Universities face dire staffing crisis

 BY 2020 South Africa's 23 universities will be short of approximately 7 000 academics, 50% being professors who are due for retirement.

This academic forecast emphasises the staffing crisis South African universities are facing - a crisis which is all the more significant, given calls for transformation across the higher education sector.

In response, the Department of Higher Education Training (DoHET) recently announced a national New Generation of Academics' Programme, or "nGAP", starting this year, for implementation at universities throughout South Africa. The DoHET has agreed to finance an initial 125 new nGAP lecturing posts this year, across all 25 universities. Of these positions, atleast 80%  will be allocated to black and/or women South Africans.

Each post is funded for six years. By the end of year six, the nGAP academic should have achieved a doctoral or a master's degree and be flying in all aspects of academic life.

To assist them in achieving this, nGAP lecturers are given lighter teaching loads to allow time to complete further degrees. Their development is accelerated through participation in courses and modules in areas such as teaching and learning. This year, the total allocation per nGAP lecturer over the six years is R2.1-million, which includes salary, registration and tuition fees for postgraduate stud-ies, the costs of assigning a mentor for each nGAP lecturer, costs of infrastructure and equipment needed to support their work and costs to attend conferences.

Rhodes University is a front-runner in developing the next generation of academics, having initiated its own accelerated development programme, originally funded by the Andrew Mellon and Kresge Foundations, 15 years ago. The Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching and Learning at Rhodes coordinates the programme.

To date, 44 lecturers have completed the accelerated development programme at Rhodes. Of these, 33 now occupy permanent positions at the university. Others have moved on to academic posts at other universities.The demographics for the 44 participants are 39% black men, 50% black women and 11% white women.

Such is the success of the Rhodes programme, that it formed the basis of a document prepared by Dr Saleem Badat, former vice-chancellor of Rhodes University, on behalf of HESA, the organisation representing South African universities. The DoHET's nGAP project is clearly informed by this work. Rhodes University has been allocated three posts as a result of the first tranche of nGAP funding. They are in zoology, human geography and information systems.

The dean of teaching and learning, and currently acting deputy vice-chancellor: academ-ic and student affairs at Rhodes University, Professor Chrissie Boughey said: "If a professor or associate professor is retiring you cannot automatically replace them with a young nGAP lecturer; you need to consider what support a mid-level academic will need to advance to the next level.

"Placing an nGAP lecturer means looking at a department holistically and planning into the future. Rising through the academic ranks is a complex process," Boughey adds. Nowadays, academics need to be able to demonstrate their abilities as teachers as well as researchers.

"As a nation, we need to see more people choosing to become academics and aspiring to become professors. Being an academic is one of the most rewarding careers you could ever have," she said.

Rising through academic ranks is a complex process

PROFILE: Yusuf Motara driven to making computer science simplerfor students

ACCELERATED development programme lecturer Yusuf Motara is completing his PhD in computer science and is a lecturer in the computer science department at Rhodes University.

"In the overall theme of a changing South Africa, universities are not currently seen as viable career options for many graduates. This needs to change, and the way to change it is by making the most ofthe students we have right here," says Motara who was born and bred in Grahamstown.

He completed his undergraduate degree and postgraduate degrees at Rhodes. The accelerated development programme afforded him the time he needed to devote to his PhD research.

"lt has been a really good experience for me," he says. "My mentor and supervisor, Prof Barry Irwin, has played a big part in this. He trusts me and leaves me to get on with my work, but is always there in a supportive role."

Motara regards academia is one of the most exciting and rewarding careers."lt offers an incredibly rare opportunity to be paid to pursue creative, fulfilling, trailblazing work," he says. Motara backs up his point by adding that you only need to ask students what it is they want to do when they graduate, and most invariably say they want to do something innovative and fulfilling.

'This fades away as they enter the job market and are seduced by money, often to the detriment of their true potential, talent and brainpower," says Motara, who was determined not to allow this to happen to him.

He worked in information security and privacy in Joburg for fouryears, from 2006 to 2010, before choosing to come back to Rhodes and academia. "At some point it just isn't fun making more money for people who already have more than enough money," continues Motara who has a compelling drive to teach computer science to students in a way that is accessible, simple and empowering. 

PROFILE: Academia DrAmanda Hlenqwa's destiny

DR AMANDA Hlengwa coordinates the Accelerated Development Programme and is a lecturer in the Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching and Learning (CHERTL).

With a Masters degree in Education from the University of Melbourne, Australia, she was appointed as an Accelerated Development Programme lecturer at Rhodes University in 2007. She completed her PhD in 2013.

Her doctorate was on service learning in higher education. Hlengwa's journey into academia started at home in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, where she grew up in a family of educators. Hlengwa went to boarding school at the Holy Childhood Convent School in Eshowe from Grade 1. She attended St Johns DSG high school in Pietermaritzburg before transferring to Eshowe High.

After high school, Hlengwa completed a three-year diploma in child and youth development at the then- Durban University of Technology. She then worked for the Department of Child and Youth Development for two years, getting her BTech in Youth Work at the same time.

After graduating with her  BTech she successfully applied for a Masters scholarship being offered by AusAID. Hlengwa says she had "the most incredible time" at the University of Melbourne.

She never once considered staying in Australia, though."It's a wonderful place to visit, but it's not home.South Africa is where my roots are and this is where I want to be."

She returned to DUT, followed by a post at the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED). CHED colleague Professor Sioux McKenna, now the CHERTL doctoral programme coordinator at Rhodes, advised her to take the research methodology course at Rhodes run through the faculty of education.

She says this was a turning point for her, triggering her interest in service learning as a teaching tool. She was subsequently invited to applyfor the accelerated development programme, after which she was offered a lectureship at CHERTL, bringing her to Rhodes University where she has excelled. It is Rhodes University's good fortune that the Durban University of Technology opened the academic door for Hlengwa, who plays a major role in academic development at Rhodes and in South Africa.

PROFILE: Lieketso Mohoto makes hervoice heard

LIEKETSO Tee" Mohoto started lecturing in the drama departmenttwo years ago and is currently funded by Kresge on the Accelerated Development Programme. She is doing her Masters degree.

As the only black lecturer in the drama department, Mohoto did not anticipate just how much of a contact point she would be forthe black students and support staff.

"The other lecturers in the drama department are highly progressive, enlightened people but l suppose it's only natural that black people in the department, would look to me to assist them with problems they are facing, because feel they can identify more with me," she says.

Mohoto says many black people find the university environment alienating, and while she goes out of herway to help wherever she can, she finds the responsibility difficult to bear.

"lt forces me to speak out for blackness. lt forces me to be highly politicised about blackness when l am not really interested in this kind of politics. l came to the drama department to be an academic; l didn't come here to be black," she says. She is also very stretched for time because the drama department, being smaller, could not give her the usual 50% teaching load that the programme recommends.

It's a very supportive department and they have certainly given me a lighter load, but everyone is stretched," explains Mohoto, who is doing her Masters in Education through The Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching and Learning (CHERTL), mentored and supervised by Professor Alex Sutherland in the drama department and Dr Amanda Hlengwa from CHERTL.

"My Masters is a cross between what l teach and my research. l am interested in the area of specialisation around 'voice as text' in performance -the texture and tones in the human voice that contribute to the theatre event as a layer of text."

Mohoto came to Rhodes because of the reputation of the team in the drama department. "They are famous for what - they do, including Andrew Buckland for physical theatre, Janet Buckland for directing, Alex Sutherland for applied theatre, the list goes on," say: Mohoto who did her undergraduate degree and her Honours in directing and education atthe University of Cape Town.

She graduated four years ago and worked in Cape Town for almost two years before coming to Rhodes. She did some academic developmentwork for the University of Cape Town, and taught at the New Africa Theatre in Athlone.

She also worked as an administrator for FTH:K in Observatory, which is a theatre company specialising in theatre for and by the deaf. Mohoto hopes to contribute to changing policy approaches to research in line with more progressive thinking.

She also hopes to contribute to greater transformation at the university.

I'm not just talking about having more black students and academics. I'm talking about transforming the environment beyond the current hegemonic, white middle-classness, which continues to permeate the university environment and replicate itself in different skin colours in both the student and academic staff," she explains.

PROFILE: ProfessorJanice Limson a force in biotechnology

PROFESSOR Janice Limson joined the accelerated development programme at Rhodes 12 years ago. She received her PhD and is now a professor of biotechnology at Rhodes.

She holds a South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) in science communication, focusing on advancing technology innovation and engaging society in science. She is also the editor of Science in Africa magazine.

"In biotechnology we are graduating entrepreneurially-minded, socially conscientised, ethical leaders in science. I's a highly active, innovative space that is attracting top Honours, Masters and PhD students, who are working towards creating products that change people's lives in a real, tangible engagement with society," said ProfJanice Limson, who grew up in Port Elizabeth.

"With My PhD supervisor at Rhodes, distinguished Professor Tebello Nyokong was a formidable driving force and remains an integral part of my life,"she said.

Limson's research group, known as BioSENs, is engaged in three core research areas: biosensors, biofuel cells and nanobiotechnology. The main goals for the research group, she said, were to develop specific and sensitive sensing technology for a range of urgent problems, including fuel cell technology for alternative/green energy.

Limson goes out of her way to find funding for excellent postgraduate students and new lecturers. Her formal mentor on the accelerated development programme was the late Dr Winston Leukes, an exceptionally talented and entrepreneuriaIIy-minded scientist who encouraged her to pursue a career in biotechnology.

Limson is mentoring a current accelerated development programme lecturer in biotechnology, Dr Earl Prinsloo.




Article by Heather Dugmore


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