Tell us about the broader work of Santander Universities.
Santander Universities is the now largest corporate donor to higher education in the world. We have donated just over €1.4 billion across 81 partner universities since the programme started in 1999. We provide funding for scholarships, for mobility, for internships, and for entrepreneurship.
How did this relationship between Santander and universities first come about?
Santander believes that the future of society is in its universities – and so we want to provide a corporate social responsibility programme that provides funding to higher education. It started with a movement of students between Latin America and Spain, but ultimately expanded to every country Santander operated in and became the university programme we have today. Hence, when Santander acquired Abbey National in 2004, we started the UK universities programme.
How did Santander Universities determine the specific strands of support for universities: scholarships, travel bursaries and mobility, internships, and entrepreneurship?
Scholarships relate to the movement of students between countries in which Santander operates. When we came to the UK in particular we found there was a strong emphasis from partner universities on bringing top international students here – and scholarships certainly help to make that proposition more attractive. They have always been the bedrock of the philanthropic agreements we have with universities since we started – every single partnership includes scholarships, including LSE of course.
Mobility was a theme within our pillar of internationalisation. We want students to have overseas experiences and we want to help academics with their research – mobility grants offer these opportunities that otherwise would not be possible. It is fantastic to hear the stories of what the funding has enabled – it genuinely changes people’s lives, and we are proud of our role in that regard.
The focus on internships originates in our belief that, following the recession, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the future of the economy in the UK. When I go to partner universities, I am often asked by students how they can get into large corporate companies – and often they have not even considered working with a local SME. We want to encourage this and so we set up the programme three years ago. Now, at the end of our third cycle, we have part funded around 6,500 internships to work with SMEs across the UK. It has been very successful with LSE and we have just recently announced a fourth year which will deliver another 2,000 internships.
I have found that entrepreneurship is very much a strategic priority of the institutions themselves – universities are keen for us to be involved and obviously, as a bank, we have some expertise in that area. When assessing our support overall we spend a lot of time listening to the institution’s leadership and seeing if our funding can help support their strategic vision.
LSE students have greatly benefited from Santander’s support to the Careers Service, particularly in the area of entrepreneurship. Why do you think it’s so important to support budding entrepreneurs?
We need to stimulate talent – we just do not know where that next brilliant world changing idea might come from, and it would be wonderful if it emanated from our universities network. It’s important to emphasise to students the importance of sharing their ideas, as that allows us to help them in their development. But it’s also important to try and counter the fear of failure – if an idea does not work out, then you learn from it and try again. Rather than seeing university being merely about gaining an academic qualification and then going to work for a large corporate entity, we want to foster ideas and help students to develop their entrepreneurial spirit.
How important is it to have partnerships between corporate entities and institutions of learning?
From our point of view, corporate social responsibility is extremely important. Around 80 per cent of what we give back to society goes to higher education, and we hope there are more companies out there willing to replicate how we are working with institutions like LSE. We are very happy to talk about the amount of money that we have put into higher education and the numerous strands we support if it helps encourage others to do likewise. I think we need to share and celebrate such giving so hopefully others will see, read, or hear about it and get involved themselves. Furthermore, just for us to be associated with world renowned universities is a privilege and an honour.
On that note, what does it mean to Santander to be added to LSE’s Benefactors’ Board?
It is just a huge honour. When I spoke with Professor Julia Black [Director of LSE] we discussed how 2017 will see us reach ten years of working with LSE, which goes to show the strength of our partnership. It is a very long term commitment for Santander – I foresee it running for another ten years and beyond. It is also naturally pleasing to be recognised formally for the amount that we have contributed to higher education through the Benefactors’’ Board, and we perhaps do not talk enough about what we do with our partner universities – if this helps us encourage more corporations or individuals do the same, then that is fantastic as well.