Black Academics Soon to Outnumber White Researchers in South Africa

Sarah Wild, Nature, November 21, 2017

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Although more than 80% of the country’s population is black, its academic sector has remained disproportionately white — a legacy of the apartheid era.

But over the past decade, the proportion of black South African researchers has risen steadily: from 26% in 2005 to 35% in 2015, according to the study, which was published1 in Higher Education last month. The proportion of white academics decreased by more than 10 percentage points over the same period, to 49% in 2015 (see ‘South African shift’).

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The authors suggest that in the next decade, more than 4,000 researchers — about 27% of the country’s academics, and most of them white men — will retire, which should create opportunities for younger researchers. Black researchers could outnumber white ones some time between 2020 and 2025, they say.

Hedding says that it’s not possible to attribute the change to a specific policy, but that the government should keep doing what it is currently doing. However, he thinks the country should focus more on nurturing PhD candidates and enticing them into academia. He and his co-author, geoinformatics specialist Greg Breetzke at the University of Pretoria, also note that black women, the country’s largest demographic, remain significantly under-represented in universities, accounting for just 14% of academics in 2015.

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