A study of the doctoral pipeline: Time-to-degree in selected disciplines at South African Universities

Van Lill, Milandre Heidi (2019-04)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Over the past decade, there has been a clearly articulated interest, both on a national and institutional level, to identify strategies that would increase the number of doctorate graduates in South Africa. Currently, however, the pipeline leading up to the attainment of a doctoral degree is a long and leaky one. The study set out to explore whether doctoral time-to-degree differs across five academic disciplines at South African public higher education institutions. Using a mixed-methods design, a secondary analysis of the HEMIS student data showed that doctoral graduates in education record the shortest average time-to-degree. Descriptive indicators, such as growth rates of doctoral enrolments and graduates, the pile-up effect and completion rates aided in focusing the hypothesis that the nature of academic disciplines is associated with doctoral completion times. It was also this study’s objective to identify factors which are correlated with a shorter timeto- degree. Using Cross’ chain of response model, I investigated the role of selected student demographics and contextual institutional, situational and dispositional factors in doctoral time-todegree. Using a multiple linear regression model, I found that younger age is a predictor of shorter completion times, although it is more pertinent in disciplines such as physics and electrical engineering. Students’ mode of enrolment was found to be a predictor of completion times with parttime students recording a statistically significantly longer time-to-degree when compared to full-time students. A student’s nationality was also identified as a statistically significant predictor of time-todegree with international students recording shorter completion times than domestic students. Lastly, I found that the academic discipline is a significant predictor of doctoral time-to-degree. Examining the role of institutional factors in time-to-degree reported a negative correlation between higher institutional throughput rates and shorter time-to-degree of academic institutions in electrical engineering, but a positive correlation was found for institutions in education, the clinical health sciences, physics and sociology. A survey showed that the immediate degree progression from a master’s to a doctoral degree is associated with a shorter time-to-degree. Respondents who were employed full-time during their doctoral studies estimated a longer completion time than those who were not employed, while students who considered discontinuing their studies similarly predicted longer candidacy times. Survey respondents’ satisfaction with their doctoral supervision was found to have a correlation with shorter completion times. Although shorter time-to-degree can be considered an indicator of efficiency, it is imperative to consider wider contextual factors in thinking about the efficiency of doctoral students. It is the recommendation of this study that institutional efforts towards combating student attrition and prolonged candidacy times be tailored for academic disciplines. Additionally, students should be enabled and encouraged to pursue doctoral studies full-time. A novel contribution of this study is a model predicting factors that explain differences in doctoral time-to-degree which has been widely neglected in the South African context. Through the integrative use of quantitative and qualitative data, this study is one of the most comprehensive studies of doctoral time-to-degree in the South African context.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Daar was die afgelope dekade ’n goed verwoorde belangstelling, op nasionale sowel as op institusionele vlak, om strategieë te identifiseer wat die aantal doktorale gegradueerdes in Suid-Afrika sal vermeerder. Die pyplyn wat tot die verwerwing van ’n doktorsgraad lei, is egter nou nog besonder lank en vol lekplekke. Die doel van hierdie studie is om te bepaal of daar ʼn verskil is in die doktorale tyd-tot-graad in vyf akademiese dissiplines by Suid-Afrikaanse openbare inrigtings vir hoër onderwys. Die meting van doktorale tyd-tot-graad dien as ʼn doeltreffendheidsaanwyser om die pad na ʼn doktorsgraad te beskryf. Doktorale onderwys is egter nie monolities nie en daar bestaan dissiplinêre verskille in tydige voltooiing. Met behulp van ’n gemengde-metodesontwerp het ’n sekondêre analise van die HEMIS-studentedata getoon dat doktorale gegradueerdes in die onderwys die kortste gemiddelde tyd-tot-graad het. Beskrywende aanwysers, soos die groeikoers in doktorale inskrywings en gegradueerdes, die ophopingseffek en voltooiingsyfers, het gehelp om die hipotese te vestig dat die aard van akademiese dissiplines verbind kan word met doktorale voltooiingstye. Die doel van hierdie studie was ook om faktore te identifiseer wat korreleer met ʼn korter tyd-tot-graad. Met Cross se ketting van responsmodel het ek die rol ondersoek van uitgesoekte studentedemografieë en kontekstuele institusionele, situasionele en disposisionele faktore in doktorale tyd-tot-graad. Deur ʼn meervoudige lineêre regressiemodel te gebruik, het ek bevind dat ʼn jonger ouderdom ’n aanwyser is van korter voltooiingstye, hoewel dit meer relevant is in dissiplines soos fisika en elektriese ingenieurswese. Daar is bevind dat studente se inskrywingswyse ʼn deurslaggewende aanwyser kan wees vir voltooiingstye, met deeltydse studente wat statisties ʼn aansienlik langer tyd-tot-graad benodig as voltydse studente. ’n Student se nasionaliteit is ook geïdentifiseer as ’n statisties beduidende aanwyser van tyd-tot-graad, met internasionale studente wat korter voltooiingstye as plaaslike studente het. Laastens het ek bevind dat die akademiese dissipline ’n belangrike aanwyser van doktorale tyd-tot-graad is. Die ondersoek na die rol van institusionele faktore in tyd-tot-graad het ʼn negatiewe korrelasie getoon tussen hoër institusionele deursetkoerse en ʼn korter tyd-tot-graad by akademiese instellings in elektriese ingenieurswese, maar ʼn positiewe korrelasie is gevind vir instellings in die onderwys, kliniese gesondheidswetenskappe, fisika en sosiologie. ʼn Opname het getoon dat die onmiddellike vordering van ’n meestersgraad na ’n doktorsgraad verband hou met ʼn korter tyd-tot-graad. Respondente met voltydse beroepe het langer geneem om hulle studies te voltooi as dié wat nie in ʼn voltydse beroep was nie, terwyl studente wat oorweeg het om hulle studies te beëindig, eweneens langer studeer het. Dit is bevind dat respondente wat aan die peiling deelgeneem het se tevredenheid met hulle doktorale toesig korreleer met korter voltooiingstye. Alhoewel korter tyd-tot-graad beskou kan word as ʼn aanwyser van doeltreffendheid, is dit noodsaaklik om breër kontekstuele faktore te oorweeg wanneer doktorale studente se doeltreffendheid oorweeg word. Dit is die aanbeveling van hierdie studie dat institusionele pogings om ʼn afname in studente en lang studietye te voorkom, aangepas behoort te word vir akademiese dissiplines. Studente behoort ook in staat gestel en bemagtig te word om hulle doktorale studies voltyds te doen. ʼn Belangrike nuwe bydrae van hierdie studie is ʼn model waarmee faktore voorspel word wat die verskille in doktorale tyd-tot-graad verduidelik. Só ’n model word oor die algemeen afgeskeep in die Suid-Afrikaanse konteks. Die integrerende gebruik van kwantitatiewe en kwalitatiewe data maak van hierdie studie een van die mees omvattende studies van doktorale tyd-tot-graad in die Suid-Afrikaanse konteks.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/105894
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