Open data have the potential to improve the governance of universities as public institutions. In addition, open data are likely to increase the quality, efficacy and efficiency of the research and analysis of higher education systems by providing a shared empirical base for critical interrogation and reinterpretation. Drawing on research conducted by the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries project, and using an ecosystems approach, this research paper considers the supply, demand and use of open data as well as the roles of intermediaries in the governance of South African public higher education. It shows that government's higher education database is a closed and isolated data source in the data ecosystem; and that the open data that are made available by government is inaccessible and rarely used. In contrast, government data made available by data intermediaries in the ecosystem are being used by key stakeholders. Intermediaries are found to play several important roles in the ecosystem: (i) they increase the accessibility and utility of data; (ii) they may assume the role of a “keystone species” in a data ecosystem; and (iii) they have the potential to democratize the impacts and use of open data. The article concludes that despite poor data provision by government, the public university governance open data ecosystem has evolved because intermediaries in the ecosystem have reduced the viscosity of government data. Further increasing the fluidity of government open data will improve access and ensure the sustainability of open data supply in the ecosystem.