‘Fund older teachers for PhDs to improve quality of basic education’

Give experienced teachers funding – and sabbaticals to acquire PhDs –it would greatly enrich the quality of basic education.

This was a call made to Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande at the launch of the National Tracer Study of Doctoral Graduates in South Africa in Pretoria.

The national tracer study tracked the movement, career paths and work experience of PhD graduates in South African universities across a range of sectors and disciplines from 2000 to 2018. It is an expansion of the tracer study conducted by the Water Research Commission (WRC) and released in 2019.

In 2020, Nzimande’s department commissioned WRC and the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology at the University of Stellenbosch to conduct an extended study of all PhD graduates who obtained their degrees in the past 18 years.

Speaking at the launch held at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research International Convention Centre last Friday, Prof Zurab Janelidze, the president of the South African Mathematical Society, appealed to Nzimande to support older PhD students who do not qualify for National Research Foundation (NRF) funding because of their age.

“We have no PhD holders in the school education system. Young PhD students would not go to education because there are better paying jobs,” he said about the field of maths.
“Teachers who have been teaching for a long time cannot get grants because of the competitive nature of grants. They cannot get NRF funding because of age,” he said imploring Nzimande to make funds available for teachers and to give them time-off to do PhD.

Janelidze said it was important to the basic education system to have PhD holders so that a good foundation of subjects is laid at the start of education. He said the technical and vocational education and training colleges also needed PhD graduates.

“In maths, this would be because a PhD gives you a different outlook when you teach the subject,” he said. Nzimande welcomed the idea, saying it was excellent.

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) also supported the idea. Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said teachers are life-long students. “We support the idea. We have few PhD graduate teachers. Funding older teachers and giving them time to complete studies would capacitate them and make them to be life-long learners,” she said.
The tracer study shows that the average age of doctoral graduates is 40 or 41 years over the period between 2000 and 2018.

Interestingly, the study found that 60% of PhD graduates studied for their degrees part-time. “The majority (60%) of doctoral students in South Africa study part time. This means that they are enrolled for their doctoral studies while employed or self-employed. Conversely, only 40% of all doctoral students study full time. Importantly, this proportion of part-time to full-time students (60:40) has remained nearly unchanged over the past two decades, suggesting that this is a structural feature of the South African doctoral system,” says the report.

Janelidze’s suggestion speaks to PhD graduate employment trends, which show that 70% of the graduates found employment directly related to their fields of expertise or training.

“Most South African doctoral graduates over the past 19 years have remained with the same employer since obtaining their doctorates.

“This is not surprising either, given that about 60% of all doctoral students in the country were already employed when they enrolled for doctoral studies,” says the report.

In addition, only 3% of PhD graduates have reported to have not been able to find employment in the first year after graduating.

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