$7 million donation largest in UOW’s history
The Abbott Foundation’s $7 million contribution to the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Early Start project is the largest philanthropic donation in the history of the University.
The donation from the Founder and Director of the Abbott Foundation, Mr Christopher Abbott AM, was also a significant part of UOW’s submission to the Federal Government’s Education Investment Fund (EIF) for funding for the project.
The Federal Government on 22 November announced it was providing $31 million through the EIF to the overall $44 million project. The Abbott Foundation is contributing $7 million with UOW making up the balance.
In a supporting submission to the government, Mr Abbott said that he has a “strong philosophical belief in the importance of encouraging children to develop an interest in learning at a very young age”.
Mr Abbott created the Abbott Foundation in 2009 with the express purpose of supporting ventures that provide learning opportunities for young children which will promote their interest and capabilities for further education.
The Early Start Facility will feature a Children’s Discovery Centre, fulfilling one of Mr Abbott’s visions for the Foundation.
The Discovery Centre will have more than 2000 square metres of activity and exhibition space, outdoor exploration courtyards and discovery galleries. It is expected to eventually attract 120,000 visitors a year.
Mr Abbott said the Discovery Centre would be designed to help children learn in a fun, non-threatening environment to help them develop self-confidence and leadership skills. It will open their eyes to things that are not in the school curriculum.
“We want the Discovery Centre to enable children to look after themselves, to thrive, grow, create and interact … to become part of society,” Mr Abbott said. “We want children to feel at home, to feel safe and to have fun because we believe the propensity to learn is greatest when there is an absence of threat. We want them to think for themselves and learn to work out problems for themselves, because that is how they can develop self-confidence.
“We want them to learn together with other children and to teach other children so that leadership comes naturally. We want them to explore the world in which they live, and the rules that govern that world, so that they can better handle the emotional and moral problems that they will certainly have to face.
UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE praised Mr Abbott’s philanthropy and his contribution to the Early Start project.
“Mr Abbott’s contribution is one of the largest donations ever made to a non-Group of 8 university in Australia. It is certainly the largest donation to the University of Wollongong,” Professor Wellings said.
Professor Wellings said the University being the recipient of such a generous donation was a great boost for the Illawarra region.
The Vice-Chancellor added that he hoped the gift would inspire other regional organisations and industries to look at how they could contribute to the project to make it even more influential.
Early Start is a strategic teaching, research and community engagement initiative which, in a world first collaborative scheme, will deliver a new generation of graduates to work with young children aged from 0-12.
The Early Start Facility will be located on UOW’s main campus. It will include specialist teaching and research spaces and the Children’s Discovery Centre, and will be the hub for 38 Early Start Engagement Centres (ESECs) located across regional NSW, mainly in areas of social disadvantage. The facility – due to open in 2015 – will feature a three-level building with a gross floor area of 9188 square metres.
“Early Start is a concrete, long-term and sustainable proposal that can systematically break the cycle of educational disadvantage,” Professor Wellings said.