On Thursday, May 07, 2020 South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF), a government-funded agency which provides funding for postgraduate research studies, announced in a press statement that it was introducing a new policy which would limit the age at which students could apply for funding. In the statement, which was also shared on Facebook and Twitter, the agency said, “To advance transformation and the improved representation of women in research, 90% of all bursaries will be allocated to black students and 55% to women. Doctoral graduates entering the research system should ideally qualify at an age that maximises their involvement, impact and contribution to research endeavours and productivity. Given the need to accelerate the entry of individuals into the research system and to grow the next generation of researchers, the policy has set an age limit for funding eligibility per level of study. The maximum age at which a student could apply for an honours bursary is 28 years of age, and a maximum of 30 and 32 years of age for masters and doctoral studies, respectively.”
The NRF says that “the new policy will aid in motivating and retaining high academic achievers to pursue postgraduate studies.” Although on its social media pages the agency said the policy would be introduced “from 2021 onwards”, information published on its website indicates that the policy is already in force, meaning that those who wish to apply (this year) for 2021 funding should meet the new age requirements.
Judging by the comments on social media, the announcement has not been well received by the public. At the time of this writing, no one had expressed support for the new policy. There were complaints that it was ageist and unfair. Whether the NRF will relent and loosen the age restrictions remains to be seen.
Below are some of the comments from Facebook:
Aubrey Moeketsi: I think it’s unfair for you guys to place special emphasis on age for postgraduate studies…. it’s really unfair…. whatever happened to “it’s never too late to get an education”? This is funding for postgraduate students not undergrad…. why exclude some of us who still wanna pursue education… I’m currently doing my honors at UFS, have no way of paying the University since postgraduate School at UFS didn’t fund anyone doing honors…. Please consider funding people like us… I’m only 35
Khudu Maleshoko: The age exclusion thing is very unfair. Most of us didn’t go to university right after matric. We were already old when we got to varsity. Imagine being an unemployed graduate and not qualifying for funding for postgrad because you’re older? Not fair but what can we do.
Thabang William Marake: What’s the scientific basis for putting an age limit to qualify for a bursary ?? I want to know because it does not make sense. By the way you can’t make such decisions without input from the public. This will not achieve the transformation you [are] talking about but it will heighten the barriers to entry and access.
Rendinator Nenguda: This is really going to end up limiting researchers who are actually passionate about it, I see this more as a disadvantage than an advantage. I don’t know who came up with this new policy, but it’s quite disappointing. It’s an act of keeping people out, more than building a great cohort of researchers. This is about exclusivity.
Hlologelo Malatji: Already few black south africans are studying towards a phd.. because [your] funding [is] unattractive. Now this? Who did you consult to come up with this?
Gola Tole: Life doesn’t always go as planned. Why set age restrictions? In fact, students who are younger often lack the maturity needed for independent study and research, which is very much at the core of postgraduate studies.
Vivian Maleba: “Fresh blood with no idea of the real world and research issues that someone with a bit of experience would have an idea of. I’d rather fund someone who went to work and saw a gap in the real world, then decided to do a postgraduate degree, than [some] “young blood” who’ll do postgraduate research as just a means to getting a degree instead of addressing serious issues”
Khanyi Zungu: Wow really now so in short we are limiting the number of black people who can obtain post grad qualifications as we are aware most of us first work [then] get a qualification [and] some do it after 35. So what are you saying about those who are only getting [the] opportunity now to study?? This should be open for discussion before you take a final decision especially [because] it’s gov operated so as [a] citizen I’m not agreeing to this. A petition needs to be signed ASAP as I feel you are cutting off a lot of people who are still considering to study further.