The importance of offering high-quality doctoral qualifications is stressed in the National Development Plan, which sets the target at having at least 75% of South African academics acquiring doctoral degrees by 2030.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say. When it comes to higher education institutions, however, many people judge the “book” by the number of academics holding doctoral degrees.

No wonder the National Research Foundation (NRF) recently indicated the need for what they call “a doctoral project” in South Africa.


This prompted the NRF to collaborate with the Council on Higher Education (CHE) to evaluate the doctoral qualifications offered at South African higher education institutions.


Dr Jannie Jacobsz is the director of the Quality Enhancement Office.


eish! asked Dr Jannie Jacobsz, director of the Quality Enhancement Office, to tell us more about this project.


Q: Why is such an evaluation necessary?

A: One of the main reasons is that the number of doctorates at our universities, in relation to the population of South Africa, does not compare favourably with the number of doctorates in other countries.


Q: Are the NRF and CHE going to evaluate all doctoral qualifications at the NWU?

A: Yes, they will scrutinise all doctoral qualifications included in the university’s approved Programme and Qualification Mix (PQM), using the 2018 PQM as the point of departure.


Q: What does such a self-evaluation entail?

A: Self-evaluation is a comprehensive process. It started with the requirement that all South African institutions offering doctoral degrees had to prepare an extensive self-evaluation report, accompanied by the necessary evidence documentation.


At the NWU, the project was launched on 30 July 2019. With a Doctoral Review Committee at the helm, the faculties, University Management Committee, Senate and the Executive Committee of Senate all contributed towards putting this report together.


After the report was approved by the Executive Committee of Senate on 20 March 2020, we submitted it to the CHE on 31 March 2020.


Q: What kind of information had to go into the report?

A: We had to complete a very comprehensive template. The information they asked for ranged from our supervision practices to the number of doctoral applications, registrations, students dropping out, students completing their studies and students graduating – all per major fields of study.


Q: What were the biggest challenges in compiling the self-evaluation report?

A: The CHE required a realistic and honest assessment and critical reflection. This meant that we also had to include less favourable information, acknowledging our shortcomings.


Q: The next step is now to prepare for the site visit. Can you tell us more about it?

A: The site visit is planned for 17 to 21 August 2020. After receiving the proposed programme from the CHE, we will attend to the logistics – for instance booking venues – and brief those whom the panel will interview. We will also make sure all relevant documentation is available.


Q: What is the biggest challenge regarding the site visit?

A: We have to anticipate certain scenarios, as we don’t know what exactly the panel members may ask and how deep they are going to delve.


Q: A last word from you?

A: Preparing for such an evaluation takes a lot of time and hard work, but it is definitely worth the effort.


The feedback that we will eventually receive from the panel will show us our strengths and also where we could improve. In the end, it will help us to offer the highest quality doctoral qualifications possible.

Why SA’s ‘doctoral project’ matters to us