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Africa’s contribution to world science is shrinking

Africa’s contribution to world knowledge is shrinking and more students choose to study overseas, writes Johann Mouton in the Beeld newspaper. There is a need to build out Africa’s ability to produce knowledge he says.

Today’s economy and society are increasingly dependent on knowledge to ensure progress, and internationally universities are assuming the responsibility to produce that type of scientific knowledge and to disseminate it. This trend however is not happening in Africa, and especially in Africa South of the Sahara.

African countries very often lack research laboratoria, and government institutions with abundant resources. Many of these countries experience huge debt problems resulting from factors ranging from civil wars to globalisation. This has made these countries more dependent on international help. The problem with this according to Mouton is that these international institutions (especially the World Bank) rather support Basic Education than Higher Education. Reasons for this are that investments in primary and secondary education result in far better returns, and secondly that Basic Education is seen as a basic human right.

This led to a shift in focus more on basic education with a resultant decline in funding to higher education institutions. This in turn led to a brain drain, with scores of academics streaming to developed countries and to the private sector.

Mouton cites a study by the University of Leiden’s Centre for Science and Technology, indicating that the contribution of Africa South of the Sahara to world science in 1996 was only 0.7% .

Africa’s was at it highest point in 1987 according to Mouton, but since then Africa has lost 11 % of its contribution to world science, and 31 % in Africa South of the Sahara.

Other factors responsible for this downward trend mentioned in Mouton’s article are:

  • Internal factors at African universities: – University adminstrators are very often government appointees, which have an impact on decision making processes.
  • Intellect-pull effect: – postgraduate students that continue their studies at institutions outside their own countries because of lack of resources and inadequate Masters and Doctorate programmes in their home countries. 

Mouton also cites UNESCO’s outward mobility rate, which measures the number of students that studies overseas. This shows that 87 % of Botswana’s students are studying outside the country, and 30 % of students from Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Mauritius are studying outside their countries. South Africa though has a high inward mobility rate because many of the students from these countries are continuing their studies here, but the most popular destinations are the United Kingdom and the United States.

Mouton pleads for the establishment of a dedicated capacity building centre that will support, strengthen and invigorate African expertise and knowledge, giving as an example the African Doctoral Academy at the University of Stellenbosch.

Johann Mouton is the director of the African Doctoral Academy (ADA) in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Stellenbosch.  

To read more go to Johann Mouton’s original article in Afrikaans that was published in the Beeld newspaper of 2 December 2011. Click Here to access the article.

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South Africa needs more PhD graduates

Bold intervention is needed to increase the number of PhD graduates in South Africa, a study released recently by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) has found.

The production of doctorates in the country had been stable for several years, ASSAF’s Professor Jonathan Jansen said in Johannesburg at the presentation of a study on demands for high-level skills in an emerging economy.

“In the context of current systems and capacity at South African universities, there is little hope that rapid growth in high-level qualifications at the level of the doctorate will materialise in the foreseeable future.”

The report was produced by an expert study panel, led by Jansen, and showed among other things that South Africa’s production of PhDs per million of the population, 26 PhD graduates yearly per million, compared poorly with other countries such as Portugal (569 per million) and Australia (264 per million) per annum.

To read more go to Phumza Sokana’s article on IOL News by Clicking Here!

To read the report on PhD graduates in South Africa by the Academy of Science of South Africa Click Here!


Decline in South African PhD graduates a major problem

South Africa’s inability to produce enough doctoral graduates to build the ‘knowledge economy’ it aspires to, or simply to replace the existing cohort of academics in the higher education system, is a challenge widely acknowledged by government departments, their agencies and universities. But fixing the problem is a lot harder.

According to Professor Johann Mouton, director of the University of Stellenbosch’s Centre for Research on Science and Technology (CREST) which has conducted a five-part study on the PhD, part of the solution lies in making more money available to doctoral students to enable them to pursue their studies full-time.

Currently about 80% of South African doctoral students are part-time and generally take far longer to complete their degrees than their European or American counterparts.

Mouton identified a string of blockages to postgraduate study:  

  • The low number of matric [school leaving examination] exemptions, and too few good passes in maths and science
  • The problem of student poverty and debt. SA produces about 100,000 bachelor graduates a year, but the majority of those need to start working immediately to pay off debt

The number of potential researchers is whittled down at each level of the system. Out of about 22,000 honours students, those pursuing masters and doctorate degrees amount to only 10,000, of which just under 1,200 (1,182 in 2008) end up graduating with a PhD.

To read more go to Sharon Dell’s article in University World News Africa Edition by Clicking Here!