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Higher Education

The Open Society Foundations’ commitment to higher education is rooted in our founder George Soros’s earliest philanthropic efforts.

$63.6M 2020 expenditures for Higher Education
5.3% Percentage of global expenditures
45.0% Average annual change in expenditures since 2016

2020 Higher Education Expenditures by Region

      Explore our full expenditures by theme and region

      Our Work

      George Soros’s first ventures into philanthropy focused on higher education: he started a scholarship program for Black students living under apartheid in South Africa in 1979, and in the 1980s funded academic exchanges and visits abroad for academics and students in his native Hungary when it was still under Communism.

      Today, our engagement in higher education issues has expanded considerably, to a broad effort to support the development of universities and colleges that are well governed, inclusive and responsive, and which promote academic freedom.

      A group of people at an event on disability rights in conversation.
      Elizabeth Kamundia, an expert on disability rights and recipient of the Open Society Disability Rights Scholarship in Galway, Ireland on November 21, 2012.  © Andrew Testa/Panos for the Open Society Foundations

      Responding to COVID-19

      Closedowns aimed at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus have had a devastating effect on students—from the very youngest to those at universities and college—as well as on their teachers and on academic research. We are supporting efforts to ensure that all students have access to the technology that enables them to keep learning, while also working to make sure that the crisis does not lead to technology companies exploiting their role in the crisis.


      Since the 1980s, the Open Society Foundations have funded more than 20,000 scholarships for young people to study in both the United States and Europe, including at Central European University, an independent institution George Soros established in 1993.

      People outside the entrance to Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.
      Central European University in Budapest, Hungary on October 26, 2018. © Akos Stiller for the Open Society Foundations

      Strengthening Academic Institutions

      Over the past decade, the Open Society Foundations have provided $8 million in support to the Al Quds Bard College in East Jerusalem’s Abu Dis neighborhood, with a particular focus on the Master of Arts program in teaching and critical thinking. 

      The Open Society Foundations helped establish the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, which opened in 1998 and is now one of the most highly regarded higher education institutions in Kyrgyzstan.

      Two students sit behind a desk while talking to a peer who is standing in front of them.
      Three students talk during Open House Day at American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on February 4, 2017. American University of Central Asia

      Supporting Knowledge Production

      The Foundations also provide funding for courses at the Women’s Studies Institute at Birzeit University in Ramallah, one of the first academic institutions in the Middle East to focus on the study of gender.

      A line of women in graduation caps and gowns.
      Palestinian students attend their graduation ceremony at the Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 24, 2018. © Shadi Hatem/ZUMA/Newscom

      Access to Higher Education for Refugees

      As part of its program to provide access to study opportunities for refugees, our Higher Education Support Program promotes innovative models of access to university education for refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya.

      Young men and women in a classroom
      Students in a school at the Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya. © Tom Pilston/Panos Pictures/Redux

      Promoting University Integrity and Academic Freedom

      In Ukraine, the national foundation helped universities establish an independent external testing system for admissions—aimed at combating the paying of bribes for student places—that now operates across the country.

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