Tallinn University of Technology

Tallinn University of Technology is developing a culture of donation for higher education and science. We asked the university’s Vice-Rector for Entrepreneurship Sven Illing why it was necessary, how to contribute and how it benefits us..

Sven Illing

Which problem is the university solving by developing a culture of donation?

Individual donations allow for a faster and more flexible allocation of resources in a society wherever they are needed. Developing national support mechanisms takes time and the state cannot help everywhere. Individuals can make significantly faster decisions about support, so the system becomes more efficient and self-regulating.

With the campaign, the university wants to draw attention to donating specifically to higher education and science. Why so?

It does not come as a surprise that higher education in Estonia is underfunded. The salaries of lecturers and researchers are modest, especially compared to the world’s top universities. There are serious issues with successors. The younger generation of Estonia does not want to embark on a doctorate, not to mention become a researcher. It is certainly partly due to low salary levels. In terms of the private sector, there is a particularly large pay gap compared to the IT sector.

It should be noted that TalTech’s salary level is the highest among Estonian universities, but the competition for talent is global. How would we bring a young Estonian scientist from Stanford to TalTech when they are offered several million to start their own lab there, but we are unable to do so?

Our campus (and colleges) also needs additional resources and the research infrastructure is in dire need of updating. The state has said that no additional money will be allocated to buildings and research equipment in the next funding period. But how will the university build a new IT building? How will they replace outdated equipment? How are we going to increase salaries? We need to find several funding opportunities, such as EU research projects, business agreements and bank loans, but I expect donations to play a significant role in the long term as well.

How do you imagine the future of Estonian donation culture?

I believe that Estonian people will donate significantly more in the future than now. This is possible because of capital accumulation. Over the next 10-20 years, successful technology companies will be established in Estonia, whose founders, local investors and even employees can earn millions of euros from the sale of shares. We already have dozens of such examples.

Successful local entrepreneurs in other business sectors (such as manufacturing, construction, real estate, commerce, etc.) will also continue to accumulate capital. Furthermore, the generation of entrepreneurs who started in the 1990s are retiring and they probably have more time and desire for charity. The most successful Estonian entrepreneurs could donate hundreds of thousands of euros. They could also keep the university in mind in their will.

In short, significantly more people and companies are going to have the economic capability to donate substantial amounts. And this is important. In the United States of America, 91% of wealthy people donate. The current yearly volume of donations in Estonia is 35 million euros (0.15% of the

GDP), but it could increase more than ten times in the next ten years. The yearly volume of donations in the USA is 2.3% of the GDP, but in Estonia it is around 0.15%. That is fourteen times lower.

The universities in the USA receive 50 million dollars per year in donations. If Estonian universities received the same amount of donations reduced to a percentage of the GDP, then Estonian universities would have been donated 70 million euros in total this year. Universities would be less dependent on public funding and thus less dependent on politics. I believe that in 20 years, the volume of donations received by Estonian universities is 100 million euros per year. For this to happen, we need to act today.

Let us talk about this campaign. Why is the contribution of university staff important?

Donating to higher education and research is not widespread in Estonia. With the crowdsourcing process, we want to include people connected to the university and have them reflect on how to get more people to share input and donate – which solutions, structure and projects to use.

We need to present donors with clear reasons for donating. For example, asking money in order to increase researchers’ salaries would probably not work, but donors might understand the need to equip a laboratory for the development of a cancer drug. But how do we use communication to reach potential donors?

It is important to keep in mind that change starts with us. Every one of us can donate to anything – if you see a problem, donate or go and help. More important than the amount is the mentality that everyone can help. I recently spoke to an expatriate Estonian who said that they have supported their alma mater with a certain percentage of their income for decades. They said it was normal. They are quite wealthy by now and the amount is different than it was after graduation, but the idea is the same. I want to emphasise that volunteering is also a form of donating. It is very positive that the percentage of volunteers in Estonia is constantly increasing (it reached 49% in 2019), but at the same time, it is below the average of the European Union.

Please give some examples of donating that TalTech is currently using.

An increasing number of companies and civilians are offering scholarships to students. Donations can be made tax-free through the TalTech Development Fund. Every year, up to 50 companies and civilians contribute around 150,000 euros. Additionally, companies help the university to acquire better equipment, the necessary licences and to furnish classrooms. This year, FLIR Systems Estonia gave the university infrared cameras for studies and research. The donation was worth over 50,000 euros and FLIR earned the title of an important benefactor. Previously, the development of iseAuto, the student formula and space satellites have been supported with money and development resources.

What will improve in TalTech when this project ends or reaches an intermediate stage?

Donation and its systematic management is work that has no definite end. The crowdsourcing idea collecting competition lasts until 14 October. Then we select up to 10 best ideas, which can be shaped into a real solution during a hackathon in November. Up to three best solutions will receive 10,000 euros in order to carry out their idea with TalTech. So hopefully we will see the results of crowdsourcing 2021 in the spring of next year.

What will change? Campaigns, systems and/or a platform has been created, which helps us communicate projects in need of donations and support even better. A system has been set up or is being set up for automatic acceptance of donations, further communication with donors, an overview of the use of the donation, etc.

When could we see the results of the project?

We hope to see the first results in the spring. But first, you need to think a bit about donation and submit your idea to the idea collecting competition. I thus invite all students and alumni to think along and submit their idea by 14 October on the crowdsourcing website.