In 2015 the University of Cape Town (UCT) launched an initiative to advance the development of black academics and to ensure the university expands and accelerates the pipeline to transform the professoriate. The Recruitment, Development and Retention programme (RDR) is an umbrella for a number of constituent initiatives that aims to furnish academic staff with greater clarity in their career paths and provide targeted support to help them to succeed.
The Next Generation Professoriate (NGP) initiative was the first of the constituent programmes to be launched. Led by Professor Robert Morrell, a senior academic with many years of experience in research development, its primary goal has been to increase the number of black South African staff in the professoriate. A number of mid-career academics were nominated by their respective faculties to participate in the programme.
A key feature of the NGP programme has been the identification of a career path with clearly defined milestones. Cohort members are supported to achieve these milestones within a collegial culture that features regular, facilitated meetings with fellow cohort members, writing workshops, National Research Foundation rating assistance and lecturing and postgraduate supervision training. The programme has initiated and supported a triangular relationship between the cohort member, the head of department and a mentor – a senior academic whose contribution is elevated and formalised. In addition to acting as the seedbed for an improved institutional culture, such relationships are intended to assist academics to progress in their careers.
A second cohort of junior academic staff comprised a number of lecturers who joined UCT in January 2016 as members of nGAP, the New Generation Academics Programme, a project of the Department of Higher Education and Training. They were located in five different faculties. Each was given a mentor and dedicated support. The conditions of their employment included a reduced lecture load that would allow them to concentrate on obtaining higher degrees and developing a body of research work that would launch their professional careers as academics. The university anticipated a second and perhaps third cohort to be funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training in subsequent years.
The RDR will initially focus on these two cohorts, though in time the plan is to roll out the programme to benefit all academics.
Another of the areas of engagement is the ad hominem promotion process. The intention is, where possible, to increase trust and confidence in the objectivity and fairness of these committees and processes. One element is to make the committees more representative in terms of rank, gender and race. The criteria for promotion will also be outlined more clearly. The mentoring programmes described above will work to ensure that academics on the promotion ladders have a clear understanding of what they need to do to gain promotion, and that they are given the opportunities to achieve these goals.
As part of the RDR programme, the support programmes for academics, such as the New Academics Practitioner Programme (NAPP), the Emerging Researcher Programme (ERP) and the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Capacity (PERC), would be revisited to see where improvements could be made.
The two initiatives, the Next Generation Professoriate (NGP) and the New Generation Academics Programme (nGAP), marked an important step in UCT’s reinvigorated programme to address the need for greater numbers of senior black academics at the university.