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.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.