New Doors to Old Places: Using What Academics Value to Reshape PhDs for Increased Access

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In 2006, only 30% of PhD graduates in South Africa were black Africans and only a portion of these were black South Africans. This hampers progress in replenishing an ageing academic and research staff and transforming the demographic profiles of academic staff at universities. Efforts to increase access and improve success rates are driven by administrators with little appreciation for what the PhD is and what makes it valuable. This results in interventions that threaten to change the nature of the PhD in ways which might prove inappropriate.
This qualitative study considers interviews with 25 PhD supervisors across four disciplines at three top South African universities to understand what they value about the PhD. From this a number of essential elements of the PhD are identified, including academic ways of thinking, ways of researching, and the kind of people that the PhD is expected to produce. I argue that these elements which are valued by the academic enterprise, are also the reason that the PhD is of value to society more broadly. I go on to explore ways to reshape doctoral education for greater access and success while preserving these essential elements of the PhD.


Keywords: Doctoral Education, Supervision Practice, Access and Success
Stream: Adult, Vocational, Tertiary and Professional Learning
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Judy Backhouse

Researcher, School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand
Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

I am approaching the end of full-time work on a PhD in Education based in the Division for Education Leadership and Policy Studies, School of Education at the University of the Witwatersrand. My research interests are in teaching and learning at the higher education level, how research is fostered and managed and staff development and management within higher education. My PhD specifically addresses the nature of the PhD in South Africa. I have 12 years professional experience in the IT industry during which time I held a range of technical and management positions. I have lectured for 12 years at a number of South African universities and most recently headed of the School of IT at Monash South Africa.

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