Philanthropic preferences of the ultra-wealthy are changing, leading to a growing number of Rich 200 members offering multimillion-dollar donations to top universities. The trend offers big opportunities for the academic sector and may become especially important as revenue from foreign students falls in response to the high Australian dollar.
On February 5, Canberra-raised Graham Tuckwell became the latest Rich 200 member to sign a personal cheque for the benefit of a university when he gave $50 million to the Australian National University.
The donation is believed to be the biggest ever made by an individual to an Australian university. It will be used to fund scholarships worth up to $100,000 each over a five-year degree.
Last year, Rich 200 member and former chief executive of engineering giant WorleyParsons John Grill announced plans to give $20 million to the University of Sydney.
Another list member and philanthropist, Robert Maple-Brown, who died last year, was remembered by University of NSW chancellor David Gonski as having
played a “significant role in the development of our university and the wider Australian society”.
Tuckwell’s donation was notable not just for its amount but the prominence with which it was announced and ANU vice-chancellor Ian Young hopes it will encourage other wealthy people to support the schools they attended.
Tuckwell completed economics and law degrees at ANU in the 1970s and ’80s before starting the first exchange-traded commodity business in Australia in 2003. The bulk of his $775 million fortune comes from his stake in ETF Securities, which is based in the UK.
Tuckwell told BRW last May that he was planning to sell his stake in the business to focus on philanthropy. While the sale fell through, Tuckwell pushed ahead with the creation of the Graham & Louise Tuckwell Foundation, seeded with $80 million of his money. When he started the foundation, Tuckwell said he was inspired by the US tradition of philanthropy, where support to one’s alma mater is a more established practice.
In January, for example, New York City mayor and Bloomberg financial markets news service founder, Michael Bloomberg, pledged $US350 million to his old school, John Hopkins University.
“Many kids at these universities get a great education and they never have to pay a cent for it,” Tuckwell told BRW last August. “That’s because those before them got the same break and later when they became successful they gave back to those institutions.”
Tuckwell believes wealthy Australians should do more to support philanthropic causes rather than leave most of their vast fortunes to their children.
“Without naming any, [the rich] generally have not put the majority of their wealth behind strong philanthropic causes,” he said after announcing his $50 million gift. “Unfortunately in some cases, they pass the wealth down to later generations who have behaved badly. And I think that’s a really bad example.”