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The Kresge Foundation makes multi-year commitment to bolster higher education in South Africa

General Foundation News

The plan builds on efforts to promote access and success in higher education in the U.S.

The Kresge Foundation today announced it is renewing its commitment to South African higher education and expects to invest at least $15 million in the effort through 2018. That includes a continuation of its partnership with Inyathelo, the South African Institute for Advancement.

Rip Rapson, Kresge president and CEO, unveiled the plan at an event in Johannesburg attended by representatives of South African universities and Inyathelo.

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Kresge has made grants in South Africa since 1989. Between 2005 and 2011, the foundation invested almost $19 million to support South African higher education, focusing on institutional development and advancement. Learn more about Kresge’s recently concluded Special Initiative in South Africa in a series of narrated slideshows.

The new commitment builds on the foundation’s efforts in the United States to improve access to higher education and help students succeed academically.

“In 2011, we engaged dozens of South African higher education leaders to determine how Kresge might continue our commitment to higher education,” says Rapson. “The overwhelming consensus was that we could be most helpful by replicating our American focus with modifications to fit South Africa’s specific needs.”

Enrollment at South African universities has nearly doubled since the end of Apartheid in 1994, but there are chronic challenges including disappointing graduation rates.

In the U.S., Kresge’s Education Program works with other funders and nonprofit partners to reduce the barriers to higher education and provide supports to help ensure students earn degrees.

“We believe that increasing the number of college graduates in the U.S. can fuel prosperity and help low-income and underserved people change the trajectory of their lives,” says Bill Moses, who directs Kresge’s Education Program. “We think universities may serve as an even more critical driver of democracy and economic development in South Africa.”

The new effort, “Promoting access and success at South African universities,” has two parts:

  • The first seeks to strengthen pathways to and through universities, especially for students traditionally underrepresented in higher education in South Africa.
  • The second seeks to build the fund-raising capacity of universities so that they can focus more resources on priorities including improving graduation rates.

The latter gets underway immediately with a grant opportunity for universities interested in bolstering their advancement capacity.

Among the first grants is a new round of funding to support the Kresge-Inyathelo partnership.

Modeled on the now-concluded Kresge-Inyathelo program that saw participating institutions increase private fundraising revenue threefold, the new Kresge-Inyathelo Advancement Initiative in South Africa is open to South African universities that have not benefitted from the partners’ earlier efforts or similar capacity-building programs in the past. Inyathelohas developed a new initiative based on that effort.

“In a climate of declining government support, many South African university officials have told us that tapping into private wealth and generosity enhances their ability to better serve students and work to improve graduation rates,” says Moses.

Inyathelo’s Shelagh Gastrow echoes that sentiment: “Stronger advancement skills are critical to meet the challenges of declining government support and improving student success.”

As part of its continuing advancement capacity-building effort, Kresge plans to fund a new partnership with Inyathelo and Rhodes University to develop a post-graduate diploma in advancement. Kresge is also offering to fund some continuing assistance to universities in the original advancement group, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of Pretoria, University of the Western Cape, and the University of Witwatersrand.

Planning for the primary focus of Kresge’s South Africa work, promoting more effective ways to improve postsecondary student success, has already begun.

Future Kresge investments will likely focus on helping universities better support students not well prepared to do university-level work. Possible grants might include analysis of student engagement in postsecondary education, and assisting universities to use data-driven approaches to determine what interventions are most effective at improving university graduation rates – and why.

“Kresge believes the conditions playing out in South Africa mirror many of the world’s most critical issues: the growing divide between rich and poor, transitions to democracy in formerly repressive societies, and the effect of globalization on developing countries,” says Rapson. “We hope our renewed commitment to South African higher education will buttress one of the world’s most influential nations as it seeks to strengthen both democracy and its global competitiveness. We think South Africa has much to teach the world.”