382 years for SA’s top 5 research universities to transform

2013-10-23 11:57

It will take South Africa’s top five universities up to 382 years to transform so that their staff and graduates reflect the demographics of the country, a study has found.

The five – based on research output – are the universities of Stellenbosch, Cape Town (UCT), KwaZulu-Natal, Pretoria and Wits.

The study also found that it will take up to 43 years to transform the staff profile of the rest of South Africa’s universities to reflect the demographics of the country. A further 40 years will be required for research staff of such universities to reflect the demographics of the country.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, paints a disturbing picture of the slow pace of transformation in institutions of higher learning across the country.

“The study shows that it is difficult to transform ‘privilege’, especially entrenched white privilege voluntarily and suggests that extraordinary measures are required. The statistics produced paint a dismal picture of the painfully and unacceptably slow rate of transformation,” said one of the researchers, Professor Kesh Govender, who is also the dean and head of the school of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The study, which will be presented to the portfolio committee on higher education in Parliament today, will also be published in the SA Journal of Science.

Govender said: “The researchers point out that the much-lauded autonomy afforded to the sector has clearly not been used to transform itself.

Graduation statistics do not reflect the enrolment figures. Of particular concern is the efficiency of the sector in producing graduates in line with the equity profile of the enrolled students.”

The Equity Index formula, which is the brainchild of the researchers, measures the level of transformation and the production of high-level knowledge (quality research output) against the demographics of the country. The study examined the demographic profile (race and gender) of 23 universities in the country.

When the research output of the institutions was weighted based on equity, four groups of universities emerged:

» Those with good equity indices and poor research productivity;

» Those with poor equity indices and poor research productivity;

» Those with poor equity indices and good research productivity; and

» Those with good equity and good research productivity.

“The study shows that the previously advantaged institutions in South Africa, like Stellenbosch and UCT, have poor equity indices; however, these universities score well as high-level knowledge producers. On the other hand, the universities of technology and some former disadvantaged institutions produce little research but have a good equity profile,” said Govender.

He cautioned that previously disadvantaged universities were doing a disservice to previously disadvantaged people by admitting them in huge numbers but not adding value to their skills and qualifications.

No university in the country has achieved the acceptable levels of equity, the study revealed.

Even though they also didn’t meet the accepted levels, the Central University of Technology, Free State University, University of Johannesburg, Tshwane University of Technology, Durban University of Technology and Vaal University of Technology were the top five performers as far as equity in student enrolment and graduation are concerned. The universities of Stellenbosch, Cape Town and Western Cape were the worst performers.

Rhodes, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the Central University of Technology in the Free State were the worst performers on overall equity and research productivity. The universities of North-West, Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and Wits were not without issues that needed to be addressed, but they exhibited good equity and research productivity.

“Nineteen years post freedom, the equity index for students and staff in the higher education sector show that transformation is not only painfully slow, but also embarrassingly slow,” said the researchers.

One of the researchers, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, who is also the vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said: “While the equity index is not a silver bullet for transformation, it has the potential to shape the future for this sector profoundly, and indeed many other sectors in the country.”

The long road ahead

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