Philanthropists Graham and Louise Tuckwell have announced Australia’s largest personal philanthropic contribution to a university, worth $200 million over 30 years to fund a major expansion of the prized Tuckwell Scholarship Program at the ANU.

Over the next two years, the Tuckwells also plan on investing $100 million into the two new student residences being constructed, with revenue from the two halls funding the scholarship “in perpetuity.” This expansion will also involve the construction of $10 million Scholars House building, and the number of scholarships is projected to increase each year.

At present, the scholarships provide $21,700 to each scholar per year for five-years of undergraduate study. There are 68 Tuckwell scholars at the time of writing, with 25 added each year.

Woroni sat down with the Tuckwells and the ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt for an interview.

Why do you think philanthropy is important especially in an academic perspective?

Graham: If you have wealth or assets, you should be using them for productive purposes. My perspective, as a business owner, is injecting that money back into the business to bolster its production. One of the things I am very proud of is the fact that I’ve created 100 jobs, and an environment where people enjoy working. Our view is, instead of just giving a little bit of money here and a little bit of money there, and being invited to functions. To me, it’s another business. A business to us is focusing on one thing and making it succeed.

It’s not just the money. I spend the majority of time on the Tuckwell program, and have done for the last two or years. Louise reads every application from cover to cover, and remembers it. It’s extraordinary.

The money is the way to instigate the program, but we’re a big driver of the scholarship program ourselves. Education to us is transformative. Combine a great education with drive and you can change the world.

America has much more of a philanthropic culture when it comes to Universities, compared to Australia, why do you think this happens?

Graham: The U.S. is incredible at organising their alumni. For example, instead of just an annual alumni meeting, they invite their alumni back for their ‘special’ years like every five or ten years with a major event. Not that many people want to come to an event every year, but if it happens less regularly people make an effort.

Brian: It’s a long-standing culture within the U.S. and it wasn’t there one-hundred years ago. Its been done because, I think, the U.S. has a slightly different culture where if they see the Government not doing things, they just get on and do it. Australia has a culture where they relied on the Government to do a lot of things. Within education especially, I think Tuckwell, can see some shortcomings. They can go in and make a massive difference. Through philanthropy people are realising they can make a big difference.

Graham: Governments can do a lot. They can help a lot of the disadvantaged. There’s big numbers there, and we can’t help that alone. That’s why we focus on celebrating the exceptional students within Australia through the Tuckwell Program. We want interesting people, not just those who achieved a 99.95 ATAR.

How do you balance between saving money for yourself and choosing to donate it to an institution like the ANU?

Graham: The business only took off six or seven years ago. It was a huge risk. Frankly, we were broke when we started it. We had a six months left in the business before it would have collapsed.

Louise: When we moved to London, all of our children started at a school that we only saw online. The business succeeded, and we would have never anticipated the money that we received. We suddenly had an influx of money, and we thought is this a healthy thing for our children to keep all this money? We’ve always felt very strongly about education.

How will the contribution change the university?

Brian: I want a national university. We want to be doing things on an international level. I want a student cohort made up of the best people within Australia. The Tuckwell Scholarship, when I first heard about it, was exactly what I thought we needed. It changed the conversation, and it allowed us to engage with students all across Australia and select a diverse group of students.

It’s the national university, and we’re supposed to be a meeting place for students all across the country. It shouldn’t just be ATAR, but we want it to be more diverse than that. We want to mix those 99.95 ATAR’s with people who’ve worked on a farm, or came from overseas. It’s a world-class scholarship program and I believe it will continue to enrich the ANU.

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