Persuasive Essay on the Importance of Higher Education

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The Demand for the Doctorate

With the objective of striving towards better-equipped and higher value economies, governments, with all the concerned sectors around the world, are trying to develop necessary highly skilled workforces. Indeed, knowledge has become an important factor in achieving economic development. A knowledge economy has increased the demand for a highly educated workforce, especially a workforce with a university degree.

According to the Lisbon 2020 agenda—the EU development strategy—the EU is striving towards developing a knowledge economy, a sustainable economy based on employment, innovation, and education. The development of a knowledge economy might be the solution to its economic and social problems as well. In order to compare countries and knowledge economy development, the World Bank developed a framework and identified key knowledge economy pillars: education and training, research and innovation, economic incentives and institutional regime, ICT, and infrastructure. Education, especially higher education, is important for knowledge economy development. Higher education institutions are important for the creation, dissemination, knowledge transfer, and spillover of knowledge to the industry.

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Over the last few years, the significance of the doctorate and higher education has taken a disproportionate upward spin in comparison to its share of overall graduate output.

Nonetheless, this unprecedented increase in doctoral studies does not mainly involve the traditional role of the Ph.D., centering towards the provision of future supplies of academics. Instead, it highlighted the importance of higher education in the development of a knowledge economy, through the production of high-level skills.

Historically, during the 1990s already it was recognized that there is a correspondence between the acceptance of the notion of the knowledge economy and society, on the one hand, and the rise of the doctorate, on the other.

Indeed with worldwide digitization and access to information, the sources of productivity and competitiveness for countries have become increasingly dependent on knowledge and information being applied to productivity, thus leading to what Castells (1991), calls the knowledge society.

Confirming the valuing of talent in today’s global economy, the Mercer Talent Survey shows that chief executive officers understand that talent is a primary source of competitive advantage: whether entering a new market, innovating existing processes, developing a product, or expanding service lines, it is an essential element of every core business function(Mercer 2013).

If knowledge and information are the new electricity of the economy, then it is a reasonable assumption that the university –as the main knowledge institution in society –will become increasingly important and that its apex training product, the Ph.D., will appear on the skills radar (Times Literary Supplement 2013).

But the Ph.D. is not just a possible contributor to talent in the knowledge economy–it is also regarded as crucial for improving quality in the university system.

In South Africa, the National Development Plan (NDP) (2012) has reaffirmed the national target of increasing doctoral output from 1 876 in 2012 to 5 000 by 2030. And at a meeting on the doctorate in October 2013, sponsored by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and Carnegie Corporation of New York, there was broad agreement that Africa needs tens of thousands more PhDsin order to renew an aging professoriate, staff the rapidly expanding higher education field, boost research and generate the high-level skills growing economies need (MacGregor 2013b).

The increasing appreciation of the role and value of the Ph.D. for Africa has led to a huge increase in the number of post-graduate students(enrolments and graduates) in Africa in recent years.

For decades, donors and policymakers have focused on primary and secondary education as the key to development and poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa. But until recently they have been reducing funding for tertiary education.

There is now a consensus that Africa needs many more doctorate holders to develop the robust knowledge products needed to promote development as well as replace aging teaching workforces at many universities.

As we can note there are five (policy) discourses that drive and influence the production of PhDs in South Africa. These narratives (in some cases explicit policy imperatives, in other cases not)address the need for increased volumes of Ph.D. output(quantity), transformation, efficiency, quality, and internationalization. Our argument is that these narratives are not simply separate and parallel “forces” that have differential impacts on doctoral production in SA. We argue that these narratives often intersect and are often at odds with each other, they co-exist-often intension-and are even contradictory when taken together.

There are two widely considered examples: Firstly, the internationalization and transformation narratives are also not in all respects –at least within current assessment metric systems –compatible. Secondly, the pursuit of the growth imperative may, for example, impact negatively the achievement of quality and even compromise efficiency.

Not surprisingly, as a following discourse, the SA government wants high graduate returns on its subsidy investments in doctoral enrolments (as in other spheres of education). In debates around efficiency, high dropout, and low completion rates are regarded as major indicators of inefficiency in the production of doctoral graduates. This led to the development of efficiency indicators and targets in the 2001 National Plan for Higher Education (Ministry of Education 2001).

However, targets set in the National Plan were unrealistically high: 75% of all students entering doctoral programs in universities were expected to graduate. When empirical data gathered through the Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) began to show that only around 50% of national cohorts entering doctoral programs would eventually graduate, the target was modified to 65%.

Nonetheless, if we take the completion rate as the best measure of the efficiency of the HE system in producing doctoral graduates, the picture that we are presented with here is mixed.

The average doctoral completion rate in South Africa over the past decade is about 50%. At first glance, this does not compare favorably with other countries. However, it is important to keep in mind that 70% of SA doctoral students study part-time, i.e. they work and study at the same time. Case-specific information shows that full-time doctoral students complete at much higher rates.

The second indicator, TTD, shows that the average time to degree has stabilized at around 4,7 years. This varies hugely by discipline, but the best predictor of this is the proportion of full-time students vs part-time students in a field.

For the policy-driven discourse on the quality of doctoral production, it is interesting to note that the competition for talent and the use of the Ph.D. as a talent indicator clearly assume high quality. Although the 1996 NCHE report and the 1997 Education White Paper stated that quality throughout the system was important, neither document discussed methods by which the quality of doctoral programs could be assessed.

As a core function of universities, doctoral research provides invaluable education and training aimed at producing highly skilled knowledge workers capable of transferring their intellectual and technical expertise to wide-ranging global contexts. The Ph.D. gained in this process is arguably the key qualification defining the quality of research standards of a country8, and is particularly acknowledged as a means for acquiring, generating, and using research-based knowledge. It is also viewed as a driver of research and development and innovation, a generator of knowledge and skills in key strategic areas of national innovation systems, a contributor to industrial and social resources, and a vehicle for addressing the gap between postgraduate study and the needs of the labor market.

New knowledge generated via doctoral education is widely acknowledged as an important strategic and economic resource. The capacity of a knowledge system to reproduce itself and for it to be sustainable in the medium- to long-term, depends on the capacity of that system to produce new PhDs at a rate that is suitable for that system.

Despite the requirement for ministerial approval for program and qualifications mixes (PQMs), very few of the doctoral programs offered by South African higher education institutions have thus far undergone detailed quality reviews by the CHE. Instead, the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) accreditation model locates responsibility for higher education program quality with the institutions themselves and proposed that institutions should maintain in-house quality assurance mechanisms.

Against this background, it is perhaps not surprising that one has to resort to a “proxy” measure of the quality of doctoral students. The measure that we have used is the proportion of supervising staff at SA universities with doctoral degrees. It can be argued that this measure constitutes a necessary condition only(and not a sufficient condition)to ensure high-quality supervision.

The fourth policy discourse is around transformation. There have been many reviews of transformation or the lack thereof, but the most comprehensive theoretical and policy review was by Badat(2004).

Starting with the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) in 2000, Badat listed the main areas of transformation as system and structures, equity, quality, and responsiveness. He subsequently reduced his focus to two key areas, institutional restructuring, and human resources.

While equity could be regarded as involving a range of issues, including race, class, and gender, in DHET policy terms, it increasingly refers to race, and to the participation of African students in particular.

From research findings, It is possible that recent growth rates will be sustained in the near future but this will only be achieved if enrolments from other African countries continue to increase.

It is unlikely that current completion rates (which effectively means that 1 in 2 doctoral students are likely to complete within a reasonable time period) will improve unless significantly higher proportions of students manage to study full-time. But this condition is so deeply entrenched in the socio-economic and employment realities of the country, that we cannot see this changing.

The challenge of increasing the proportion of academic staff with PhDs remains. We anticipate that this proportion is likely to increase –but not significantly so. Even with the now standard practice of incentivizing doctoral production with monetary rewards to supervisors at most universities, it remains unlikely that we will see the proportion of academic staff with PhDs getting close to the NDP target of 75%.

Perhaps more importantly: the burden of supervision on the top 10 –12 universities that are already producing 90% of total doctoral output will continue to increase. Students will continue to flock to the top universities that have better completion rates and more resources.

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Persuasive Essay on the Importance of Higher Education. (2023, August 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
“Persuasive Essay on the Importance of Higher Education.” Edubirdie, 28 Aug. 2023,
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