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This article is taken from the September 2005 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

Equity Development Programmes Part 2: 'Just as you start to grow they cut you down'

Equity Development Programmes Part 2: For the past three years S&T have been tracking the progress participants have been making in equity development programmes (EDPs) at four South African higher education institutions. The EDPs have taken many different forms, but they typically have the central objective of developing a new generation of female and black academics. Programmes differ significantly in terms of duration, management, funding and focus although they tend to recruit participants who are either at the post-graduate or post-doctoral level and the programme usually supports the participant for the first couple of years of their academic career to ensure they are retained (Cloete & Galant, 2004).

For the past three years S&T have been tracking the progress participants have been making in equity development programmes (EDPs) at four South African higher education institutions. The EDPs have taken many different forms, but they typically have the central objective of developing a new generation of  female and black academics.  Programmes differ significantly in terms of duration, management, funding and focus although they tend to recruit participants who are either at the post-graduate or post-doctoral level and the programme usually supports the participant for the first couple of years of their academic career to ensure they are retained (Cloete & Galant, 2004).

In the previous edition of Phatlalatsa (April 2005, 7.1) we provided a short summary of the participants' overall impressions of the EDP experience. In this article we focus in more detail on the following aspects of EDPs - Planning; Institutional Co-ordination and Administration; Recruitment and Selection; Supervision and Mentoring; Teaching and Research; and Future Plans. In so doing we will share several lessons gleaned from our observations of these programmes.

Planning

One of the major criticisms of these programmes in the South African setting is that rather than committing themselves to participants in EDPs, institutions play a "wait-and-see game". Thus it is not always a given that once a student, for example, has successfully completed a Masters programme, that opportunities will be provided to allow that student to study further. Even though institutions have become more responsive to this problem there are still few mechanisms in place to ensure that those in the temporary EDP posts remain at the institution once the contract has expired.

Effective planning ensures clarity of purpose. However, even when institutions have rigorous staff equity development plans in place there is often a disjuncture between the institution's vision for equity, a faculty's vision and a specific department's vision. In practice this has often meant that the goals and/or needs of a department are different to those of either the Faculty or the institution. If EDPs are to flourish within an institution there needs to be a clear and implementable institutional plan, which has been cascaded down through the institution

Not only must there be a unified institutional approach to equity development, but there must also be a coherent plan for each participant in an EDP. Without individual "professional development plans" (PDPs) for those receiving funding inappropriate expectations often arise amongst both the participants and those managing and supervising the programme. Findings from the tracking study suggest the need for better planning and co-ordination, which in turn will assist with better management of the expectations of participants. A means to achieve this is a PDP. A coherent PDP should outline what is expected of both the person receiving the funding (in particular, research and teaching expectations) and what is expected of the person either supervising and/or mentoring the participant. In addition, the PDP should contain well-defined and mutually acceptable milestones in order to assess the progress being made by the participant. A PDP could, for example, contain the following:

  • Povide details of the responsibilities of the institution (including what support the institution will provide to the participant).
  • Provide details of the responsibilities of the supervisor/ and or mentor
  • Provide details of the responsibilities of the participant
  • Provide details, where applicable, of the management, organization and financing of the overseas component of the award
  • Outline the expected research and/or teaching outputs, within an appropriate timeframe, which the participant will deliver
  • Identify the success indicators linked to future career options for the participant1

Institutional co-ordination and Administration

Dissatisfaction with the administration of the award by the respective institutions appears to have been a common experience for many participating in EDPs. Some participants are of the opinion that their poor treatment is a form of racism rather than simply a product of weak administration.

Our findings suggest that a dedicated, centralised co-ordinator of the EDP is essential. Her/his management functions must include co-ordinating all stages of the programme (e.g. recruitment, appointment, funding etc.). Too often, even in institutions where there have been co-ordinators, different aspects of the programme are decentralized. EDPs appear to work best when an institution dedicates a staff member to oversee all aspects of the programme. The peculiar nature of EDPs, with their specific focus on staff equity development, means that when institutions treat EDP participants as simply scholarship winners or as post-graduates then problems are likely to arise. In addition, co-ordination also requires establishing an appropriate monitoring and evaluation system. If co-ordinators are to make appropriate management decisions they require up-to-date information. Too often institutions appear to be making ill-informed decisions about participants as they have insufficient information on them.

Recruitment and Selection

Evidence suggests that a "happy set of coincidences" motivated the majority of the participants applying to an EDP. Motivation was most likely to have been sparked by a supervisor1, typically she/he drew the participant's attention to the programme and encouraged the participant to apply.

Most participants entered the respective EDPs as a result of already knowing academic staff in that particular department. On the one hand this meant that the environment was particularly familiar to participants, on the other hand it suggests that many participants in EDPs are being recruited from within the institution as opposed to from without.

Supervision and Mentoring

Participants had typically entered their respective EDPs as a result of their relationship with a supervisor in their respective academic departments. It is therefore not surprising that participants are generally happy with the supervision they receiveSome institutions have put in place mentorship programmes in order to support EDP participants as they view mentoring as different to supervision. Whereas supervision deals with the academic component of the programme (e.g. supervising the masters or doctoral thesis), mentoring is seen as providing support to ensure social integration into a department/ faculty, giving advice on career options, sharing ideas with regards to the skills and capacities necessary for academia and ultimately helping the person become more effective in their current position.

The key distinction between the two is that whereas the supervisor is defined in terms of the institution's hierarchy the mentor is not bound by that hierarchy. In many instances the mentor might not be linked to either the department or the faculty within which the participant is based. Rather mentors are selected because of their interpersonal skills, and ability to, for example, transfer tacit knowledge, be supportive, and provide objective advice to those they are mentoring.

Teaching and Research

Research, as opposed to teaching, appears to be the primary reason why participants are currently in the position they hold at their respective institutions. As noted above, participants are typically extremely pleased with the research support they had received. Evidence also exists which suggests that having participants work in "teams" or laboratories makes for considerable success, as they tend to have far more contact with supervisors and other colleagues than those doing research on their own.

Teaching on the other hand has been more problematic for participants. Typically participants have rated satisfaction with this aspect of their EDP lower than with research. Generally, participants feel under prepared when required to teach and they also feel they have to teach more than they had been led to believe when entering an EDPA key concern for participants is that they are not sufficiently confident that they have the appropriate competencies to become "good teachers". Many spoke of a strong desire to acquire teaching skills as part of the programme. However, there were those who had enjoyed the experience, especially as they had found that students were generally fairly supportive of new lecturers.

From the perspective of those who have participated in an EDP, successful EDPs should have the following components:

  • Clearly defined guidelines regarding teaching loads for those participating in an EDP.
  • Clearly defined guidelines regarding depart-ments' expectations of participants with regard to research outputs as well as the support departments intend to render in order that participants can meet these expectations

Future Plans

Judging by the fact that participants are enthusiastic about EDPs in general it comes as no surprise that many would like to remain in academia if they were given the opportunity2. Whilst some of the participants have either been or are about to be "main streamed" into their faculties, others spoke about their funding ending shortly and that there were currently no available academic positions for them at their respective institutions. However, there was nevertheless a sense among a number of participants that institutions had not thought out very clearly as to what would happen to participants once the funding had ended.

This point illustrates the fundamental challenge facing EDPs, namely how to ensure that the expectations of the participants are in line with the objectives of the programmes. Evidence gathered by this Tracking Study suggests that there seems to be a sharp disjuncture between the participants' expectations and the objectives of these EDPs. In order to bridge the gap the objectives of the EDPs need to be more clearly articulated and institutions will need to make a more serious effort to manage the expectations of participants. Institutions will therefore need to consider, for example, how best to make it clear to all participants the distinction between providing opportunities and guaranteeing jobs.

 

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