This paper explores the drive to expand the quantity and quality of PhD’s in South Africa and
the impact this has had on under-represented groups, in particular black South Africans.
Based on both qualitative and quantitative data, the paper argues that while there has been a
significant increase in the number of black students in doctoral education, these students are
still under-represented compared to their participation in the population and that the increase
of black graduates is to a large extent attributed to the intake of doctoral students from other
parts of Africa. The relatively low participation of South African black students is attributed
to a dysfunctional school system, high drop-out rates, insufficient funding, feelings of
alienation and isolation at historically white universities, family commitments and the lure of
the labour market. Since the disadvantage to black students affects the majority of the
population in South Africa, the paper suggests that the PhD could become a key driver for
economic development only if there is a concerted effort to address barriers to black South
African students’ access to and retention in doctoral programmes.