Leeds University’s donations help make a ‘real difference’ for students and academics

Leeds University scholar Naomi Maher. Credit: Simon Jenkins.

Leeds University scholar Naomi Maher. Credit: Simon Jenkins.

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STUDENTS and academics have praised the impact a Leeds university campaign to secure £60m in alumni donations has had on their work.

Leeds University launched the Making a World of Difference campaign in 2010.

University of Leeds Enterprise PhD Scholar Nele Warmke. Credit: Simon Jenkins.

University of Leeds Enterprise PhD Scholar Nele Warmke. Credit: Simon Jenkins.

It was the institution’s first major fundraising drive since the 1920s and was described at the time as “a leap of faith”.

Now six years on the target of £60m has been reached and the university is setting its sights on collecting £40m more and £100m in total by 2020.

The money collected has supported both top level research and work in schools to support pupils from backgrounds who do not normally go to university.

One such scheme is Reach for Excellence which works with post 16 students in Yorkshire.

One student to benefit from this is Naomi Maher, who spent most of her childhood moving between foster homes.

She said: “Amid all of the disruptions in my life, I decided I didn’t want to just be another statistic. I didn’t want to be marred by the stereotypes of children in the care system of being unlovable and unable to succeed.”

After being supported by Reach for Excellence Naomi earned a place at Leeds, where a scholarship has been crucial to her success.

“It has been amazing,” she said. “I could afford to buy books, join university societies and spend more of my time outside lectures studying and focusing on my degree, without financial worries.”

Now in her second year she is on track to achieve a first class honours degree.

She added: “My scholarship is a symbol that someone out there believes in me. And if someone else believes in me, then I can believe in me too.”

Further funding has allowed talented students to develop their business ideas – young entrepreneurs like Dan Saul Pilgrim, whose publishing venture Logan and Saul was given advice, mentoring and space in the University’s

enterprise incubator. “I’m tremendously grateful,” says Dan. “It has set me up for where I want to go in life.”

Other students have been funded to conduct fieldwork around the globe and to develop their talents in sport, leadership and the performing arts.

One sports scholar, triathlete Gordon Benson, took gold at the 2015 European Games in Baku and now has Rio firmly in his sights – alongside fellow University sports scholars Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee.

Donations are also supporting research into major challenges in areas such as medicine, engineering and climate change. When the university appealed for donors to support cardiovascular research, more than 1,600 contributed, enabling the appointment of medic Nele Warmke to work on the project while studying for her PhD.

She said: “I hope that through this support I can make a difference during these four years, and hopefully in the long term this will make a real difference to patients. I really appreciate this funding.”