Skewed varsity donor funding

SKEWED INTERNATIONAL DONATIONS: Many students fall outside funding schemes in poorer universities. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

New research has shed some light on skewed donor funding of SA universities, reflecting that overseas donors play a key role in funding.

Local individuals, companies and philanthropists have not come to the fore in terms of supporting universities sustainably.

Research from the Annual Survey of Philanthropy in Higher Education, released by Inyathelo, the South African Institute for Advancement reveals that the 11 universities which form part of the survey received a collective total of more than R1.2bn in philanthropic income during 2015.

This is R515m higher than recorded for 10 universities in the first (2013) sample.

Many students, however, fall outside funding schemes in poorer universities.

The research showed that higher education bodies would also benefit from upskilling their senior fundraising and support staff, who already attract around R2bn every year for the sector.

Inyathelo programme manager Nazli Abrahams said that the lack of information about philanthropic funding to the higher education sector and indeed about all forms of thirdstream income has taken on added significance in the context of the growing national crisis in university and student funding and the protest actions which have foregrounded it.

A further motivation for the study was to encourage universities to improve data collection and management information systems, and to standardise definitions and categories across the sector.

The research was funded by the Kresge Foundation, an Inyathelo partner.

“While international funding is welcome and vital at present, this heavy dependence on overseas philanthropists is potentially disastrous given global geopolitical shifts,” Abrahams said.

As borne out by new policies in the US, foreign philanthropic income streams are unpredictable and unreliable.

Support from abroad can be curtailed by shifting political moods, new crises elsewhere in the world, changing the leadership of charitable organisations, foreign exchange fluctuations and other variables.

“One strategic priority must be strengthening and extending relationships with existing local donors and cultivating new local donors from among those who have yet to fund higher education institutions,” Abrahams

As South Africa marks Youth Month with the theme of Advancing Youth Economic Empowerment, it is vital that we ensure the long-term sustainability of our tertiary education institutions.

They are key to growing the skills and talents of young people so that they can fulfil their potential and also contribute to the country’s economic development and productivity.