Johannesburg — INCREASING the number of well- trained doctoral (PhD) graduates was one of SA's most critical challenges, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said yesterday.
"I talked about well-trained PhDs intentionally, and avoided talking about numbers. Whereas it would look good for SA to produce many PhDs, it would be even better if the PhD graduates could contribute to innovation, through which the production and dissemination of knowledge leads to economic benefits and enriches all fields of human endeavour," she told delegates at the Academy of Sciences of SA's 2009 PhD symposium in Pretoria.
The symposium discussed SA's first national study on the nature, goals, character and scope of doctoral education.
The release of the academy's research was timely as the government was revising its National Human Resources Development Strategy and the Department of Science and Technology and Department of Higher Education and Training were devising a science, engineering and technology human capital development strategy, said science and technology chief director of human capital and science platforms Dr Phetiwe Matutu.
The research would "certainly" help to inform policies, Pandor told delegates. "I hope your discussions will produce recommendations that will help me as a minister so that I can repair and improve what exists in SA."
The National Research Foundation, the largest funder of PhD study in SA, has calculated that SA needs about 6000 PhD graduates a year to ensure it stays competitive in the global knowledge economy, but the country produced only 1200 in 2005. The foundation has a PhD project aimed at a fivefold increase in PhD graduates by 2024, from 2005.
"The government's broad developmental mandate can ultimately be achieved only if SA takes further steps on the road to becoming a knowledge-based economy ... we need this for (economic) growth," said Pandor.
The ASSAf research shows that SA has an increasingly undergraduate higher education system, with PhD study concentrated in a few fields, and that just 10 of SA's 23 institutions produce 90% of the country's PhDs.