Retirement to claim 50% of researchers

SA will lose its most productive group of researchers over the next decade, as about half of the country's professors and associate professors reach retirement age, according to a paper authored by researchers from a number of universities.

In a proposal for a national programme to develop the country's next generation of academics, the authors observe that academics over the age of 50 have increasingly come to bear responsibility of publishing. In 1990, it says, 20% of research articles were published by scientists older than 50, while by 2000 that nearly 50% of publications were authored by scientists older than 50.

The paper, authored co-operatively by researchers from a number of universities, the Council on Higher Education (CHE) and Higher Education South Africa (Hesa) under leadership of Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor Dr Saleem Badat, proposes that the country's next generation of academics "will need to be equipped to discharge the responsibility of conducting research and publishing, so that the knowledge needs of SA are effectively met".

"Embarking on a research career in addition to one's teaching responsibilities is no easy task, but (it) can be facilitated by structured programmes designed to introduce the academic to the conventions of research and publishing and to help them plan a research trajectory that starts with the master's and PhD degrees that they might need to obtain," the authors say.

"Such a programme should also be mindful of the third dimension of academic work — community engagement (or social responsiveness as it is sometimes called) as well as the need to transform modes of knowledge production in SA."

The proposal says intellectual discourse, teaching and learning, curriculum and texts, and knowledge production and research at South African universities have been strongly shaped by the racist, patriarchal and authoritarian colonial and apartheid social orders. "There is evidence that discourses associated with and dominant under apartheid continue to shape knowledge production and, potentially, also the production of new academics."

That means a next generation of academics "must contribute to the intellectual and academic decolonisation, deracialisation and de-gendering of the inherited intellectual spaces of SA's universities and, more generally, to reorienting universities to serve, in accordance with their social purposes, new constitutional, economic and social needs and development challenges".

To do that, the authors note, a next generation has to contribute to the transformation of institutional cultures.

"The specific histories of these institutions, lingering racist and sexist conduct, privileges associated with social class, English as the language of tuition and administration, the overwhelming predominance of white and male academics and administrators, the concomitant underrepresentation of black and women academics and role models, and insufficient respect for and appreciation of diversity and difference could all combine to reproduce institutional cultures that are experienced by black, women and working class and rural poor students as discomforting, alienating, exclusionary and disempowering."

The authors say such a circumstance will have negative consequences for equity of opportunity and outcomes for these students. "Even if equity of opportunity and outcome are not unduly compromised, the overall educational and social experience of such students may be diminished. Aspirant and new black and women academics may find institutional environments and cultures alienating and difficult to traverse and have to be prepared and supported if they are to remain for extended periods at universities."

Source: Business Day 

Source:  Business Day

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