The UK’s first MA in Philanthropic Studies

We are pleased to welcome Dr Triona Fitton, the Pears Philanthropy Fellow, to share her thoughts on the new course.

25th November 2016

Pears Foundation has always been passionate about encouraging and promoting philanthropy – both in the way we work, and in the organisations we support.  Through programmes to engage young people in philanthropy, such as First Give and Beyond Me, to benchmarking and analysis of trusts and foundations in the ACF’s annual Foundation Giving Trends Report, we hope to support and develop the philanthropic sector.

Last year, we were delighted to extend our support of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent to enable them to establish the UK’s first MA in Philanthropic Studies.  A few weeks ago, we were very pleased to be able to join the first cohort of students on campus and have asked Dr Triona Fitton, the Pears Philanthropy Fellow organising the course, to share her thoughts following the induction.


This Autumn, the University of Kent’s Centre for Philanthropy welcomed its very first intake of students onto the MA in Philanthropic Studies. The course is a distance-learning postgraduate degree which covers a broad range of topics relating to philanthropy – the first of its kind in the United Kingdom! It has been set up with the help of a generous grant from the Pears Foundation last year, enabling the University to hire me as a programme director to co-ordinate the various modules and to teach the students alongside the Centre for Philanthropy’s Director Dr Beth Breeze and lecturer Dr Eddy Hogg.

Our students came to the University’s Canterbury campus from all over the UK and beyond (one student even flew in from Milan!) for the two-day induction, which was designed to orientate our new learners to the course, introduce the lecturing team and the online learning environment, and firm up their academic skills. The students were also treated to a group dinner and a trip to take in some of the philanthropic sights of the Canterbury Cathedral, which recently hit the £20m mark in donations to its fundraising campaign.

Student feedback about the induction emphasised how useful collaboration and networking was at the event:

“The interaction with other students and the programme team was very enjoyable and stimulating.”

This feedback got me thinking. The majority of our intake have a strong professional background, having worked in fundraising, grantmaking, or other areas of the non-profit sector. Studying philanthropy for them is not solely about obtaining a qualification to put on their CV; they are also developing professionally in other areas. Clear and effective communication is a core skill learnt in academia that translates beautifully for those working in the philanthropy and non-profit sector.

For the students, advancing their practitioner skills and reflecting on their daily work practices is aided by the collective communication embedded in the course: Students discuss readings, podcasts and video lectures in online forums, using illustrations from their own experiences, and debating as a group thorny topics such as “What role has the government played in the changing nature of philanthropy over time?” and “Can philanthropic impulses be ‘biological’?”. Intellectually, students challenge one another, and develop their ability to think critically and take an informed stance on topical issues such as the growth of tech philanthropy, or media representations of philanthropists.

The importance of a well-informed and communicative philanthropic workforce cannot be underestimated in the current economic and regulatory climate. The scholarly study of philanthropy, as in this Philanthropic Studies Masters course, encourages knowledgeable and frank conversations around the difficult questions raised by the simple act of giving.