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The changing demography of academic staff at higher education institutions (HEIs) in South Africa

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In this work, we contribute to the debate on the transformation of higher education institutions (HEIs) in post-apartheid South Africa by examining the changing demography of academic staff bodies at 25 South African HEIs from 2005 to 2015. We use empirical data to provide initial insights into the changing racial profiles of academic staff bodies across age, gender and rank and then summarise our findings into a transformation ‘scorecard’ which provides an indication of how all racial groups in the country are performing in terms of their representation in higher education. Initial results indicate that most academics in South Africa are middle-aged (between 35 and 54) but an ageing trend is evident, particularly among white academics. In terms of gender, males marginally outnumber females, although we estimate an equitable distribution to be attained within the next 5 years. Significantly, the data indicate that there is an upwards trajectory of black African academics across all rankings from 2005 to 2015 and a concomitant downward trajectory of white academics across all rankings. Both Indian and coloured academics most closely represent their national population representation. Our transformation ‘scorecard’ indicates that the demography of academic staff at higher education institutions in South Africa is changing and will continue to change in the future, particularly within the next 20 years if current trends continue.

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  1. There were in fact 13 universities reserved for black African students but seven universities were located in the former the so-called TBVC states and were not considered here. These ‘states’, located within South Africa, were artificially formed by the National Party under apartheid and were considered ‘independent republics.’

  2. There are now in fact 26 universities in South Africa. The most recent university, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, opened in April 2015 and was excluded in this analysis.

  3. The South African population is still officially classified into racial groups. Black Africans represent the descendants of western and central African populations. The ‘white’ population group represent the descendants of mainly Western and Eastern European populations. The ‘Indian’ population group represent the descendants of south Asian populations. The ‘coloured’ group comprise a mixed population including the descendants of the indigenous Khoisan population, imported Malay slaves and people born out of mixed-race relations.

  4. ‘New and merged’ universities consist of universities that have been created since the democratic transition in 1994 as well as universities that have merged during the post-apartheid period. Mergers most often involved the merging of ‘traditionally white HEIs’ with ‘traditionally black Africa HEIs’ such as the merging of the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education (traditionally white) with the University of Bophuthatswana (traditionally black African) to form the North-West University in 2004. For a full list of the university categorisations, feel free to contact the authors.


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Correspondence to Gregory D. Breetzke.

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Breetzke, G.D., Hedding, D.W. The changing demography of academic staff at higher education institutions (HEIs) in South Africa. High Educ 76, 145–161 (2018).

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