Dept sharpening support for women in academia

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cape Town - The Department of Science and Technology is strengthening its support for women academics in a bid to increase the number of women with doctorates and masters degrees and develop more black women academics.

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said her department had introduced a number of interventions to increase the number of researchers and strengthen support for black women researchers through new funds added to the department in the last financial year.

She was speaking at the 2012 Higher Education Resources Services SA (HERS-SA) academy held at the Upper Eastside Hotel in the city on Wednesday.

HERS-SA is a non-profit organisation advocated for the career development of women in academia.

Pandor said the National Research Foundation (NRF) had strengthened support for young black women through the Thuthuka programme - which is aimed particularly at young, black and female emerging researchers.

A network of established researchers willing to serve as mentors to black researchers will be also established.

The department will also award about 115 once-off research development grants valued at up to R300 000 to qualifying researchers, with priority given to black women researchers.

Last year, just 29% of the 2 456 researchers that were rated by the NRF were women, while only 20% were black.

The department will continue to make available block study-grants for part-time doctoral students and about 100 block study grants will be made in the next three years.

The grants will support part-time doctoral students that are in the process of preparing a dissertation or at least one manuscript for submission to an accredited journal.

The department will also offer research career advancement fellowships to senior post-doctoral fellows who will be groomed for potential candidates for the department's Research Chairs initiative.

Fifty percent of the Research Chairs will target black people, while a target of awarding 50% of fellowships to women has also been set to in order to boost leadership in the scientific community.

Under the Research Chairs initiative, about 100 awards will be made in the next three years.

The awards will consist of a taxable salary of R350 000 a year and a grant of up to R100 000 a year for operational and travel expenses.

A ministerial guideline is currently being crafted, which is aimed at boosting the award of more bursaries and fellowships to black students and women.

Pandor said her department is also studying a set of policy proposals from the women's sub-committee of the National Advisory Council on Innovation, which target black African women and include the lifting of research age limits and funding advice desks.

She said she would indicate her response to these initiatives in the next few months.

She said although women now made up six out of every 10 first-degree graduates and honours graduates, women were still very under-represented in higher degrees - despite the number the proportion of women Masters and PhD students having increased from three out of 10 to four out of 10 students between 2001 and 2009.

Similarly much progress had taken place in the enrolments and graduations of black women at honours and undergraduate levels - with black women now making up the majority of enrolments and graduations at these levels; however, the number of black women fell dramatically at doctorate and master level.

Pandor encouraged women academics to aim higher as the country only had three women vice-chancellors.

What was needed was for more planning to be done to bring about the advancement of women in higher education, she said.

Women in South Africa also needed to be proactive and network more as this could help in their advancement and communication, and advocacy efforts needed to be increased so that more women came to know about the various programmes and initiatives available to women,.

Pandor said not enough women entered in her department's Women in Science Awards and her department often had to encourage more women to put their names forward for the awards, which had substantial monetary benefits.

Pandor, who is a HERS alumni herself, having attended the conference in 1991 while she was an academic, said back then, she had planned to become a university vice-chancellor, but that she subsequently got into politics.

She described her time at the 1991 conference as one of the most exciting times of her life.

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