Inyathelo in the Media

How can disadvantaged universities attract more funding?

It is five years since Inyathelo, with the support of the Kresge Foundation (a primarily domestic American foundation), first asked Dr Sean Jones of EduActive Solutions to conduct the Annual Survey of Philanthropy in Higher Education (ASPIHE). This series of research reports was the first in South Africa to document philanthropic funding of higher education institutions.

It aimed to establish a baseline on philanthropic support to South African universities and it was also hoped that it would be a stimulus for similar research studies of other areas of third stream income in South African higher education. Until then, no reliable national perspective on philanthropic giving to universities existed, and few universities collected comprehensive data of this kind.

The 11 universities in this latest survey received a collective total of ZAR1.71 billion (US$122.7 million) in philanthropic income in 2017 – ZAR978 million higher than recorded for the 10 universities taking part in the first survey in 2013. Median annual philanthropic income was ZAR108 million in 2017, which is significantly higher than the median of ZAR23 million in 2013.

The proportion of income from South African sources was 72%, which is 35% higher than in 2013. International donors contributed 28% of philanthropic income but comprised only 10% of donors.


The background to this growth in local contributions is that the Kresge Foundation also began partnering with Inyathelo to build 'Advancement' capacity at some South African universities from 2006. At that time virtually no institutions employed experienced, or even trained, Advancement professionals.

With 'Advancement', the goal is to create a climate that positions an institution for ongoing donor investment. Inyathelo’s training focuses strongly on the relationship management aspect of fundraising, rather than the transaction. It addresses issues around strategy, leadership, corporate governance and more, as well as the relationship building blocks of identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.

Inyathelo proved that with the right structures, training and approaches, diverse institutions could raise private funds.

Private sector and individual giving

The latest ASPIHE findings show that while the largest proportion of philanthropic funding now comes from trusts and foundations, this has been declining from 61% in 2013, to 42% in 2017. It is matched by increased levels of giving by the private sector and individuals. Private sector entities contributed 25% of philanthropic income in 2017 compared with 14% in 2013, while individual donors’ contributions increased from 4% in 2013 to 20% in 2017.

This indicates that the #FeesMustFall impact on universities was understood as an issue of national concern, with South African philanthropists stepping in to support universities. (#FeesMustFall was a student-led South African protest movement to stop increases in student fees and push for increases in government funding of universities.)

Differences and inequalities

The challenge, however, is the distribution of the support across the sector and to understand the reasons for this particular pattern. While noting the encouraging progress in philanthropic funding overall, the report adds that it “obscures some extremely significant and severe differences and inequalities” and “a considerably less rosy picture emerges when the universities are disaggregated along the lines of historical advantage and disadvantage”.

In 2013, 94% of all donor income to the participating institutions went to historically advantaged institutions (HAIs) and 6% to historically disadvantaged institutions (HDIs). This equalled ZAR622 million for HAIs versus ZAR37 million for HDIs. The difference was even greater in 2017 when 96% of funding went to HAIs and 4% to HDIs – ZAR1.6 billion for HAIs versus ZAR73 million for HDIs.

This provides an interesting narrative on legacy issues in South African higher education, and philanthropic support and donor confidence across institutional type. The more traditional, historically advantaged, research-intensive universities receive the bulk of philanthropic support, and accordingly are the South African institutions in which donors have the most confidence.

It should be noted that African students – from South Africa and the rest of the continent – now comprise large segments of HAIs’ student bodies, both undergraduate and postgraduate, and they are beneficiaries of much of this philanthropic support that is allocated to scholarships, bursaries, capital investment and research programmes.

A bigger picture

It is important that we analyse the data we are seeing from different vantage points to understand the bigger picture.

In the 2018 survey, Sean Jones included a component of Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) funding that could be perceived as philanthropic in nature. (SETA addresses vocational skills training with learnerships, internships, skills programmes and apprenticeships.)

It is likely that there may be some contestation about the inclusion of some SETA funding in ASPIHE, particularly because SETA falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Higher Education and Training. They could be perceived as a component of government funding, which means they fall outside the definition of philanthropy.

While the inclusion of SETA funding may be of concern, we believe it is important to include this source of funding in the ASPIHE report. Without the inclusion of SETA funding, it is clear that philanthropic support to the non-traditional universities would have been even more miniscule and the role played by Advancement/Development offices in attracting SETA funds would not have been reflected.

This point is significant because ASPIHE has tried to measure the return on investment in the Advancement/Development capabilities of universities, and the absence of SETA funding from the data indicates a poor return on investment.

The SETA funding is also important for another reason: that the higher education and philanthropy sectors understand the issue of SETA confidence, as opposed to almost no confidence from more traditional forms of philanthropy – and review whether there are other factors that mitigate support from the more traditional forms of philanthropy.

In the university sector it will be worth our while to embark on another research project related to SETA funding, as it will provide a more comprehensive picture of how this is supporting university programmes and goals.

Levelling the playing field

The skewed nature of the overall funding undoubtedly requires greater examination, especially because of extreme inequality in South Africa. What specifically can be done to level the playing field and to ensure the strengthening of the non-traditional, historically disadvantaged universities? How do we do this without damaging the traditional universities?

What is it that philanthropy, and the universities which receive the least support, can do differently? How, specifically, can the historical baggage of apartheid institutional identities and differentiation be laid to rest?

The Kresge Foundation has contributed enormously to building Advancement capacity in higher education. There is no doubt that much of what we know and have done in the area of Advancement would not have been possible if the Kresge Foundation had not invested in Inyathelo and South African universities.

Given the complexity of the challenges facing the higher education sector, and the need for urgent and constructive input, we look forward to unpacking greater understanding of philanthropic support and donor confidence in future.

Nazeema Mohamed is the executive director of Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement. Inyathelo’s mission is to help build a strong, stable civil society and democracy in South Africa by contributing to the development of sustainable organisations and institutions. This is done through developing effective grant-seeking and grant-making practices, and through capacity development in the higher education and non-profit sectors in South Africa, and on the African continent. Find out more at

Originally published by University World News:


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