South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF) is seeking to increase the number of PhDs that the country produces. As part of this process, and in terms of its South African PhD Project, the NRF last week launched a new scholarship programme in cooperation with the Vrije University Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, called the Vrije University Amsterdam-NRF Desmond Tutu Doctoral Scholarship Programme.
In the view of NRF acting CEO and president Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, this country’s competitiveness in global markets is dependent on the cultivation of highly skilled PhD graduates. But South Africa is lagging badly in this regard. Indeed, the country’s performance is significantly inferior to the average for emerging economies. Currently, South Africa produces 27 PhDs for every million of the population, in comparison with Brazil’s 42 and South Korea’s 172. The disparity with developed economies is even more dire – for example, Australia graduates 240 PhDs for every million of the population, while the figure or the UK is 259.
The South African PhD Project is aligned with the country’s National System of Innovation. The broad mandate of the project is to obtain and promote local and foreign study opportunities, offer competitive bursaries to PhD and postdoctoral candidates, use peer and mentor support groups to highlight the professional benefits of gaining a PhD, increase the supply of potential PhD students, and to partner with universities, funding agencies and business. “The main aim is to increase the diversity of, and strengthen, the corporate and higher education sectors by increasing the number of PhD graduates,” says project manager Dr Carol Nonkwelo. The project also seeks to make South Africa a leading country regarding the production of knowledge in all areas of research, including the natural sciences, engineering, the social sciences, the humanities and law.
The Vrije University Amsterdam-NRF Desmond Tutu Doctoral Programme is open to candidates seeking to undertake PhD studies in four specific areas – development economics, theology, sports sciences (human movement studies) and the social sciences. The overarching theme for the programme is Youth, Sports and Reconciliation. The successful applicants will be jointly supervised in their researches by the Desmond Tutu Programme Chairs at the Vrije University Amsterdam and by South African supervisers. The Vrije University Amsterdam has four Desmond Tutu professors.
The new scholarship was unveiled at last week’s South African PhD Project conference and fair in Johannesburg. The conference was attended by some 300 postgraduate students (master’s as well as PhD), while the fair displayed opportunities for study, research and financial support, both in South Africa and overseas. A number of foreign exhibitors attended, from countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore and the US.
The NRF exists to support and develop basic and applied research and innovation by means of funding, the development of human resources and the provision of the requisite research facilities.