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EDUCATION : R100 Million Boost for Higher Education in South Africa


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The Kresge Foundation has announced that it is renewing its commitment to South African higher education and expects to invest at least $15 million (over R100 million) in the effort through to 2018. That includes a continuation of its partnership with Inyathelo, the South African Institute for Advancement.

Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the American foundation based in Michigan, will unveil details of the plan at a celebration event in Johannesburg tonight attended by representatives of South African universities and Inyathelo.

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.

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.”

Education Enrollment Nearly Doubled Since the End of Apartheid

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

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

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

New Education Initiative

Modeled on the now-concluded Kresge-Inyathelo program that saw participating education 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. Inyathelo has 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 education 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 education advancement group:Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of Pretoria, University of the Western Cape and the University of the Witwatersrand.

Effective Ways of Improving Education Success

Planning for the primary focus of Kresge’s South Africa work, promoting more effective ways to improve post secondary student education 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 post secondary 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.”

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