Promoting access and success at South African universities

We believe that universities are a critical driver of democracy and economic development in South Africa. Enhancing the ability of universities in South Africa to graduate the next generation of knowledge workers – agronomists, teachers, engineers, researchers, health care providers, computer scientists – will expand the country’s industrial base, address long-term development challenges, sustain civil society and make it possible for South Africa to compete more effectively in the global economy.

Focus Area Overview

South Africa reflects many of the world’s most critical issues: the growing divide between the rich and poor, transitions to democracy in formerly repressive societies, and the effect of globalization on developing countries. Although many countries suffer from extreme poverty, Apartheid’s legacy has ensured that wealth and opportunity are closely correlated to race.

South Africa is also home to one of the great miracles of the late 20th century. Once seemingly destined for an intractable civil war, it ended Apartheid, adopted a progressive constitution, and has become a beacon of hope around the world.

Access to higher education has improved dramatically. With the end of official racial segregation, South Africa’s universities increasingly look more like the country as a whole. University enrollment has nearly doubled since 1994.

These are welcome developments, but the significant change has proven difficult for the higher-education system. In addition to dramatic enrollment increases, universities face challenges including mergers, under-prepared students, declining government support and, perhaps most significant, disappointing graduation rates. For the nation, these outcomes pose risks to the vitality of the economy and civil society. For individuals, many still in deep poverty, these outcomes undermine the opportunities that a university degree is meant to provide.  

We have funded South African universities since 1989, investing $19 million between 2005 and 2011.

In 2012, after consulting with dozens of South African educational leaders, we renewed our commitment. For the next five years we will focus on promoting South African postsecondary access and success – especially improving student graduation rates.

Strengthening pathways to and through university

South African higher-education leaders acknowledge the need to develop a new, systematic approach that recognizes students’ uneven preparation for university work.

We anticipate that our initial Pathways investments will center on support to help the higher-education system to better identify the challenge at hand, and to enhance existing and forthcoming local efforts designed to enhance student success. This includes improving data collection and analysis, curriculum development, staff development and training, evidence-based decisionmaking, and some direct support for especially promising interventions.

We will also seek to support the latest technological and productivity advances that might reduce the cost of delivering a postsecondary education while retaining or improving its quality.

We work to promote access and success in the United States, but refocusing our efforts in South Africa will take some time. Please watch for future program updates about this funding. You can receive email alerts about these updates. (Learn about our email subscriptions.) 

Building the capacity of South Africa’s higher education institutions

One of the highest priorities in South African higher education is improving graduation rates. In an environment with declining government support, many university officials are tapping private financial support to enhance their institutions’ ability to serve students better. Stronger advancement skills are critical to their success.

Building on our 2005-2011 partnership with Inyathelo, the South African Institute for Advancement, we fund the Kresge-Inyathelo Advancement Initiative in South Africa. It offers training and challenge-grant support to four universities seeking to strengthen their advancement capacity.

Four universities were chosen through a national competitive process:

Grants enable the universities to receive up to $640,000 over six years. Each university received initial funding for advancement operations. Annual bonuses will be awarded as the institutions achieve fundraising benchmarks.  (Read a news story about the advancement grants.)

Application Process

The program is not currently accepting unsolicited proposals for financial support. You can receive email alerts about any new grant opportunities. (Learn about our email subscriptions.)