Passion - A Key Element in Sydney’s Great Tradition in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Passion - A Key Element in Sydney’s Great Tradition in the Humanities and Social Sciences

By Guy Houghton, Associate Director - Development, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

The University of Sydney is home to Australia’s oldest and most comprehensive liberal arts Faculty. It’s justly proud of a tradition of achievement in interpreting and transmitting archaeology, English, classical and modern languages, history, philosophy and many other subjects, for future generations of scholars, students and citizens. Sydney’s vision is to research, teach and explore the humanities and social sciences, asking questions about who we are, how we have lived and how we could live.

For 160 years, our Faculty’s academics have been thinking, writing and discussing ideas and their consequences for society. While proud to help preserve a rich heritage of artistic, humanistic and social learning, these scholars know that the subjects they teach are profoundly relevant today. Underlining this, Professor Duncan Ivison has argued that there is no such thing as a purely technical or scientific solution to the many pressing problems and issues facing humanity, since all of these challenges exist within complex ethical, historical, cultural and religious contexts. It follows that Arts and Social Sciences graduates have an essential contribution to make, for Australia, its region and the world.

Given that the Faculty’s academic disciplines are historic and wide-ranging, and the uses and pleasures to which this scholarship contributes so varied, it might seem unlikely that any one individual could make a meaningful contribution to Sydney’s ability to continue in this vein. However, alumni and friends of the Faculty continue to answer this challenge: inspired by a deep and engaged interest in a particular subject or issue, they often make their mark by providing financial support. Indeed, though defined as an intense emotion or feeling which is often thought of as fleeting, it seems that - in the arena of philanthropy at least - passion may have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.

A generous tradition of philanthropy stretching back to the University’s earliest days has sustained and enriched its research and teaching, as individuals and families have invested in the subjects and programs which they care about most deeply. Such financial support increases access to educational opportunity for those who might otherwise miss out, and assists researchers and students to strive for excellence.

Evidence that this generous tradition is alive and well can be found in the announcement, last year, of a gift and bequest from Kenneth Reed, AM which will benefit postgraduate scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships in English Studies - to the tune of $4.5M. And it seems that Kenneth’s ‘music’ is not a solo, for a similar spirit flows through the generous ongoing investments that John Whitehouse – also an Arts / Law graduate – is making in Sydney’s exciting new Ancient North African and Phoenician Diaspora research network, and that alumna Sabrina Snow has made to sustain emerging scholarship in Asian art history. Other inspirational examples could be cited.

While the Arts and Social Sciences attract broad-based annual support (indeed, no faculty except Medicine proudly welcomes and thanks more donors each year) there has been a tendency for the biggest and most highly-publicised gifts to be announced by Science, Engineering and – again - Medicine. Of course, annual gifts contribute vital funds for key ongoing priorities like student support, for example via the popular and effective Dean’s Scholarship Fund. However, for a gift to be truly transformational it ideally needs to deliver impact all on its own, to a well-defined program or project identified by the donor with help from the Faculty.

Endowed gifts are an especially effective example of this, as they are “long lived”, delivering benefits year after year, while helpfully providing the Faculty with increased certainty in its planning processes – an increasingly rare commodity in today’s funding environment. Endowments provide farsighted donors with the dual satisfaction of making a positive impact today and of knowing that their contribution is creating a legacy that will last.

Passion. It turns out then that – thanks to champions like those named above - the most human of emotions is a vital ingredient in the success of this most humanistic area of academic learning.


Options to support the humanities and social sciences include the following, all of which can be established on a Faculty-wide basis or within a specific academic department or subject.

  • Postgraduate Research Scholarship ~ $500,000 endowment
  • Academic Research Travel Grant ~ $250,000 endowment
  • Undergraduate Scholarship - $140,000 endowment
  • International Exchange Scholarships - $100,000 endowment

The University’s professionally managed Investment and Capital Management program provides for steady annual distributions of income in order to fund annual awards of the kind listed above, while preserving the corpus of each fund for tomorrow. All such scholarships and awards can be named in recognition of the donor, their family, or for someone that they wish to remember or honour – for example a parent or an inspiring teacher. Regular progress reports provide a strong sense of enjoyment and achievement now, as well as the assurance that a future tradition of educational enrichment and public benefit is being established.

For further information, or to arrange a confidential consultation, please contact Guy Houghton, Associate Director – Development, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, by
email at or telephone on +61 2 9036 6269.