Monday, November 24, 2008

Skills shortage cripples SA universities

Hot on the heels that South Africa is in dire need of 94 000 teachers comes this problem. And still they persist on looking for "senior black engineers". What will it take before they understand that affirmative action cannot work if the skills simply are not there?

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South African universities are haemorrhaging lecturers and are forced to pay professors in some departments over R1-million a year to get them to stay.

Staff from the country’s 23 higher education institutions are being poached by the private sector and they are battling to attract replacements, leaving wide gaps in accounting, statistics, engineering and health sciences departments.

A snap survey, conducted by the Sunday Times, found that there were almost 600 vacant posts for professors and lecturers in five universities, including the:

  • University of Johannesburg, which needs 142 lecturers and 28 associate and full professors in nine faculties;
  • University of Pretoria, which has advertised 127 posts since January;
  • University of Cape Town, which still has 75 academic vacancies after 40 resignations this year;
  • University of Zululand, which needs 31 lecturers and 14 professors in commerce, law, science and education; and
  • University of Limpopo, which needs 182 academic staff, including a professor and five lecturers in optometry, 12 in dentistry, 19 in pharmacy and five chartered accounting lecturers.
The University of the Witwatersrand failed to provide figures of staff shortages, saying “it was difficult for us to quantify... since we work on the basis of budgets, rather than posts”. But deputy vice-chancellor Professor Rob Moore did say they had difficulty recruiting staff in “disciplines that required highly skilled professionals and academics such as accounting, actuarial science, science and the humanities”.

“All of these sectors compete for a proportionately shrinking pool of experienced graduates. These individuals are highly mobile and command a premium,” he said.

Professors earn up to R483000 a year at the University of Zululand, up to R471000 excluding medical aid at the University of Johannesburg, up to R548000 at the University of Limpopo and up to R669000 at the University of Cape Town.

Some universities, including the University of South Africa, are topping up academics’ salaries with a scarce skills allowance. One of the recommendations that emerged from a recent salaries survey, commissioned by Unisa, was that management pay professors with scarce skills up to R650000 a year. Unisa vice-chancellor Professor Barney Pityana said his statistics department had become dangerously depleted.

“We’ve had a run of losses to industry but we are also losing computer scientists.” Unisa has held onto its chartered accountants by allowing them to keep their private practices.

Theuns Eloff, vice-chancellor of North West University, confirmed that some of his chartered accounting lecturers were earning up to R1-million a year. “You won’t get a chartered accountant for less. Many universities allow some of their chartered accountants to run their practices in lieu of a bigger package, but in fact you only buy half of their time,” he said.

The University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Accountancy’s accreditation with the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants is in jeopardy, after it was found that the department had a dire staff shortage. Chantyl Mulder, Saica’s senior executive for transformation and growth, said the university definitely didn’t have “sufficient people to run the programmes adequately”.

Saica is subsidising the salaries of accounting staff at its 13 accredited universities, to the tune of R9-million, to help retain them.

University of Limpopo vice- chancellor Professor Mahlo Mokgalong said Nedbank would be sponsoring an accounting professor’s salary, with R1-million, and the university would have to add R200000 to that to attract a chartered accountant to Limpopo. Mokgalong has been battling for three years to find another optometry professor — with only 10 in universities countrywide.

The University of Pretoria’s Professor AnnĂ©l van Aswegen said the “small pool of available candidates” made attracting suitable candidates more difficult. University of Stellenbosch engineering dean Professor Arnold Schoonwinkel said it was “nearly impossible” to attract senior black engineers to lecturing posts.

Professor Voet du Plessis, acting dean of law at the University of the Free State, said suitable staff for senior posts could not be found despite advertising for two years. Rhodes University said it battled to fill posts in accounting, management, pharmacy and law.

3 Opinion(s):

Vanilla Ice said...

Really, surprise, surprise. I have the credentials that would allow me to be an academic. I have often lectured for my Alma Mater, to Bachelors and Masters students in a part-time capacity. The truth is that if you are a white male appointments are scarce. Previous approaches to Wits, Rhodes and NMMU to offer part-time assistance did not even solicit responses, despite my record of peer reviewed publication. So in a nutshell I now live abroad and assuredly the SA post-secondary scene is doomed.

Anonymous said...

How many times can you say stupid?

South Africa is doomed. Without education, skills development and skills retention the country will NEVER develop.

Its on a downhill run and it is picking up speed!

Vonk De Ridder said...

"Its on a downhill run and it is picking up speed!"

Good.

Can't wait to see it at rock bottom and the smelly pekkies begging the last remaining whities for help to rebuild...

Oh fook, that might take a while...no matter how kak it goes, they sure as hell don't want the 'Baas' back in the driving seat...oh hail Darwin...do the Darwin or do the Dodo!