High attrition mars programme supporting young Black and female scholars
A flagship programme to redress racial and gender imbalances among South African academics is being reviewed, the country’s minister of science and higher education has said.
Science and higher education minister Blade Nzimande announced the intention last week after revealing that nearly a quarter of the beneficiaries of the programme, which started in 2015, have left academia.
The new Generation of Academics Programme (nGAP) aims to boost the number of underrepresented groups—such as Black, Coloured or Indian South Africans and women—that hold lecturer positions. (In South Africa, Coloured denotes people with mixed heritage.)
The programme recruits master’s and PhD graduates onto a six-year scheme where they receive three years of training—either at PhD or postdoctoral level—followed by a three-year tenured academic position at one of South Africa’s 26 public universities.
The government pays for the first three years, and shares the cost with the hosting institution for the following three. After six years, the institution is expected to fund the candidate’s ongoing employment in full.
Speaking on 12 April, Nzimande said that while the programme had created posts for 758 lecturers so far, only 583 lecturers remained in their posts, with 175 (23 per cent) having left the academy.
He also said that a small number of “playful, if not reckless” candidates had engaged in “acts of ill-discipline, disobedience, and fraud” under the programme. The Department of Higher Education and Training is considering raising penalties against those individuals, the minister said, such as demanding that they reimburse the programme.
A DHET spokesperson told Research Professional News that only three candidates had been found to be “disobedient”—these stand accused of sexual harassment, compromising their host university’s examination progress and abscondment.
The spokesperson also said that since learning about these cases, annual induction workshops for candidates had included a session on ethics.
While acknowledging these challenges, Nzimande lauded the “tangible” outcomes of the nGAP programme, including some of its beneficiaries who started as lecturers now holding senior lecturer or associate professor positions.
He said his department has commissioned a management information system to track the progress of lecturers who progress through the programme, adding that this is vital to track the DHET’s 2 billion rand (US$100 million) investment in the programme to date.
One programme beneficiary, who graduated from it in 2021, told Research Professional News that she thinks a lack of communication from the DHET might result in some candidates leaving abruptly.
Nomfundo Moroe, an associate professor in speech pathology and audiology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said that while nGAP is well-conceived it has its pros and cons like every programme.
She said she advises new applicants to carefully study any contracts provided to them if they want the scheme to operate in their favour. “Everything lies in them understanding their contract and being able to interpret exactly what it means.”
Other beneficiaries who, like Moroe, have successfully completed the programme include Jonas Mochane, a chemistry lecturer at the Central University of Technology in the Free State; Pontsho Mbule, an associate professor in nanotechnology at the University of South Africa; and Stephen Monye, who works at the University of South Africa’s department of criminal and procedural law.
Nzimande said his department has backing from South Africa’s cabinet to continue its support of the nGAP programme, until the historical imbalances that blight the country’s higher education system—as a result of the country’s racially segregated past—have been addressed.