Young people shun academia, says minister

2010-04-23 17:40

People nearing pensionable age dominate South African academia as the young generation continue to shun the sector.


Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said the issue of ageing academics has been a concern for over a decade in the sector, but so far nothing had been done.


“The average age of South African academics is over 50 and is not getting any younger,” he said.


Nzimande highlighted this when he opened the two-day higher education summit in Cape Town this week.

He said the Council of Higher Education’s 2009 report on the state of higher education in South Africa noted a drop in the number of staff below the age of 30 in the period 2003 to 2007 and an increase in the number of academics over the age of 50.


“It is important that we identify all the reasons for this situation and that we draw up a comprehensive, medium- to long-term national plan to deal with it.


“This will involve persuading larger numbers of young graduates to go on to post-graduate studies and to take up academic careers, ensuring salaries that they find acceptable...,” he said.


Tshwane University of Technology’s Leslie Mxolisi Dikeni, co-editor of South African Democracy – The Retreat of Intellectuals In New Democracies, said there were two possible reasons why young people found academia unattractive.


First, academics were some of the worst-paid people.


Dikeni said his experience in France and Holland made him aware that the remuneration of academics was also a huge problem in Europe.


Second, Dikeni said South African universities devalued theory as anti-intellectualism was taking root by the day.


“Our universities are now producing for the market, we are not producing students who think about constructing concepts that can help in transforming society,” he said.


Salary gap

Nzimande said he had to confess his job would be made a lot easier if academics were a better organised constituency and able to speak more forcefully for themselves.


He said there was a serious problem in that since 1994 the salary gap between managers and academics (as well as vice-chancellors and the lowest-paid workers) grew enormously and that there was no consistency in the criteria used to determine executive salaries among institutions.


Clearer guidelines would be put in place for each university council to follow when setting remuneration of their executives, Nzimande said.


He said that would be done on the basis of discussions with chairs of councils and the work done by his predecessor, Naledi Pandor.
 

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