Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Donations to local universities from South African philanthropists now exceed the income they derive from abroad.

Universities benefited from philanthropic efforts amounting to R1.63bn in 2016‚ an increase of nearly R1bn over the last four years.

But as much as 90% of that funding went to traditional higher education institutions as opposed to universities of technology‚ for example.

That’s according to the latest Annual Survey of Philanthropy in Higher Education. The bulk of the financial contributions come from local trusts‚ foundations‚ corporations and individuals.

Twelve of SA’s 26 universities participated in the latest survey‚ which is based on 2016 figures. South Africans accounted for 90% of all donors and contributed 56% of the total funding.

International donors contributed 44% of the philanthropic income but comprised only 10% of all donors.

Researcher Dr Sean Jones welcomed the increase of local funding. "The private sector has increased its contributions dramatically from R94m in 2013 to R235m in 2016‚ while income from local private donors increased very significantly from R72m to more than R500m over four years‚" he said.

The historical over-reliance of the South African higher education sector on international donors and grant-makers has begun to diminish‚ although there remains considerable support and goodwill among foreign donor agencies towards higher education institutions in this country.

Some 90% of the investment revenue was channelled into six traditional universities: the University of the Western Cape‚ University of Cape Town‚ University of the Free State‚ University of the Witwatersrand‚ University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Stellenbosch — with investment amounting to R1.47bn. About 10% went to universities of technology‚ which are traditionally less advantaged.

The top-funded university received R369m from 2‚400 philanthropists and the least-funded university received only R2m from 10 donors. Jones said the division in funding was "an uncomfortable issue that cannot be ignored".

"It is deeply problematic that 90% of donor and grant resources flow to traditional universities which are‚ by and large‚ historically advantaged‚ while just 10% of these resources flow to nontraditional universities, which are‚ for the most part‚ relatively disadvantaged‚" said Jones.

Of the universities of technology that benefited‚ one was a major beneficiary having received more than R123m of the R156m received by the nontraditional bloc. This left R33m for the rest of the institutions.

"[The issue] needs to be addressed sensitively‚ wisely and creatively by philanthropy and the higher education sector alike‚" Jones said.

Nazli Abrahams‚ programme director at Inyathelo‚ the South African Institute for Advancement‚ said if the disparity continued‚ it would perpetuate the status quo.

Abrahams said that investment was crucial to sustaining higher education throughout a difficult period.

"The increase suggests mounting recognition across all sectors of the critical need to partner and invest in higher education if it is to survive‚ and indeed thrive‚ in the context of the most severe fiscal challenges ever faced by this country’s universities‚" she said.

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