John in the above story, the word is creativity. Our universities have to try a mixture of standard and creative techniques to avoid tuition increases and still raise the necessary funds for the universities. Among these could include the following:

One: Ask the alumni for donations. Proud alumni are a tried-and-true source of money for universities. Use letters, postcards and telephone campaigns to contact potential alumni donors. Use matriculation data like graduation year and field of study to effectively target individuals who are more likely to give money to the university. Two American universities in Michigan surpassed their 2008/2009 fund-raising goals through increased alumni outreach.

Two; Universities could host creative fund-raising events. For example, black-tie award dinners are one way to make money with fund-raising events. Create larger, lower-cost fund-raising events to reach younger audiences. Try hosting concerts featuring popular artists, beauty pageants and poetry slams with low cover charges.

Three: they could ask the government for cash. Public universities are partially funded by state monies. Send a formal request to the state legislature for increased funding. Private universities can also be eligible for certain government funds and tax breaks.

Four: Use research to get funding. Utilize various funding resources to pay for research conducted by staff and students. Government and private sector can also supply the money to conduct research. The research is used to further academic discourse and heighten the reputation of the university.

Five: Sell or lease unused assets. Our universities have a lot of empty rooms from time to time. These can be used, for example by consultancies and other organizations for training and related purposes.

Role of universities is normative; they are supposed to show us the way. They should be the first to come up with solutions to the problems facing the society. They, more than others, are faced with the challenge of solving their problems entrepreneurially.

Who shall bell the cat?

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