More support for SA’s women academics

13 September 2012

South Africa’s Science and Technology Department is strengthening its support for women academics in a bid to increase the number of women with doctorates and masters degrees, as well as develop more black women academics.

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said her department had introduced a number of interventions to increase the number of researchers and strengthen support for black women researchers through new funds added to the department in the last financial year.

She was speaking at the 2012 Higher Education Resources Services SA (HERS-SA) academy held at the Upper Eastside Hotel in Cape Town on Wednesday.

HERS-SA is a non-profit organisation advocated for the career development of women in academia.

Strengthening support for emerging researchers

Pandor said the National Research Foundation (NRF) had strengthened support for women through the Thuthuka programme, which is aimed particularly at young, black and female emerging researchers.

A network of established researchers willing to serve as mentors to black researchers will be established and the department will also award about 115 once-off research development grants valued at up to R300 000 to qualifying researchers.

Last year, just 29% of the 2 456 researchers that were rated by the NRF were women, while only 20% were black.

The department will continue to make available block study-grants for part-time doctoral students and about 100 block study grants will be made in the next three years.

The grants will support part-time doctoral students that are in the process of preparing a dissertation or at least one manuscript for submission to an accredited journal.

The department will also offer research career advancement fellowships to senior post-doctoral fellows who will be groomed for potential candidates for the department’s Research Chairs initiative.

Under the Research Chairs initiative, about 100 awards will be made in the next three years. The awards will consist of a taxable salary of R350 000 a year and a grant of up to R100 000 a year for operational and travel expenses.

Women still under-represented

She said although women now made up six out of every 10 first-degree graduates and honours graduates, women were still under-represented in higher degrees – the proportion of women Masters and PhD students only increased from three out of 10 to four out of 10 students between 2001 and 2009.

Similarly, while progress had taken place in the enrolments and graduations of black women at honours and undergraduate levels, the number of black women fell dramatically at doctorate and master level.

Pandor encouraged women academics to aim higher as the country only had three women vice-chancellors.

What was needed was for more planning to be done to bring about the advancement of women in higher education, she said.

Women in South Africa also needed to be pro-active and network more as this could help in their advancement and communication, and advocacy efforts needed to be increased so that more women came to know about the various programmes and initiatives available to women,.