Doctoral Enrolments and Graduation in South Africa. Ian Bunting and Charles Sheppard 23February 2012. Contents. Graph 1: Doctoral enrolments, doctoral graduates and research publications Graph 2: Average annual changes: enrolments, graduates and publications
Doctoral Enrolments and Graduation in South Africa
Ian Bunting and Charles Sheppard
Graph 1:Doctoral enrolments, doctoral graduates and research publications
Graph 2:Average annual changes: enrolments, graduates and publications
Graph 3:Doctoral enrolments by race group
Graph 4:Percentage of doctoral enrolments in race groupings
Graph 5:Graduation rates and cohort output equivalents
Graph 6:Actual doctoral graduates vs normative totals on National Plan target ratio
Graph 7:Permanent academic staff
Graph 8:Percentage of academic staff with doctorates by institutional category
Graph 9:Ratios of doctoral enrolments to academic staff with doctorates
Graph 10:Government research funding allocations by output category & financial year
Graph 11:Estimates of Rand values of research outputs
Graph 12: Average annual increases in outputs
Graph 13:Total government research output funding per permanent academic
Graph 14:Doctoral and publication output funding per permanent academic (2011/12)
Graph 1 sets out data on key elements of SA’s high-level knowledge
production for the period 1996-2010 expressed as doctoral enrolments, doctoral graduates and research publication units. Average annual changes in these totals are reflected in Graph 2.
Graph 2 divides Graph 1 growth rates into the period between (a) 1996 and 2002, which covered the period of the 1997 HE White Paper and the 2001 National Plans, and (b) 2004-2010 which covered the introduction and implementation of the new 2003 government funding framework.
Graph 3 divides the doctoral enrolment totals for 1996-2010 into race groupings. The main change has been in African doctoral enrolments, which increased from 663 in 1996 to 5066 in 2010, when African doctoral enrolments exceeded that of White enrolments for the first time.
Graph 4 shows how the % of doctoral enrolments by race group changed between 1996 to 2010. African doctoral students rose from 13% in 1996 to 33% in 2004, and 44% in 2010.
Graph 5 offers a first picture of the doctoral output efficiency of
SA’s public HE system, based on output ratios which appear in the
2001 National Plan. The National Plan set this as an output norm:
The ratio between doctoral graduates in a given year and doctoral enrolments should = 20%. So, if 10 000 doctoral students were enrolled in the HE system in year X, then at least 200 of these students should graduate in year X.
This norm was based on a further target norm that at least 75% of any cohort of students entering doctoral studies for the first time in (say) year Y, should eventually graduate. Calculations had shown that if the cohort output norm was to be achieved, then the 20% ratio of total graduates to total enrolments would have to be met over a period of time.
Graph 5 shows that, as far as doctoral outputs are concerned, the Public HE system has failed to meet the National Plan’s efficiency targets. Calculations show that over the period 1996–2002, less than 50% of students entering doctoral programmes in SA will eventually graduate.
Graph 6 offers estimates of the effects of inefficiencies in SA’s doctoral programmes. For example, over the period 2005-2010, SA should, on the National Plan’s norms, have produced a total of 12 285 doctoral graduates but in fact produced only 7 711, leaving a “shortfall” of 4 739 graduates (who would have been drop outs from the system).
Academic staff with doctoral degrees are a key input for high-level knowledge production is. Permanent academic staff in this category should be the major producers of research outputs, and at an input level the main supervisors of doctoral students. Graph 7 shows how the totals of permanent academic staff with doctoral degrees changed between 1996 and 2010.
Graph 8 divides public HE institutions into the 3 categories used for
national planning purposes, and sub-divides the 11 universities into
a group of 6 which produces 60% of the HE system’s total high-level
knowledge products and the remaining 5. The groups are:
The low proportions permanent academic staff with doctoral degrees
must have an impact on the numbers of doctoral students which can
be enrolled and supervised. Graph 9 shows what the ratios have
been between doctoral enrolments and permanent academic staff
A ratio of two doctoral enrolments per permanent academic with a
doctorate could be used as an indicator of institutional capacity.
Graph 9 shows that the high productive group of universities and the
comprehensives had ratios above 2 in 2010, which could be taken to
imply that they have reached capacity as far as doctoral enrolments
are concerned. Increases in their doctoral enrolments should depend
on more academic staff obtain their own doctoral degrees.
The 2:1 norm suggests that the other group of 5 universities and the
universities of technology may have spare supervisory capacity, but
their ability to deal with this depends on their current financial and
Government’s funding incentives for research outputs are complex
because of the 2-year time lag between the completing of an
output and the receipt of a funding allocation, and the weightings
applied to research outputs.
Graph 10 shows what research funding totals were generated by each output category.
Graph 11 shows what the Rand values can be assigned to research output units.
It could be argued that the high Rand values for doctoral graduates
should have functioned as strong incentives to institutions to expand
these outputs. The data in Graph 12 suggest these financial
incentives have not yet affected doctoral graduate growth, which was
3.5% pa between 2000 & 2004, and 3.6% pa between 2005 and
There are likely to be a number of reasons why doctoral graduate
totals have not yet responded to the output funding incentives
introduced for the first time in the 2004/5 financial year. One
explanation is that only a few universities have been able to benefit
from the introduction of government research output incentives. A
second explanation is that doctoral processes in SA have been
characterised by high levels of inefficiency, as has been seen in
Graphs 5 and 6.
Graph 13 shows that government output funding can be related to staff capacity. In 2011/12 the high productive university group generated R290 000 in government research funds per permanent academic, which was considerably higher than the averages for the other groupings.
Graph 14 relates doctoral graduate funding to permanent academic
staff, but also compares this doctoral funding to research publication
funding per permanent academic. The graph shows that in 2011/12
the high productive universities group generated R82 000 in doctoral
funding per permanent academic, and R126 000 in research
publications. The amounts are lower, but similar wide differences
can be seen in the other institutional categories.
These lower amounts generated by doctoral graduates could be
related to institutional inefficiencies, but also to institutional
incentives. Some institutions distribute publication output funds to
authors, but few (if any) distribute doctoral graduate funds to
supervisors. Academic staff members are therefore likely to gain
more direct personal benefits from research publications than from