What are we training Postgraduates for?

By Edson Charikinya and Julie McFarlane (Article published in the Postgraduate Times Stellenbosch University publication)

Becoming an academic has long ceased to be the only or even the primary motivation for students pursuing postgraduate studies

Stellenbosch University

“I remember fondly my last year at University just before I got my first degree. If anyone told me I would be coming back for another degree I would have told them that they have gone completely bonkers!”  This is how Dr Wustner, researcher at SU Centre of Process Engineering, recalls his last days as an undergraduate engineering student almost 15 years ago.
“I couldn’t wait to embark on a working career,” he laughs. Dr Wustner did not expect that he would be back after only six months at work , applying to do a Postgraduate Master’s degree in Engineering.
So why did he come back?  “I just didn’t know how to solve most of the problems that I was coming across in industry”.  All the theory and technical skills he had learned in his undergraduate studies simply had not prepared him enough to solve real world problems.
Even though today Dr Wustner is a career researcher, his initial motivation for further studies was to better his skills and career prospects as a professional engineer.
Becoming an academic has long ceased to be the only or even the primary motivation for students pursuing postgraduate studies.
Annette Van Niekerk is a psychiatrist and psychoanalytic practitioner now doing her MPhil in Ancient Cultures. “I want to broaden my understanding of the human psyche.” she says.
Many students believe that having a postgraduate qualification improves their chances in the market place, both in finding a job or in getting promoted.  “This wasn’t’t part of my career path,” says Tinashe George Tendayi, an MSc Engineering (Industrial) student from Zimbabwe, “but it gives me a competitive edge as far as employment opportunities are concerned.” 
Others use postgraduate studies to take their careers to the next level.  Izelda Swanepoel has taken a break from work to study an MBA.  “I believe this degree is the best single degree that I can do to qualify me for what I need to do”, she says.”
And as competition in the job market increases, many do not stop at Master’s level. Lusanda Mtshotshisa is studying Masters in Lay in the department of Mercantile law, is now considering doing her Doctorate in law. ““It seems preferable to do all my studying now whilst I still can get away with it rather than go out to find work only to want to come back and study again”.
2 recent studies, one conducted by the Centre for Research on Science and Technology (CREST) and another by Dr Chaya Herman from the University of Pretoria have shown that even at Doctoral level, there are many reasons apart from preparing for an academic career why students pursue doctoral studies. These include expected earnings increases and career prospects outside academia.
 But is a PhD adequate preparation for managerial positions outside of academe? The USA, Australia and more recently the UK have seen the rise of “the professional doctorate”, with a structured taught component. But South African Doctoral degrees with the large research component expected by the higher Education Qualifications Framework, are still structured to reflect the traditional concept of the PhD as training for academia.
Even if the development of professionals and managers outside of academia might not currently be the explicit aim of postgraduate training, students feel that at least some workplace skills are the outcome of their postgraduate experience.
Cindy, a PhD Psychology student explains, “My postgraduate studies have taught me three valuable lessons. One, I am able to do most things I set my mind to. Two, persistence pays off. Three, I may not start out with all the knowledge on a subject, but I’ve certainly developed the skills to gather any knowledge that I may need for any application.” Similar sentiments are echoed by Foibe, a Masters student in Process Engineering, who says her postgraduate studies have prepared her well in “research work, problem solving, and time management.”

Certainly skills employers in any field would value highly.


The Death of African Cities : By Edson Charikinya

Death of African Cities

It is my opinion that Africa should brace itself for more massive protests similar to those that are being seen in the northern part of the continent. Unlike what most people would want the world to believe this wave of uprising are not being caused by Twitter, Facebook or the Internet.  This new wave of uprising threatening African cities is due to a swell in the urban population. According to a recent report from UN-HABITAT over a third of Africa’s 1 billion inhabitants currently live in urban areas, but by 2030 that proportion will have risen to one and a half billion. That represents a 50% increase in urban population in just over 20 years. In its 2010 report UN-HABITAT reported that, Cairo would grow by 23% to 13.5m people. By 2025, however, it will have been overtaken by both Lagos (15.8m) and Kinshasa (15m). This gives one a clear indication of where the next trouble spots are going to be on the African continent. This massive growth of our cities results in shortages of water, food and electricity. Infrastructure to support this growth in African cities is not being developed at a rate that is fast enough to meet the demands of a rising population.

Richard Florida in his book The Rise of the Creative Class (2002) identified a fraction of a city’s population termed the “creative class” as an essential element in spear heading developmental growth in cities .The term creative class used by Richard Florida refers to individuals who create growth and development in today’s post-industrial society. This class covers a wide range of professions from the traditional services and production profession to professions in areas such as science, education and product development. Richard Florida further states that the creative class is not only defined by job type but also by the characteristics that promote the expression of the creative aspect. He highlights the three Ts that are essential preconditions for creativity to unfold which are: talent, technology and tolerance.

Looking at these preconditions and trying to get a picture of where Africa stands is not an easy task. If the major economic indicators are anything to go by Africa is in a real mess and one gets the feeling that our cities are facing imminent death. African cities have lost a significant proportion of their Talent pool to AIDS.  The presence of a large population of African emigrants in developed cities also highlights the extent at which Africa has lost most of its talent. This brings similar conditions to Africa to those that were brought about by the slave trade which significantly diminished Africa’s population thereby resulting in little economic growth on the continent. Back then manpower was the essential element for economic growth, way before the invention of the steam engine.

It is obvious to me that due to poor education and telecommunication infrastructure our societies are not embracing new technology at a rate that is fast enough to allow us to make effective use of new technology in our production processes. New technology would make our production processes much cheaper hence result in our products being competitive on the international market.  As it stands all Africa has to offer the world is its raw mineral resources which are limited. Exploitation of Africa’s natural resources is also leaving a huge dent on the environment which is making rural life unsustainable hence the swelling of the cities. As for tolerance within our cities the recent Xenophobic attacks in South Africa highlights the low level of tolerance towards different nationalities in our cities. Racial tensions still play a key role in retarding growth in most African cities making them unfavourable destination for much needed foreign investment. The question that i think will face the next generation of African leaders is how to improve on these preconditions (the three Ts) that foster creativity?