Students are being encouraged to enter into a lifetime of giving to their universities after graduating, despite having to pay higher tuition fees.
Universities across the West Midlands have stepped up fundraising targeted at graduates in a bid to develop a US-style long term financial relationship with them.
They will be encouraged to donate money to their institution throughout their lives as a mark of affiliation to the place where they studied.
The push comes ahead of a new £200 million scheme to be launched in August in which the Government has pledged to match fund the amount of money English universities receive through donations.
As a result, universities are currently on a hard sell to get graduates to change the way they think about the institution from which they gained their degree.
Birmingham University – which has a more established fundraising operation – received the biggest single alumni donation in the region five years ago when former student Dr Paul Ramsay donated £1 million.
The university’s director of development and alumni relations Nick Blinco said: “It is about saying ‘help us make this a world class university’.
“It is not about filling holes in funding. If you look at the US model, which is what everyone in this country seems to do, the amount people give is relatively modest but it is the fact that many more contribute that provides a serious income.
“What we are trying to do is look to build relationships in the short, medium and long term.”
Warwick University has raised £3 million from donations since 1997 and has been in touch with 35,000 graduates. The biggest donations have been in the region of £300,000.
The university’s director of major gifts Mary McGrath said: “There is a big cultural shift in people’s attitude to higher education giving.
“Ten years ago it wasn’t something they would have considered giving to. But now they think if they give to research at a university that may find a cure for cancer, that is as good if not better than giving to a cancer charity.”
Ms McGrath added: “The more people understand what universities can do and the impact they can have the more they will support them.
“Donors really enjoy it. You get to the stage where you know the person who wants to do something generous and if you can match that with something worthwhile at the university you are a facilitator to do something good.
“It is not going around with a begging bowl. They are investing in success and taking their university to another level.”
Ms McGrath said the cultural shift was already happening and students who only left a year ago were already donating cash.
Aston University’s director of marketing and communications Kathryn Jones said: “Three years ago we appointed a new manager and we are ramping up our activities, not so much with the fundraising but building up the relationships. We are conducting a feasibility study to see what possibilities there are.
“It is my belief there is a lot of potential and people who want to donate to the cause. America is about 30 years ahead of us but there is a willingness here and it is about taking that to the next level.”
The greater focus on financial support from former students comes in the wake of a growing emphasis for universities to become more self-sustaining.
The introduction of tuition top-up fees, tripling the amount students pay to study, was part of a drive to shift income away from public money.
Ministers claim it is no longer possible for the state to fund higher education, particularly in light of a policy decision to get half of all young people to university to create a more highly educated workforce able to compete on the global stage.