Ingenio editorial: an investment in our future

Opinion: Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon reflects on a stunningly successful fundraising campaign, and why it was needed.

In many universities around the world, the ‘impact agenda’ is becoming an important issue, reflecting the desire of those who invest in the universities – particularly governments and their funding bodies – to be assured that their investment is having a positive impact.

While the desire to see a ‘return on investment’ is understandable, it can be problematic for the universities. This is so for several reasons. First, the impact we have on our graduates is not immediate, but lasts through their lifetime and is often intergenerational. Second, even a major new research finding will often take many years before it has an impact on society. For example, a new therapy will have to go through exhaustive testing before it can be made available for clinical use. And third, each new finding depends on the knowledge creation that has gone before it, often over a long period of time, but without which that finding would not have been possible.

In short, attaching a particular impact to a particular investment is extraordinarily difficult. An alternative approach is to look more holistically at the impact of a whole institution. That was the approach taken by the 2019 inaugural Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings to assess the performance of each university against some of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The University of Auckland was ranked No 1 internationally, reflecting the strong desire of our people to make a positive difference to the lives of others in New Zealand and around the world.

Increasingly, our ability to make a difference depends not only on the investment by government and students, but also on the willingness of our alumni and friends to support us. This has been the basis of the For All Our Futures campaign, which has sought to increase alumni engagement and generate financial support for our students, teaching and research.

It has been stunningly successful, not only in meeting its direct objectives, but also in further enhancing the impact the University has on society. One hundred stories of that impact were highlighted to our community over the final weeks of the campaign. There could have been many hundreds more and each would illustrate very well how this University makes a difference.

What the campaign has shown incontrovertibly is that philanthropy has become a powerful vehicle for the University to achieve many things that would otherwise not be possible.

Because of the investment of our donors, the University is a different and more capable organisation. That investment in the creation and dissemination of knowledge, and in the support of our students, will produce dividends for many years to come. And for the hundreds of stories of impact there are hundreds of donors who contributed to them and to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude.

At the founding of the Auckland University College in 1883, the Governor, Sir William Jervois, noted the importance of “placing the advantages of a university education within the reach of every man and woman of Auckland”.

Today he would have said, “of New Zealand and the world” and he would surely have referenced our research as well as our education. The work of our staff and students has, over many generations, had a huge impact.

Thank you for helping us make a difference.

Stuart McCutcheon

This piece first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Ingenio magazine. 

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