Philanthropic Individuals Are Major HE Donors – Survey

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South African universities received a significant year-on-year increase in philanthropic funding totalling ZAR2.31 billion (about US$122 million) – and the bulk of the funds went to traditional universities, the Annual Survey of Philanthropy in Higher Education (ASPIHE) has revealed.

The study, which was commissioned by Inyathelo, the South African Institute for Advancement, and released earlier in November, was based on the 2020 data of 10 universities. It said that if Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) funds are included in the survey, the total reached ZAR2.66 billion. SETA funds come from a levy employers pay to support skills development.

The analysis, first done first in 2013, also served as a reminder of ongoing disparities in funding distribution in the country’s higher education sector.

“The collective total philanthropic income received and reported by the 10 participating universities for 2020 was ZAR2.31 billion. This represented a significant increase from the previous year, 2019, when the total was ZAR1.55 billion. The increase also signals a possible turnaround in a downward pattern that started in 2017 with a total income of ZAR1.71 billion spiralling down in 2018 to ZAR1.61 billion,” the report said.

Why did philanthropic income increase?

According to the report, there are a number of reasons for the significant increase from 2019 to 2020.

The surge can partly be attributed to support provided during the COVID-19 pandemic for emergency relief, medical research and technology support.

The report said the number of international donors doubled over this period and donors originating locally increased more than threefold, a reason for universities to identify and develop strategies to leverage the national donor base.

According to the research, trusts and foundations contributed much more (50%) than the private sector (26%) for the 2020 period. The support from the private sector decreased from 38% in 2019 and 30% in 2018 but is still much higher than the 14% reported in 2013.

However, although the overall percentage of 26% was lower than the previous high of 38%, in real terms, the private sector contribution increased to more than ZAR500 million in 2020 compared to ZAR271 million recorded during the previous year, 2019.


There was also significant giving on the part of individuals who form part of the alumni category from the respective universities, the report added.

“Individual donors comprised the vast majority who provided support to the participating universities during 2020, representing 72% of the donor body or 8,059 of the donors.

“The rest comprised organisations such as trusts and foundations, corporate entities, foreign agencies, and non-governmental organisations. The overall contribution of individual donors amounted to 9% of the total philanthropic income, while income from the organisations listed above contributed 91% of the income through grants and donations,” the report said.

It said the highest amount of philanthropic support received by a single institution in 2020 was ZAR766 million and the lowest total received was ZAR8.5 million.

The largest single donation received by one institution in 2020 was approximately ZAR390 million and, by contrast, income for other universities was more evenly spread in a middle range of ZAR40 million to ZAR80 million and a lower bracket of ZAR4 million to ZAR20 million.

The report said the inequality in donor income showing the so-called traditional universities (typically long-established universities known for their research) attracting the vast bulk of philanthropic resources has been the pattern since the beginning of ASPIHE reporting in 2013.

“The top philanthropic income-earning institutions are still all traditional universities. All the traditional universities together in 2020 received 99% of the total donor income, with the non- traditional universities sharing the rest (1%),” the report said.

“The stark inequality in the donor income totals between traditional and non-traditional universities has been persistent and the gap is growing. In the previous year, 2019, the non-traditional universities garnered 4% of the donor income.

“Previous reports have pointed to deep and complex historical, political and structural factors that continue to disadvantage most institutions that are not classified as traditional by the South African Department of Higher Education and Training.”

The University of the Western Cape higher education studies Professor Beverley Thaver, the ASPIHE lead researcher, said: “The hard question here is whether this is not, in effect, reproducing past discriminatory legacy practices. Perhaps international philanthropy might consider collaborative strategies aimed at greater collective social impact. This could leverage resources in ways that can strengthen as well as grow all institutions to deliver on their mandate.


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