South Africa-United Kingdom University Staff Doctoral Programme – Project Update

by Zaira Solomons

Our second all-partner online meeting was held this month, successfully using Microsoft Teams. The meeting coincided with the visit by project members from Walter Sisulu University (WSU) to Stellenbosch University.

The view from GLEA’s laptop shows (left) Dr Rebekah Smith McGloin from Coventry University, (top right) Prof. Nolutho Diko from WSU who was visiting partners at Stellenbosch University, and (lower right) Dr Zanoxolo Gobingca (WSU) who joined us from Mthatha.

In preparation for the meeting I circulated GLEA colleagues with an orientation of the South African tertiary education context in which our partner institutions exist. This provided a critical perspective on some of the challenges manifested in South African higher education.

Since the advent of democracy in 1994, South Africa has introduced initiatives to transform undergraduate education to ensure that it be more accessible for the entire populace. African student enrolment at universities increased by 10 percent from 2003 to 2014, as well as an increase in black female enrolments from 43 per cent in 2003 to 58 per cent in 2013 (Herman and Sehoole 2018: 5). In pursuits to democratise education, large amounts of investments amounting to approximately 3 billion South African rand have been invested in ensuring universities function and operate on an equal footing (Karodia, Shaikh and Soni 2015: 329).

A common problem associated with Apartheid is the unequal education spaces which still prevails for the respective racial groups, more than two decades into democracy. In essence, education was utilised as a tool to divide society during apartheid, and this is one of the many issues which culminated in the creation of advantaged vs disadvantaged higher education institutions. Currently, the case for previously disadvantage institutions, like University of Zululand and Walter Sisulu University, are a lack of infrastructure, skills and appropriate resources to support research capabilities (Sonn 2016: 234). This affirms Peak and Blumbach’s (2018: 15) findings which suggest that the major obstacle for historically marginalised institutions were skilled Ph.D. supervisors to student ratio. Ward and Brennan (2018: 6) describe the role of supervisor as particularly crucial in mitigating doctoral student attrition and completion levels. Race and gender representation are also key determining factors which persists in higher education and black women are still largely excluded from the academic arena (Naicker 2013: 83).   

The importance of mobilising doctoral education at historically disadvantage institutions would be to firstly to transform the academic landscape, secondly to uplift and empower marginalised groups who have been previously excluded from within the academe, including their respective institutions. Also, lastly to contribute to the knowledge economy of the country, by advancing and promoting research excellence and innovation on the African continent. 

Project colleagues have suggested that some fragments of this blog appear to be contentious. I am a keen promoter of accuracy and would therefore welcome your comments and inputs.

The above image provides a sense of what has been happening behind the scenes at Coventry University, whereby the GLEA team can be seen sharing and brainstorming ideas with both partners, (top left) Dr Virginia King, (centre) Prof. Katherine Wimpenny, (right) Zaira Solomons.