South Africa Producing Fewer Doctoral Graduates Than Planned

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Having a high number of doctoral graduates has several benefits for countries that are looking to expand their research output, as well as maintain a vast labour force in their universities. This also enables a nation to build more tertiary institutions while maintaining a globally competitive academic research base.


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Despite currently having a total of 26 public universities, the Department of higher education has found that the country has not been turning out enough graduates. In fact, it has been stagnating in the three years between 2018 and 2021.

Within that period, the number of doctoral graduates per million of the population has remained at 59 from 2018 to 2021, well below the National Development Plan’s target to produce more than 100 doctoral graduates per million of population per year by 2030.

This is despite the notable progress made between 2012 and 2021 where the figure rose by 23 doctoral graduates per million of the population in nine years from 36 to the current figure.

The total number of doctoral graduates in a particular year is divided by the population in that same year, and the result is multiplied by 1,000,000 to determine the number of doctoral graduates per million of the population each year.

This translates to a total of 1 879 university doctoral graduates in 2012 to 3 574 in 2021. The government aims to increase its output to 5,000 doctorates annually by 2030. 

The NDP 2030 also proposes that, by 2030, more than 25% of students enrolled in universities should be at the postgraduate level. However, as things stand, the department shows that the share of postgraduate students enrolled in public universities was 14.5% in 2021.

It is important to note that since 2016, the number of postgraduate students enrolling in public universities has been on the decline, falling from 16.9% in 2016 to 14.5% in 2021.

Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that the target will be met by 2030 if the proportion of postgraduate students enrolled at public universities declines at the same rate during the next eight years. 

The percentage of postgraduate students enrolling in universities must increase by at least 1.2% annually over the next eight years in order for the target to be met.

 

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