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Building Computer Laboratories Through Equipment Grants (II)

What's in it for the Donors?

Why would a company provide thousands to millions of dollars of equipment to a university? What is in it for the donor? Who are these donors? What do they expect in return from the university? These are all natural questions to ask. Surprisingly, the answer to the last question is commonly "not much."

Companies are not interested in freely donating equipment to a university just because a university asks. Instead, companies are interested in building a relationship between the company and the university. This relationship extends to many levels. At the highest level, the company wishes name recognition from the faculty and students. They want a "presence" on campus. At a more detailed level, companies are interested in influencing students [6]. This influence also can occur at many levels, from name recognition to student recruitment to a direct influence on student computer experience.

In terms of name recognition, equipment donations are a perfect form of public relations. The donating company might desire to have their name associated with the university. Simply putting the company logo in the computer laboratory might be sufficient. Providing notices in campus reports and publications are other satisfying results. Acknowledgments for equipment donations in research papers are also common methods of "repaying" the company.

Public relations can extend further with the company playing a large role in student recruitment and student job placement. By forging such public relations, the company can expect to receive excellent treatment in return for career week, recruiting of students for permanent positions, intern-ships and co-ops. The closer the relationship between the university and the company, the more opportunities the university will provide for the company.

A similar rationale extends to the familiarity that a company might wish students and faculty to gain by using their equipment. If a student becomes familiar with a given computer platform (e.g., Sun Workstations running Unix), then that student might be more apt to use that platform upon graduation. This may result in the student working directly for the donating company, or a company that happens to use the same platform. In either case, this benefits the company. Another possibility is that the student will request that particular platform when hired so that the company eventually obtains a direct profit from the donation. Similarly, a faculty might select software or hardware to fit a platform because several computers of the given platform had already been donated.

There are other, less tangible reasons for a company to provide equipment donations. One might simply be as a tax break. Another might be due to over-stocked equipment, equipment which has not been sold, or returned but undamaged equipment. A variation of the latter case is when a company has many parts available but no "whole" machines. The company might then provide the parts as a means of upgrading some of the campus computers.

In return for the equipment donation, companies usually ask only that the equipment be used in proper ways by as many students as possible. The company may also ask for an annual report to describe the uses of the equipment, or an acknowledgment in campus publications or possibly technical publications.

Obtaining Equipment Grants
Within the United States, equipment grants have provided a positive contribution towards university's computer infrastructures. Often, an equipment grant is initiated by the company wishing to provide the donations. Already, perhaps, a relationship exists between the company and the university in terms of recruitment. The company might wish to expand that relationship by soliciting equipment grant proposals. In other situations, the company might wish to pursue a relationship by first offering a small equipment grant. Once the communications have been opened, the relationship can grow.

How does a university pursue an equipment grant if the proposal was not solicited by the computer company? University administrators might pursue a deal with a number of computer companies. Their role is to then sell the company on how the equipment donation will benefit the department and the company together. Researchers may initiate an equipment grant as part of a larger research project. The researcher is promoting the use of the company's technology directly in their problem solving. Yet another possibility occurs if a company wishes to actively promote some area or areas of study by making donations to a number of universities.

As an example, consider initiatives by the IBM Corporation for partnerships in aiding universities. In the mid 1980's, IBM donated numerous computer systems to university MIS departments in order to build better MIS programs [5]. More recently, IBM has announced several programs. One such program is IBM's Reinventing Education initiative to provide ten U.S. public school districts with technology to reform their school.

Another initiative is IBM's Matching Grants Program in which IBM donates computer equipment to a university which will match the funds by supplying software and additional hardware [1]. A specific example of the latter program is a partnership between IBM and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Together, IBM and UCLA have made computing resources available to support academic programs. This relationship provides an avenue for faculty to participate in providing requests to directly fulfill academic needs. An Academic Technology Center has been created to showcase the partnership. Additionally, IBM has participated in the sponsorship of research projects and symposia.

Outside of the United States, many international corporations are very interested in aiding universities in creating computing infrastructures whether this is Internet connectivity, microcomputer laboratories or the donation of mainframe and minicomputers. The company or corporation obtains similar benefits as with donations to universities within the United States. In many cases, however, the appeal is even greater because the company is in a position to provide the sole platform for all students at the university. This increases their name recognition and student familiarity even greater than with donations in the United States.

Aside from equipment grants, other forms of donations exist. Organizations such as Non-Profit Computing have been able to match computer donations to needy organizations by obtaining obsolete computers and upgrading or repairing them. East West Organization Education Foundation has provided more than 6000 computer systems in over 150 countries through computer

recycling. Another organization, Computer Recycling Center, diverts old computer systems from land-fills to schools [3].




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