Our Work in South Africa
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.
South Africa is also home to one of the greatest social recoveries 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. But unfortunately, apartheid’s legacy has ensured that wealth and opportunity are closely correlated to race.
We believe universities are a critical driver of democracy and economic development in South Africa. Access to higher education has improved dramatically since the end of apartheid. Formerly bastions of segregation focused on the white minority; today, South Africa’s university demographics increasingly look more like the country as a whole, and enrollment has nearly doubled since 1994.
But significant challenges remain. In addition to dramatic enrollment increases, universities face the legacy of problematic mergers, underprepared students, declining government support, student unrest 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.
Braamfontein, South Africa
Data analytics can give universities better information about how to help students persist through to graduation. This four-year grant enables SAIDE to oversee the We Succeed, or Siyaphumelela, initiative, which uses data analytics to enhance the effectiveness of programs and policies designed to improve South African university student success. Four universities are participating in the current cohort: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of the Free State, University of Pretoria and University of Witwatersrand (pictured).
- University of the Western Cape
Bellville, Cape Town, South Africa
A $3 million grant through an initiative to strengthen higher education in South Africa helped the University of the Western Cape construct a new Life Sciences Building, which opened in 2010. UWC was a "Coloured"-only university under apartheid, but now serves all races. The new building serves graduate and undergraduate students, researchers and university facility and staff, and is UWC’s first building specifically designed for science.Photo: University of the Western Cape
Our Work To Date
South Africa is the only place The Kresge Foundation works outside of the U.S. We began funding South African universities in 1989, and to date have invested nearly $30 million to promote South African postsecondary access and success – especially improving student graduation rates.
For much of the last decade, improving access and success in South Africa was a distinct focus area with our education work.
In 2015, we revised our philanthropic approach to our higher education strategy and incorporated our work in South Africa into the Education Program’s three focus areas: Strengthening Pathways To and Through College and Building the Capacity of Institutions Focused on Low-Income and Underrepresented Students, and Aligning and Strengthing Urban Higher Education Ecosystems.
We believe enhancing the ability of universities in South Africa to graduate the next generation of knowledge workers 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. Our work to date includes:
Strengthening postsecondary access and success in South Africa
For years, South African higher education leaders have acknowledged the need to develop a new, systematic approach that recognizes students’ uneven preparation for university work.
Our investments have centered 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 encourage student success. This has included improving data collection and analysis, curriculum development, staff development and training, evidence-based decision-making and some direct support for especially promising interventions.
In 2014, we launched the Siyaphumelela (“We Succeed”) initiative grant to use data analytics to enhance South African university student success. Led by the South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE), and informed by innovated reformers around the world, such as the University Innovation Alliance and Achieving the Dream, Siyaphumelela is at work now at five universities: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, University of Pretoria, University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and Durban University of Technology.
We also seek to support the latest technological and productivity advances to reduce the cost of delivering a postsecondary education while retaining or improving its quality.
Building the capacity of South Africa’s higher education institutions
In an environment with declining government support, many university officials hope to tap private philanthropic donors to enhance their institutions’ ability to serve students. Stronger advancement and fundraising skills are critical to their success.
From 2005 through 2011, we partnered with Inyathelo, the South African Institute for Advancement, to strengthen the emerging local philanthropic culture and build fundraising capacity at five institutions. Private giving more than tripled, providing resources to fund bursaries, new facilities, research and other university priorities aimed at maintaining an institutional margin of success.
In 2012, we funded the Kresge-Inyathelo Advancement Initiative in South Africa, which offers training and challenge-grant support to four universities seeking to strengthen their advancement capacity. Four universities were selected through a national, competitive process: Durban University of Technology in Durban; Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria; University of Johannesburg; and University of the Free State in Bloemfontein.
Grants enable the universities to receive up to $640,000 over six years, including initial funding for advancement operations. Annual bonuses will be awarded as the institutions achieve fundraising benchmarks. (Read a news story about the advancement grants.)