The University of Toronto has launched the largest university fundraising campaign in Canadian history, setting an ambitious $2-billion target as it recovers from the blows of a global recession.
The new campaign – twice as large as the university's most recent effort, which ended in 2003 – was unveiled Sunday night at the university's Convocation Hall, and suggests Canadian schools are getting more optimistic that donors are ready to loosen their purse strings again.
U of T has already raised $966-million of the total since president David Naylor took the helm six years ago, and calculated that another $1-billion should be a reasonable benchmark for the years to come.
University fundraising suffered everywhere in recent years as potential donors with dwindling portfolios took wait-and-see postures. In the U.S., giving to colleges plunged 12 per cent in 2009 and stayed down in 2010, according to studies by the Council for Aid to Education.
Confidence at major American universities looks to be rebounding of late, with the University of Southern California announcing a $6-billion campaign in August – the largest ever in higher education. But Canada has been slower to bounce back, Dr. Naylor said.
"I think every university has found the last two or three years a little slower this side of the border," he said. "That's why it makes so much sense to marshal your forces, get your messages straight and get out there. To simply bob along in slightly choppy waters seems defeatist."
The University of British Columbia agrees, having announced a $1.5-billion campaign in late September that briefly set the bar for Canadian universities. They had secured $760-million in advance.
U of T still has a hole of more than $1-billion in its pension plan, and has weathered on-campus protests over concerns that a $35-million gift from gold magnate Peter Munk would give him undue influence at the Munk School of Global Affairs. But Dr. Naylor said "not a thing has changed" about the school's rules or strategies.
And he sees the university's financial outlook improving year by year, with its endowment bouncing back and paying out $65-million a year toward an annual budget that rings in north of $2-billion.
In that spirit, the school's faculties have already made well over $1-billion in pitches for ways the campaign funds could be spent, many focused on improving the student experience while others seek hundreds of millions for brick-and-mortar projects, new research programs and chairs, and a range of other priorities.
"The reason why philanthropy matters so much is it provides an opportunity for faculty and staff to lift their sights above the pretty tough climate of public funding and the always fraught world of tuition fess, and to dream a little bigger," Dr. Naylor said.
Donations have had a profound effect on James Janeiro, a second-year master's student in public policy who was on hand at Sunday's announcement. The 24-year-old Toronto, who also did his undergraduate studies at U of T, has leaned for years on several scholarships and bursaries set up by donors.
Mr. Janeiro was pleasantly surprised to receive $3,000 on admission, later found a scholarship to send him to study in Estonia, and finally won the $5,000 Frances Joan Lambier Scholarship, a post-graduate award to help fund his graduate work.
"I'll have a fraction of the student debt that most of my colleagues will have to carry," Mr. Janeiro said. "The great thing was that it gave me flexibility and it gave me a chance to try things that didn't pay me, so that I could take the summer job that was voluntary but was right up my alley."
U of T will make the case to potential donors – including 500,000 alumni in 174 countries – that its breadth, depth and size give it an advantage in grooming globally engaged students and contributing to major global challenges.
"Many of the things that are troubling this hot and crowded planet are very complex, interconnected, transdisciplinary challenges, from urbanization to global health, from sectarian strife to sustainable energy," Dr. Naylor said.
"All these big themes that have engaged the world's finest research universities have to be built off a base that has some real heft across disciplines. Happily, we have it."