Postgraduate degrees are progressively becoming the standard for excellence among employers, professional organisations and colleagues as they can be indicative of superior ability. Postgrad.com, a website concerned with providing a portal for different students seeking information on postgraduate related courses across the globe, points out that postgraduate education provides “professional credibility [and] develops important transferable skills”.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Internationalisation at the University of Cape Town, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, expressed in an article she wrote for Mail & Guardian, that for South Africa’s economy to grow, new businesses and professional sectors need to develop and become areas in which “South Africans can apply their skills and engage in problem-solving that can have a global impact.” She insists that postgraduate studies have practical contributions to the growth of our economy and knowledge and that South Africa needs to be globally competitive and make its mark through research that seeks to address specific problems in technology, health, science, media, law, business and social welfare.
The National Development Plan (NDP) acknowledges that South Africa has a shortage of good-quality engineers, doctors, prosecutors and curriculum advisors, while the National Research Foundation (NRF), as one of the main sources for postgraduate funding in the country, aligned some of its targets with those of the NDP, such as generating more than 5 000 doctoral graduates per annum with most of the doctorates being within Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) and over 25% of university enrolments should be postgraduate. However, postgraduate education is under-resourced in South Africa, because financial assistance from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) only provides funding for students to acquire their initial degree, leading to many students grappling to find scholarships and grants to fund them as they further their studies causing them flock towards funds such as the NRF, leading to great competition among postgraduate students.
Postgraduate and Scholarship Manager at the University of Pretoria, Leanne van Zyl, says that “at Honours level there [are] limited funds and the important funds that students need to apply for are the NRF, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) scholarships and a few others, however, for Masters and Doctoral level, the amount of opportunities [do] increase; [although], research fields or the fields of study also plays a big role. There are certain fields that have limited funds compared to other fields that are funded from various stakeholders but all of the information can be found on the UP website”. She further goes on to say that funding has been cut by the government, because they are moving the funds away from postgraduate studies to other issues happening in the country and so “the NRF was cut by 30 million for the 2017 academic year [and] the scarce skills award has received no funding for the 2018 academic year.”
Van Zyl, moreover, urges students to be proactive and constantly seek information on the university’s website under fees and funding, “from the day a student walks into UP, before they even arrive, as a prospective student, they need to start using the university’s website to view all funding opportunities.” Students need to be informed early so that they can begin working towards making sure that they meet the academic requirements to be eligible for funding as she says that “if they do not meet the academic criteria then they won’t be considered for funding at all.” She further went on to emphasize that “students need to realise that many of the funding opportunities open early in the year, like [The Mandela Rhodes Foundation] for which I am expecting an advert for next year’s intake at any moment, and it closes in April already. Many of the funding opportunities have quite a long selection process, hence closing it quite early in the preceding year.” Ultimately, she advises students to seek information and visit their offices in the Graduate Centre to find out more about the opportunities available to them.
Illustration: Marizanne Linde