By Zinhle Manzini
In 2017 I will hopefully be registering for my PhD in philosophy. In thinking about this decision, I was charmed by the idea of doing my postgraduate degree abroad, hoping it would broaden my horizons as a scholar, an academic and as a person. Most academics that I have interacted with during my five years at university have greatly encouraged this decision. I have often been told that doing my PhD abroad would be a “wise move” or a ”great move” and that I ”should leave, but come back and contribute to the South African canon”.
I was really convinced by this idea – earlier this year I started looking at registration options and funding opportunities. I was in love with the idea. In my head this sounded like a great plan: submit my masters in February 2017 and by September 2017 I would be in England doing my PhD. This love was deepened when I looked at the ”superstar” academics at Wits such as Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola who holds a PhD from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich or Professor Lucy Allais who obtained her master’s degree and PhD at the University of Oxford. Even my current supervisor, Dr Edwin Etieyibo, holds a PhD from the University of Alberta, Canada.
So one would indeed nod with approval and encourage one to go abroad and broaden one’s horizons. Yet, I speak of this dream of going abroad in the past tense. This is because I came to the realisation that if I am serious about seeing transformation and decolonisation within our universities, then I have a duty to stay and contribute to the PhD output of South African universities.
I think that all of us who are serious about transformation and decolonisation have to stay. Going abroad and coming back should not be an option.
This is because if you go abroad and complete your PhD or masters there, you will still be reproducing the same pedagogy we are trying to dismantle in our ongoing efforts of decolonising our institutions. I think that had Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola, Professor Lucy Allais and the other “superstar” academics completed their PhDs in South Africa, Wits would probably have an even higher rating internationally. I say this because according to Carly Minsky’s article, the World University Rankings are broken down into five categories, namely: Teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook. I will only focus on three of these in making my point clearer.
One of the teaching metric indicators contributing to these rankings is the “ratio of doctorate students to undergraduate students” and the second is the “number of doctorates awarded per academic staff”. So if we had more doctorate students and more doctorates being awarded in South African universities then surely this would place our universities at a better standing internationally?
On Friday Professor Adam Habib was the stand-in for Redi Tlhabi on Radio 702 and some of the callers voiced their concerns regarding the “standard” of higher education. I would respond to this concern by highlighting the fact that “standards” are not only influenced by the content that is taught but by the number of doctorate students and doctorate outputs.
Here, we consider the quality and volume of research. Ideally when you are doing your PhD, you are greatly encouraged to publish your work in academic journals. Not only is this good for the scholar, or the canon, but this is good for the department the student is registered under. So when South African scholars are abroad, and they get published under their departments, these improve that specific university’s rankings and not their home country. Although it is great as a scholar to get international recognition, what is the point if a) People in your country may not get access to that journal and b) If you’re just increasing the research output of a foreign country and a foreign university?
Here, rankings are prejudiced by the number of times an academic’s work at the university is cited by a scholar. Minsky states that: “The greater the number of citations of a university’s work, the more likely that you will engage with scholars who are leading and expanding the discussions in the field. Put more romantically, research impact is a reflection of how much an institution contributes to the worldwide project for collective and collaborative understanding of the world. This contribution is both a measure of quality at a university, and a source of pride for both academics and students.”
Perhaps this point makes reference to the research bias that we as scholars uphold ie thinking that a scholar from Howard or Oxford is better than our own from Wits or UCT. But such a bias exists because we think that an institution abroad is better than our own, therefore anyone who is there must also be great.
The crux of the matter is that if we leave to complete our doctorates abroad, and not in our own countries, how will we improve our own university rankings? I know that rankings are not considered important by everyone, but we can’t ignore them. So I think that in the ongoing conversations on transformation and decolonisation we also need to address the importance of staying in our country and completing our doctorates here. I can foresee people saying that I am policing people’s choices, yet if we are serious (that’s if we are!) about our nation and are committed to seeing it grow, then maybe some policing is necessary.
Zinhle Manzini is currently registered for her master’s degree in philosophy at Wits as a 2016 Mandela Rhodes Scholar. She is a proud coconut from the townships of Kagiso and is always trying to navigate between the spaces of being an academic and a girl from kasi. A feminist, a reader, and a writer who’s sitting on an unpublished manuscript. She is also a director of Ward66 (a concept store in Kagiso) who loves baking and making smoothies.
Instagram @conflictedblackwoman or Tweet @ZinhleManzini