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How many professors are there in SA?

Comments 8

A recent claim that there are only 34 female professors in South Africa raised further questions about the total number of professors in the country, their race and gender. We looked at the data.

Researched by Anim van Wyk

The latest audited data from the department of higher education and training shows that South Africa had 39 more professors and associate professors in 2013 than in 2012 - a total of 4,073. Of these, 708 were black (17.4%) and 2,870 were white (70.5%), while there was no information on race for 67.

When looking only at the 2,175 professors, 316 were black (14.5%), 101 coloured, 123 Indian and 1,593 white (73.2%), with no racial information for 42 professors.

A quarter (552) of South Africa's professors were women, with 41 of them black South Africans. Audited information for 2014 will only be available in October. - 02/09/2015

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 professors 1,860
Total 4,034

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 professors 534
Male professors 1,640
Total 2,174

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 professors 43
Black male professors 260
Total 303

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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Comment on this report

Comments 8
  1. By Rebecca Pointer

    How many of the miniscule number of black women professors are South African?

  2. By Gordon

    The number 4000 seems a little low, at 20 or so universities that’s 200 professors each. Some universities will have almost that many departments, meaning on average one prof each.

  3. By Africa Check

    Thanks for weighing in, Carol. We meant (full) professors who were in permanent employment and have updated the report to reflect that. (As for your comment on nationality – of the black, male professors 160 were South Africans, with the nationality of another 27 listed as “unknown” and rest – bar four – from other African countries.)

  4. By Carol Bertram

    It is incorrect to state that professors who are not Associate professors are ‘full-time’ professors. In academic levels in SA, the highest level is Full professor (not full-time), and below this level are Associate Professors.
    So I think you meant that the percentage of women who are full professors is 25.6%.
    It is also important to note than many black professors in SA are not of South African nationality.


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