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Crowdfunding In Higher Education: Evidence From UK Universities

Hugo Horta, Michele Meoli, Silvio Vismara

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AbstractIn contemporary higher education systems, funding is increasingly associated with performativity, assessment, and competition, and universities are seeking different forms of financing their activities. One of these new forms is crowdfunding, a tool enabled by the digitalization of finance. Based on data from the UK higher education system and two crowdfunding platforms, our study adds to previous crowdfunding research in academic settings that have, thus far, focused on research projects, and assesses who is participating, their level of engagement and the resources they have gathered from crowdfunding. Our findings show that crowdfunding is used more by universities that have fewer resources. These universities are more teaching-oriented, less prestigious, and have a student body largely derived from lower socio-economic sectors of society. The popularity of crowdfunding in this type of university suggests that crowdfunding may enhance the democratization of higher education funding. However, as optimal crowdfunding participation and engagement requires high academic-to-student ratios and total-staff-to-academic-staff ratios, universities facing a greater financial precarity may be disadvantaged in their access to and engagement with crowdfunding. Differentials between part-time and full-time student ratios may exacerbate this disadvantage. Our study suggests that crowdfunding is a viable means of obtaining additional financing for learning activities complementing the fundings from other sources, but raises concerns about the use of crowdfunding as a burden to academics and students to find resources to meet learning experiences that ought to be provided by universities in the first place.