University of Auckland bosses have launched New Zealand's most ambitious fundraising campaign, setting a target of $300 million to address critical issues facing our communities.

On a mission to confront some of the country's biggest issues, including earthquake-proofing cities and old buildings, improving cancer survival rates and building a tougher economy, the university is calling upon well-heeled benefactors and businesses to achieve the goal by 2020.

Steered by a heavyweight "campaign board" - a who's who of New Zealand business leaders including former Microsoft senior vice president Chris Liddell, Britomart developer Peter Cooper and Todd Corporation director Geoff Ricketts - the funding drive is an attempt to emulate research models used by universities such Stanford, Harvard and Cambridge.

Funds will go to research projects, academic fellowships, staff positions and student scholarships, aligned with specific campaign projects related to key issues.

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And if it works, it's hoped it could help Auckland stamp it's name on the global stage.

Fifty per cent of the target - $152 million - has already been raised, with significant donations by the likes of Sir Colin and Lady Giltrap, the late Sir Graeme Douglas and Lady Ngaire and major international corporations including PricewaterhouseCoopers.

University of Auckland vice-chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, said the funding model was proven to work.

"If you look at universities overseas, particularly the US, they have a long history of philanthropy and in fact for the really top-ranked universities in the world, in many respects, it's what has made them what they are," McCutcheon said.

"It's a major campaign and the reason for doing it is New Zealand funds its universities at quite a modest level, by international standards. It's about trying to use the support of donors and alumni to create a very special institution for New Zealand."

The campaign, named For All Our Futures, is primarily geared around scientific breakthroughs and future-proofing economics and innovation.

One of the most generous benefactors so far has been the Woolf Fisher Trust - the educational excellence backer founded in 1960 by the late Sir Woolf Fisher, the iconic Kiwi businessman and philanthropist who co-founded Fisher & Paykel.

His nephew, Sir Noel Robinson, says close to $10m has been pumped in by the trust, so far, in the belief it can one day help Auckland be named in the same breath as Ivy League and Oxbridge institutions.

"Auckland has to be an international community and have an international university. We have to compete," Robinson said.

"If we develop young people and research projects, from that will come great things which will develop the whole of New Zealand.

"There are critical things for our future like not enough teachers for maths and science, so one of the specific things we are funding is $1.6m for teacher training courses in those backgrounds.

"If you compare New Zealand with Finland, which is a similar population, they are doing very well economically through research and have incredibly big companies because of it.

"Teaching is among the most respected professions in Finland. In New Zealand teacher are not paid well and we can do a lot better."

As a secondary goal, the university has committed to engaging over half of its 200,000 alumni during the course of the campaign through a range of volunteer and advocacy opportunities to advance its work.

"New Zealanders will benefit for decades to come from the outcomes of this campaign," McCutcheon said.

For All Our Futures
Some of the questions the University of Auckland aims to address include:

Can we earthquake-proof New Zealand?
With the devastation caused by the Christchurch earthquake still being felt, one of the goals is to develop new ways to help bolster the infrastructure of older buildings, protecting lives and businesses.
It's hoped advancements in that work could not only be used in New Zealand, but through vulnerable places through the Pacific Islands and around the world.
Can we prepare our students for the 21st Century of work?
With advancements in computer science and artificial intelligence, many jobs and industries are undergoing fundamental changes in how they operate.
Raising questions about the opportunities for existing and traditional workplaces, fresh research could help guide future generations to more stable careers and make more informed choices.
Can we redefine old age?
New Zealanders aged over 65 currently make up an eighth of the population. Within 20 years they will have risen to almost a quarter of the population. It is the largest growth for this group in our recorded history. Impacts of ageing include isolation, reduced mobility, increased rates of disability, loss of independent living and an increase in health problems. Researchers are looking at a variety of means to reduce impacts and enhance the quality of life.
Can we build a robust modern economy?
New Zealand's economical reliance on the primary sector has been highlighted by the recent severe decline in dairy prices. While high commodity prices helped cushioning the impact there are other factors New Zealand must consider.
Over the last 20 years, New Zealand has experienced a net loss of 29,000 jobs in agriculture and a further 92,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector.