Learning through Reflection: Advancement for a Sustainable Future

This year’s Leadership retreat marks the end of the second cycle of funding of the Kresge Inyathelo Advancement Initiative (KIAI) and wraps up the formal programming of 12 years of dedicated investment in Advancement in South Africa.

The aim of the 2019 retreat is to be reflective and forward looking around universities and advancement. Much reflection will be focused on the Kresge-Inyathelo partnership for advancement in higher education, focusing on the impact of seed-funding and the challenges of advancement. In particular, the challenges and successes of the grantee universities in the second round of funding.

The Kresge Inyathelo Advancement Initiative over the past five years has been impacted and framed by events in higher education, which, in historical terms, can be identified as a landmark for South African higher education. The #Fees Must Fall Movement that advocated concerns related to student poverty and financial barriers impeding access and success at Universities, along with concerns about institutional transformation pertaining to the decolonization of the curricula, identity, social justice, equality and diversity in a democratic South Africa and the overall philosophical orientation and purpose of higher education have impacted quite dramatically on the country’s universities and South Africa at large 1 . All constituencies of higher education have been directly affected– in fact battered - by what can be described metaphorically as the #Fees must Fall tsunami. There has been a significant climate change in South African higher education and a jarring awakening for government around the financial implications of redressing pass inequalities and the investment required for renewing universities affected by a racialized legacy in a democratic dispensation.

While there has been a myriad of concerns raised about South African higher education. At the heart of the crisis has been the issue of the financial cost of the growing demand for higher education access and balancing this with sustainable solutions that ensure higher education’s fitness for purpose as it attempts to correct, and redress inequalities generated by apartheid. In the midst of these challenges, rapid changes in the dissemination and production of knowledge and what is being described as the fourth industrial revolution has also had wide-ranging global consequences. The location and impact of revolutionary technological innovation on developing countries have generated considerable debate about north south differences.

South Africa’s domestic challenges - disparities in wealth, extreme inequality and a socio-political economy characterized by some features of an advanced economy versus large areas of underdevelopment has meant that resource allocation has been contentious with concerns on different ends of the political spectrum about whether equity or development is being compromised.  The bottom line is that about 40% of South Africans lived below the lower bound poverty line in 2015. With a Gini coefficient of 0.63 in 2015, South Africa is the most unequal country on earth 3 .

In South Africa’s current economic context, it is noteworthy that the work embarked on by the partnership between Inyathelo, the Kresge Foundation and South African Universities was timeous and that the engagement with local philanthropy and donors on issues of capacity and sustainability of South African universities has helped set the scene for the long term and more importantly laid the foundation that will prepare them for navigating the economic recession and the post-#fees must fall tsunami shock waves.

The programme for our two-day leadership retreat has been designed with specific objectives in mind. It seeks to:

  1. Reflect on the Kresge and Inyathelo framework for advancement, social justice and development.
  2. Understand the current challenges of the South African and global socio-political and economic context;
  3. Identify university priorities and advancement opportunities for the short, medium and long term;
  4. Hone into the possibilities of South Africa’s international agenda for advancement in South African universities;
  5. Identify partnerships and relationships that will consolidate advancement and ensure a space for democratic participation
  6. Next steps for advancement – Inyathelo, Kresge and Universities


Grassow, Lisa, & Le Bruyns, Clint. (2017). Embodying human rights in #FeesMustFall? Contributions from an indecent theology. HTS Theological Studies, 73(3), 1-9. https://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v73i3.4799

H. Wolpe, S. Badat & Z. Barends (1993) The post-secondary education system: Beyond the equality versus development impasse and towards policy formulation for equality and development
Sulla, Victor; Zikhali, Precious. 2018. Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa : An Assessment of Drivers, Constraints and Opportunities (English). Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/530481521735906534/Overcoming-Poverty-and-Inequality-in-South-Africa-An-Assessment-of-Drivers-Constraints-and-Opportunities