The just-puДокторblished Doctoral Education in South Africa by Nico Cloete, Johann Mouton and Charles Sheppard reveals new approaches South Africa can take for a ‘radical rethink’ to meet its PhD targets. Government efforts have supported the doubling in a decade of doctoral graduate numbers to 2,200 a year, and the new research will play a key role in transforming the PhD in the coming decade.
Earlier this year the Department of Science and Technology, or DST, commissioned Professor Johann Mouton to undertake a postgraduate pipeline study. The terms of reference were simple: why do so few doctoral students enrol and complete? The answer he gave is that most doctoral students work while they study. They have to earn an income to support families. And bursaries are inadequate to allow full-time study. That was the double bind. Interestingly, more natural science than social science students study full-time and more natural scientists than social scientists graduate.
There are three approaches.
– Option 1: Send PhD students abroad. The first is to send students to Europe and America for doctoral training. There are, the ASSAf said, simply not enough PhD supervisors – even assuming all those available were qualified and that the supervisor-to-student ratio was evenly spread. The ASSAf report made a back-of-the-envelope calculation that it would cost approximately R2 billion (US$133 million) to produce 1,000 externally trained PhDs in 10 years.
– Option 2: Invest more in universities. The second option to improve throughput from undergraduate to doctoral study is to invest more in our own universities. Why would we send students outside the country to be trained at great expense, when we could train them at least as well here, and at a far lower cost?
– Option 3: DST’s hybrid model. The third option is the hybrid option that DST has adopted. The main long-term task is to address gender and racial imbalances in the make-up of the science and technology workforce. We not only want to encourage more students to embark on science and engineering doctoral studies, but we are also making plans to sustain their ability to pursue research careers. Too often our research talent is lost because of the attraction of other lucrative careers.
This book shows that there are new approaches we can take for a ‘radical rethink’ to meet our National Development Plan PhD targets, which are more than double what we now have.