Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 22



Sustainable
postgraduate
development
The sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted by United Nations
(UN) member states in 2015 are wide-ranging, yet also specifically
focused. Peter Meissner argues that postgraduate studies at UCT exhibit
a similar picture, demonstrating wide-ranging, sought-after advanced
education on the one hand, and specifically focused research, innovation
and professional training on the other.
Many of the wide range of research topics and
successes presented throughout this report speak
to the SDGs, either directly or indirectly – or in
some cases, even serendipitously. Research forms
a – if not the – major fibre of postgraduate training
and experience. The very fact that by far the
majority (though no-one has formally analysed this
yet, to my knowledge) of UCT research outputs
involve the considerable work of postgraduate
students implies, by corollary, that our students
are having and will continue to have an impact on
stated development goals.
Postgraduate programmes at UCT are numerous and
diverse in focus – and growing. In 2015, some 35%
of enrolled students across all faculties at UCT were
postgraduate (9 733 of 27 809). This proportion has
increased steadily over the years (from 31% in 2012),
and the current research strategy aims for a target of
40% by 2025. The development of various blended,
distance and further pure-contact postgraduate
programmes at UCT, together with careful balancing
of numbers of students undertaking full research
and coursework-intensive degrees, will play a role
in ensuring growth. We do not yet know how the
imperative to transform and increase access and
success across the postgraduate sector – while
steering a path through the winds of austerity,
curriculum realignment and funding – will affect
these statistics.
It is also apparent that the rate of increase (other than
in postgraduate diploma programmes) is slowing
year-on-year (e.g. PhD enrolments increased by 16%
from 2012 to 2013, by 12% from 2013 to 2014, and by
17 UCT RESEARCH & INNOVATION 2015–16
9% from 2014 to 2015). Just as limitations in research
funding and physical resources play a role in limiting
growth, so too do human resources – in particular,
academic postgraduate supervision capacity and style.
Throughout 2015, a variety of UCT players worked
to ensure that supervision training, research and
mentoring is increasingly considered and available.
Over the long term, the postgraduate student
demographic has changed significantly, but there
has been little change over the immediate term. The
demographic picture of postgraduate students as
a total UCT cohort in 2015 is very similar to that of
2014. Many South African voices consistently highlight
concern for the lack of black South Africans entering
and succeeding in the postgraduate enterprise (in
2015, 15.2% of registered postgraduate students were
black South African). UCT has heard this call, and is
working hard at recruitment (especially from within
the undergraduate cohort) and support levels to
change this demographic.
UCT postgraduate students perform well compared
to the national average, and this performance is
improving. By 2015, 35% of the 2012 cohort of
master’s students at UCT (i.e. four years after
first registration after the first registration for the
qualification) had either dropped out (20%) or
were yet to complete (15%); the remaining 65% had
graduated. Of all master’s students graduating in 2015,
the average time to graduation was 2.3 years. These
figures are variable among different degrees, but are
better than the estimated national averages (53% of
the 2009 national master’s cohort had either dropped
out or were incomplete within five years of first





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