Dearth of PhDs paints a bleak picture for black kids

2010-10-23 16:28

In 2007, South Africa produced 1?274 doctoral graduates, meaning 26 PhD graduates per one?million people.

This is according to ­research published by the Academy of Science of South ­Africa titled The PhD Study.

South Africa produces less PhDs than Brazil, Turkey, Iceland, Hungary and Estonia.

Only Chile produced less than South Africa, the study found.

The research argues that postgraduate study is critical if South Africa is to meet the demands of human capital in an increasingly competitive ­global economy.

It comes as no surprise that the former white universities – namely the universities of Pretoria, Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Witwatersrand and ­KwaZulu-Natal – are at the forefront of producing PhD graduates.

It is criminal that during some academic years, a university such as Walter Sisulu does not ­produce a single PhD graduate.

It can be argued that there is a correlation ­between the poverty so pervasive in black ­communities and the dearth of PhDs in these communities.

But if they are to be increased, ­high-performing students will have to enter the higher education sector and actually graduate.

We also need a high-performing education ­system that provides capable candidates.

The fact that our basic education has been ­perennially in the intensive care unit means that the future looks bleak for the black girl and boy child, especially those from poor communities.

It is also noted that most PhD graduates are white males, which partly explains the ­omnipresence of whiteness holding the levers of ­economic power.
Of the black PhD graduates, there is a high percentage of non-South Africans, which begs the question as to why South African black ­graduates are not enrolling for doctoral studies.

South Africans ­appear to value ­material things over scholarly pursuits. As a society, we have undervalued postgraduate ­qualifications in ­general and the PhD in particular.

The fact that the private sector does not employ doctoral graduates en masse explains why we are uncompetitive globally.

We need to inculcate the fact that these qualifications are ­important for the highest level of performance.

It is well and good that management at universities earn market-related salaries and that the vice-chancellors’ salaries match those of chief executives of major corporations?– a result of us embracing the neo-liberal paradigm that entrenches corporatism and managerialism in our universities.

But it should not be that the academic world pays well only in deanships and vice­chancellorships as this has resulted in many ­capable researchers being promoted to ­management positions in order to earn better ­salaries, and the juniorisation of the classroom.

The university faculty has also lost most of its best brains because of this.

This further demeans the status of the PhD.

Young undergraduates ask why they should aspire to get a doctorate only to be looked down
upon and be rewarded less than those in the public sector.

The fact is that we have criminalised intellectual work by undermining those in faculties by poor pay and benefits.

Those who teach and produce high-level skills for this emerging economy should actually be rewarded.

In a society where membership of the ruling party secures one multimillionaire status, why would anyone go through the gruelling process of acquiring a doctorate?

It is going to take more than policy ­pronouncements to ameliorate our performance in the area of PhD graduates because it will need a change of mindsets and value systems.

Or else the dreams of the black boy and girl child will remain eternally deferred.

»? Ngoben  is the director of publications at the Africa Institute of South Africa

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