/ 19 August 2008

UJ steps up scholarships

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) is spending R25-million on scholarships for master’s and PhD students, some of whom will be guaranteed employment on completion of their doctorates.

According to deputy vice-chancellor Adam Habib, 48 masters students will each receive R80 000 a year over two years and the top 50% will be accepted into PhD studies at a scholarship of R130 000 a year over three years. Overall, 32 PhD students will be funded.

Commenting on the generosity of the scholarships, Habib said: “We are trying to create a scholarship for children of the working class. We need to factor in that most masters and PhD students are first-generation university graduates and not middle class. We are therefore giving generous scholarships to a few and will help them get through the system, instead of having the money spread wider and having 50% fail.”

Furthermore, UJ is aware that graduates would rather join the private sector than become academics. “The academy pays little. Salaries have dropped and you have to teach large classes. It is a luxury to do research.”

He said there is much to be learned from the comparative experience of overseas universities, but “if you don’t understand context you will get into serious problems”. In New York, for example, a $15 000 scholarship for a student from a middle-class family is pocket money and very different to a R15 000 scholarship to an impoverished South African student. This is something the government needs to realise.

“If you want to massify the university system, put resources into it. In real terms universities’ operational subsidies have been declining. Money is tied in infrastructure development. We got a 7% increase on last year’s subsidy in an inflationary environment approaching 12% and there has been no serious political intervention.”

UJ is meanwhile moving full steam ahead to build its research profile. It has set up a grant of R5-million for senior research professorship appointments, while its centralised statistics centre, Statcon, assists students with research methodology. “We are also thinking of establishing a postgraduate centre” to support graduate students’ research productivity, said Habib.

The university has made 100 academic appointments in the past three years and is appointing research professors. Some recent big names who have been appointed in the humanities faculty include sociologist Sakhela Bhulungu, political commentator Xolela Mangcu, international relations specialist Chris Landsberg, sociologist Ashwin Desai, economic historian David Moore and democracy specialist Steven Friedman.

Habib said that UJ (a merger between Rand Afrikaans Universiteit with the Soweto campus of Vista University and Technikon Witwatersrand) has meant that less than half of its 930 full-time academic staff have masters degrees. The minimum qualification for appointment at UJ is now a masters. “We are working with Higher Education South Africa and sector education and training authorities to create resources and support to allow for staff to get master’s and doctorates.”

UJ’s internal research grant has quadrupled in the past four years to more than R50-million. It has been creating research centres and is now eyeing illustrious National Research Foundation chairs.

“Our desire is not to be a University of Cape Town or University of Pretoria but a good research producer. We want to increase our research output in the next three to five years,” said Habib.

He said UJ is a solid research producer in the second tier of South Africa’s 23 public universities, after the big six (UCT, UP, Stellenbosch, Wits, UKZN and Free State) and it produces 420 to 430 publication units a year against the top category’s range of 700 to 1 100 publication units. “We have had a 25% increase of publication outputs in the past two years.”