15 July 2015 Volume :3 Issue :33

The Leaky Pipeline of Doctoral Production in South Africa

The Leaky Pipeline of Doctoral Production in South Africa
UKZN’s Professor Michael Samuel (left) with Professor Johann Mouton.

‘Financial challenges, low progression and retention rates, and family constraints contribute to the leaky pipeline of doctoral production in South Africa. It is due to this leaky pipeline that the target of 5000 PhDs by 2030 may not be met.’

This is according to data presented by Professor Johann Mouton at a forum hosted by UKZN’s Teaching & Learning Office (UTLO).

Mouton, who is the Director of the Centre for Research on Science and Technology and the African Doctoral Academy at Stellenbosch University, examined trends, challenges and constraints to doctoral production in the country.

He said 70% of white honours students relied on family earnings to continue their studies compared to the 41% of black, Indian and coloured students. At doctoral level, 66% of black, Indian and coloured students had financial challenges compared to the 36% of White students.

Mouton presented data on the most recent trends in doctoral production in South Africa within the framework of policy imperatives, including:

Quantity - Trends in the growth of doctoral enrolments and graduations

* Efficiency - Completion rates of doctoral graduates

* Transformation - Trends in doctoral enrolments and graduations by race, gender and age

Quality - Ratios of doctoral students to doctorate staff.

He said a huge growth in doctoral enrolments and graduations was evident between 2008 and 2012 when the Department of Higher Education and Training introduced funding incentives. The Natural Sciences had the biggest growth from 26% in 1996 to 35% in 2012.

In terms of efficiency, an average 16% of masters graduates in South Africa are said to continue to enrol for a PhD within five years of completing their masters studies. He said two in five of the 2001 cohort completed their doctoral studies within seven years.

He added that the low progression and retention rates were due to the part-time nature of their postgraduate studies. He said higher progression and completion rates were evident in the Natural Sciences where a large proportion of students studied full time.

‘The average doctoral completion rate in South Africa over the past decade is just below 50%. This does not compare favourably with other countries. However, it is important to keep in mind that 70% of SA doctoral students study part-time. Case-specific information shows that full-time doctoral students complete at much higher rates.’

Mouton said: ‘This means that it is unlikely that the system will reach the target of 5 000 PhDs by 2030. Even with the now standard practice of incentivising doctoral production with monetary rewards for supervisors at most universities, it remains unlikely that we will see the proportion of academic staff with PhDs getting close to the NDP target of 75%.

‘Perhaps more importantly, the burden of supervision on the top 10 to 12 universities already producing 90% of total doctoral output will continue to increase. Students will continue to flock to the top universities which have better completion rates and more resources. The already very skewed HE system – as reflected in research production – is likely to continue as is and may even become more skewed in overall knowledge production.’

To view the video recording of Professor Mouton’s seminar or to download the presentation, please visit: http://utlo.ukzn.ac.za/mouton-seminar

Sithembile Shabangu

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