​There still aren’t enough black professors, despite university transformation attempts

Three out of four professors at four of the country’s top universities remain white despite plans to increase the number of black educators  in the professoriate.

At a fifth higher education institution, Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape, 45 professors and a further two distinguished professors are white while just one distinguished professor, Tebello Nyokong, is black. There are no coloured or Indian professors at Rhodes.

Although 71.4% of professors at 13 universities collectively are white, only 9.8% are black, 6.6% Indian and 3.1% coloured.  An additional 188 professors at the 13 universities are other nationalities. Figures supplied to the Mail & Guardian by these universities this week reveals a similar demographic profile for associate professors, with 62.7% white and 14% black.

Institutions with the highest percentage of white professors include:

  • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University: 84.7%
  • North West University: 83.8%
  • Stellenbosch University: 80.8% 
  • University of the Witwatersrand: 75%.

According to figures supplied by the 13 universities, the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the University of Zululand were the only institutions where black professors outnumbered their white counterparts.


At least 30 of TUT’s professors are black compared with 24 who are white, while there are nine black professors at the University of Zululand compared with six white professors.

The Council on Higher Education released a publication this year – titled South African Higher Education Reviewed: Two Decades of Democracy – that says statistics on the profile of academic staff showed the situation was not yet reflective of the demographics of the country.

According to the council’s publication, 14% of professors and 19% of associate professors in 2012 were black compared with 10% and 14% respectively in 2008.

Rhodes University said the attainment of the rank of associate or full professor took many years and that, through funding from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, they were able “to support and accelerate” the development of professors.

The university said it had targeted eight staff from the humanities faculty this year who were either at associate professor or senior lecturer level.

“The aim is to see them promoted to full professor or, in the case of current senior lecturers, to associate professors.”

It said deans of all faculties had been required to develop faculty transformation plans outlining how they were going to transform their staff complement.

 Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel pointed out that the university’s senate and council had approved a budget of R45-million for, among other things, setting up a committee to make appointments and allocate grants so that black and coloured academics could apply for promotion to the professoriate.

It had already awarded grants worth R3.2-million to academics across five faculties.

“The transformation steering committee is responsible for monitoring progress on this front and for advising on policy on this strategy,” read a Wits statement.

The university said it had already appointed 11 academics of colour, including five in the faculty of health sciences and two each in humanities, the faculty of commerce, law and management and the faculty of engineering and the built environment.

“We have now entered a phase of head-hunting for more candidates and a call for further applications will be made in the next few weeks,” it said.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) said there was a small pool of mid-level black academics that were available for recruitment to more senior positions in the next five years.

“This becomes more critical at associate professor and professor levels. This challenge, however, is not unique to UCT.”

“UCT has a high staff retention rate, which demonstrates loyalty and continuity for the university. But in terms of transformation, this challenges the ability of the university to achieve employment equity through shifting the demographic profile of its staff. High retention rates restrict movement and a change in the number of staff of all race groups within the university.”

It said the challenge was compounded by a small number of new posts that might become available in the future.

It said the Next Generation Professoriate initiative’s primary goal was to increase the number of black staff in the professoriate and that 34 mid-career academics had been nominated by their faculties to participate in the programme.

Of UCT’s 256 professors, 147 are white while 10 are black, seven coloured, 17 Indian and 69 other nationalities. A further six are of undeclared nationality.

Stellenbosch University said that between 2008 and 2015, R120-million was allocated to attract, appoint and develop black, coloured and Indian staff members at senior levels.

It said nine appointments in phase one and two of the New Generation of Academics Programme, known as nGAP, would contribute to an “internal pipeline” of black, coloured and Indian academics who would be fast-tracked and mentored so they could be promoted to senior levels.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University said it had established a staff equity development reserve to fund this strategic priority area.

“Deliberate attention is being given to regenerating the necessary ‘people power’ to ensure vibrant new cohorts of academics at various levels, including the professoriate.”

University of Johannesburg spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said UJ had established the Accelerated Academic Mentorship Programme (AAMP) to develop and prepare a portion of the future cohort of academic staff to take over from those retiring in the next few years.

“Selected candidates receive dedicated mentoring from top academics, many of whom have a research rating from the National Research Foundation,” he said.

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