The International Relations Office is delighted to announce the launch of a new doctoral training consortium under the auspices of the South Africa-UK University Staff Doctoral Programme (USDP).

Ten excellent candidates at Stellenbosch University and the University of Fort Hare have been selected to join the programme from 2021-2026 to study towards a PhD degree in the field of public policy and inclusive development.

Building a partnership for public policy and inclusive development

Addressing some of South Africa's most pressing societal challenges, their research will help inform better policy-making, promote inclusive growth, and contribute new knowledge to the country's post-Apartheid Transformation agenda.

All candidates are current academic or administrative staff at their home institutions, and bring prior experience in academia, industry or the public sector.

Through the USDP project, they will benefit from a part-time, blended programme, including cohort-based research training, professional skills development, and international mobility for research visits, conferences and summer schools. Tailored support will further include teaching buy-outs, virtual interactive platforms, and a programme structure bridging the formats of academic and professional doctorates.

Bath academics across our social science disciplines will provide co-supervision, mentoring and support for the cohort-building activities.

A two-day orientation session took place virtually 25-26 January 2021 and offered a platform for the candidates to present their projects, interact with their supervisors, and gain insights from colleagues at Bath, Stellenbosch and Fort Hare as they prepare for the PhD journey and an academic career across cultural contexts.

Engaging interdisciplinary scholarship

Thematically, the USDP project not only aligns closely with the priorities in South Africa’s National Development Plan but also reflects academic strengths and research profiles across all three partner institutions.

The project is led and coordinated by Stellenbosch's Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, with support from the School of Public Leadership as well as the African Doctoral Academy and its experience delivering short courses for doctoral students across the SADC region.

At Fort Hare, the project is hosted by the Faculty of Management and Commerce and engages experts across the departments of Economics and Development Studies.

At Bath, the programme is led by the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences and involves colleagues across the departments of Social & Policy Sciences, Economics, Health and Psychology, as well as the Institute for Policy Research and the School of Management at Bath.

Supporting PhD training for academic staff in South Africa

With funding support from the South African Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the British Council, the USDP programme aims at increasing the number of academic staff with PhDs while enhancing the overall quality of doctoral qualifications in South Africa.

To date, only around 40 per cent of academic staff at South African universities have a PhD and staff undertaking doctoral research often face significant challenges in completing their degrees, in particular at historically disadvantaged universities like the University of Fort Hare and among disadvantaged demographics, including black, working-class and female staff.

To address this issue, the USDP concept was launched by the South African government in the context of wider Higher Education reform for widening participation, encouraging both new international links and stronger connections between research-intensive and disadvantaged universities within the country. In 2017, a pilot call was launched for consortia with US universities, followed in 2018 by a second call for partnerships with the UK.

Building on Bath’s and Stellenbosch’s experience of delivering blended doctoral training for international cohorts, the Stellenbosch-Fort Hare-Bath project will allow sharing good practice developed around the UK’s Researcher Development Framework (RDF) with South Africa’s review of doctoral standards and PhD graduate attributes.

In recognition of its innovative approach, the project was also featured as a case study at the Africa-Europe Conference on Higher Education Collaboration: Investing in people, by investing in higher education and skills in Africa, which took place in Brussels in October 2019 and was attended by Prof. Jeremy Bradshaw, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International & Doctoral) and Dr Tina Schilbach from the International Relations Office.

Prof. David Galbreath, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, commented:

I am very excited about the launch of the USDP programme. Building on our successful partnership with Stellenbosch University, this innovative consortium will see Bath contribute to staff doctoral training in South Africa and join forces to revitalise and strengthen the links between academia and policy-making in the country. As a partner to this programme, we will benefit from new, interdisciplinary links in international development studies while building new policy research networks for our students and staff.

Dr Matt Dickson, Reader in the Institute for Policy Research, and co-supervisor of Besuthu Hlafa's PhD project on education and health economics at Fort Hare, said:

This is a fantastic programme and I’m really excited to be part it. Bath hosts unique expertise that links research and policy-making, especially in the areas of labour market, health, housing and education economics. It’s great to be working with colleagues in Stellenbosch and Fort Hare on important research topics of strong relevance for the South African context whilst also helping to increase the number of staff with PhDs in South African higher education institutions.