dilemma THE DOC­TORAL

Univer­si­ties un­likely to meet the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan’s tar­get of pro­duc­ing 5 000 PhDs by 2030

CityPress - - Front Page - SIPHO MA­SONDO sipho.ma­sondo@city­press.co.za See ‘Black aca­demics must unite’ in Voices

S outh African univer­si­ties pro­duce a woe­fully in­ad­e­quate num­ber of doc­tor­ates and are un­likely to meet the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan’s tar­get of pro­duc­ing 5 000 PhDs by 2030, aca­demics have said. A snap City Press survey re­vealed that in 2013 our univer­si­ties pro­duced just over 1 800 doc­tor­ates. Wits Univer­sity’s Vice-Chan­cel­lor and Prin­ci­pal Pro­fes­sor Adam Habib said: “[To meet the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan tar­get, univer­si­ties] will have to fun­da­men­tally change the way they do things.”

A study con­ducted by the Academy of Sci­ence for SA in 2010 showed PhD pro­duc­tion had climbed in the past 20 years. In 1996, lo­cal univer­si­ties pro­duced only 685 PhD grad­u­ates. By 2010 the fig­ure had more than dou­bled to 1 421.

But that growth still leaves us far be­hind other coun­tries like Brazil, whose Univer­sity of Sao Paulo alone pro­duced 2 244 PhDs in 2010. South Africa and Brazil are at sim­i­lar stages of de­vel­op­ment.

Habib said the in­crease South Africa had recorded in the past two decades was “glar­ingly in­suf­fi­cient” for a 21st-cen­tury,

It would help a great deal if about 60% of lec­tur­ers and aca­demic staff had PhDs

DR AL­BERT VAN JAARSVELD

knowl­edge-based econ­omy.

The Academy of Sci­ence’s re­port re­vealed that South Africa cur­rently pro­duces be­tween 23 and 27 PhDs per 1 mil­lion peo­ple each year. Brazil pro­duces 52. “The PhD is ar­guably the key qual­i­fi­ca­tion defin­ing the qual­ity re­search stan­dards of a coun­try, and is par­tic­u­larly ac­knowl­edged as a means for ac­quir­ing, gen­er­at­ing and us­ing re­search-based knowl­edge,” it said in the re­port.

“New knowl­edge gen­er­ated via doc­toral ed­u­ca­tion is widely ac­knowl­edged as an im­por­tant strate­gic and eco­nomic re­source.”

Dr Al­bert van Jaarsveld, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional Re­search Foun­da­tion, said it would be “very dif­fi­cult” to achieve the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan tar­gets and would take “a spe­cial ef­fort”.

Van Jaarsveld, who takes over as prin­ci­pal of the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal next year, said more bur­saries should be made avail­able for master’s and doc­toral can­di­dates. “At the Na­tional Re­search Foun­da­tion, we have been push­ing for the up­skilling of lec­tur­ers them­selves, in­clud­ing sab­bat­i­cals for lec­tur­ers to com­plete PhDs.”

The pro­duc­tion of PhDs, he said, was hin­dered by the fact that only 37% of aca­demic staff in univer­si­ties held doc­tor­ates them­selves.

“It would help a great deal if about 60% of lec­tur­ers and aca­demic staff had PhDs,” he said.

Lec­tur­ers can’t su­per­vise PhD stu­dents un­less they hold a doc­tor­ate them­selves, said Van Jaarsveld – so it would be point­less to in­crease the num­ber of PhD can­di­dates if there aren’t enough su­per­vi­sors.

Dr Nelleke Bak, di­rec­tor of post­grad­u­ate stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Cape Town, said the Na­tional Re­search Foun­da­tion tar­get would be “dif­fi­cult to re­alise with­out an in­crease in re­sources, al­ter­na­tive mod­els of su­per­vi­sion and ap­pro­pri­ately qual­i­fied aca­demics to support this am­bi­tious goal”.

The ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Hu­man Sciences Re­search Coun­cil’s ed­u­ca­tion and skills de­vel­op­ment re­search pro­gramme, Dr Vi­jay Reddy, said the area of study for PhD can­di­dates was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant.

The 2010 study re­ported that: “En­gi­neer­ing, ma­te­ri­als and tech­nolo­gies con­sis­tently pro­duced the small­est share of the grad­u­ates. In 2007, the head­count fig­ure for so­cial sciences (437) was almost five times that for en­gi­neer­ing, ma­te­ri­als and tech­nolo­gies (92).

“As South Africa em­barks on var­i­ous in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion strate­gies and gov­ern­ment growth strate­gies to lift and ex­pand the econ­omy, it is im­por­tant that the ar­eas of study of the doc­toral grad­u­ates re­spond to the needs of the econ­omy and the so­ci­ety.”

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