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How many professors are there in SA?

This article is more than 7 years old

Just how many professors are there in South Africa? And how many are women and how many are black?

The questions arose after we fact-checked a claim that there were only 34 female professors in South Africa. This number was first mentioned by a prominent academic and then repeated by a leading newspaper.

Xolela Mangcu, a writer and associate professor of sociology at UCT, wrote a column late last month which sought to highlight the fact that there are so few black professors in South Africa. In it he claimed that only “34 or 0.85% of the total number of South African professors are women”.

The Mail & Guardian newspaper shared his claim in an article last week, adding another from Mangcu's column that  “[o]ut of the 4,000 professors in South Africa only 4% are black”.

As we reported last week, the first claim is incorrect as a quarter of South Africa's professors are women. (The newspaper subsequently corrected the blurb of the article).

A number of readers asked us for a more complete breakdown.

How many professors?

The Department of Higher Education keeps track of university employment data and Tom Moultrie, a demographer at the University of Cape Town, crunched the numbers.

He pointed out that according to the department’s figures South Africa does not have 4,000 university professors. That would only be true if associate professors were included. (Note: We provide the figures for professors of all nationalities, including South Africans, who are permanently employed by South African universities.)

The official figures for 2012, the last year for which final data is available, were:

Associate professors1,860

How many female and black professors?

As for the percentage of women among the professors, this came to 25.6% of the total, or 534 academics, out of 2,174. (If you add associate professors – of whom 659 are women – the percentage increases to 29.6%.)

Female professors534
Male professors1,640

If you look at the racial breakdown, it becomes clear that Mangcu was referring to 2012's count of 34 black female professors of South African nationality. There were 43 of all nationalities in total.

Altogether there were 303 black male and female professors, making up 14% of all professors in South Africa in 2012.

Black female professors43
Black male professors260

This compares to the 75.6% white (1,643), 4.5% coloured (98) and 5% Indian (109) professors. (Note: The race of 21 professors – or 0.1% of the total - was listed as unknown.)

Edited by Julian Rademeyer

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