Peer-Learning for Emerging Researchers' Knowledge and Advancement (PERKA) Programme

Professor Frans Swanepoel, Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee, Dr Nadia Fouche, Dr Farai Kapfudzaruwa

As the significant efforts to increase PhD production in Africa begin to yield results it has become necessary to consider thoughtfully and systematically the mechanisms through which to nurture young doctoral graduates into becoming future intellectual leaders. One of these mechanisms is postdoctoral fellowships. Although the postdoctoral model has had some notable successes in building research capacity in the United States context, it is not widely implemented in Africa. Furthermore, with the continued dominance of a doctorate-by-thesis approach (as opposed to structured PhD programmes) in Africa, a PhD qualification alone cannot provide the broad range of knowledge and skills required for a successful academic career. The immediate post-PhD period is particularly perilous for African academics in light of scarce resources for research and high obligations for teaching and administrative functions. In addition, Africa is challenged by an ageing productive academic population, in part due to the debilitating brain drain experienced, but also as a result of a low rate of investment in higher education.

It is within this landscape that some donors, including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, have started to focus on early-career scholars to increase the ranks of advanced African academics. However, to date there has been no mechanism to bring the programme directors of these various Carnegie-funded projects together to share experiences and leverage peer-learning to improve and strengthen their own practices. The Peer-learning for Emerging Researchers’ Knowledge and Advancement (PERKA) seeks to directly address this need.

Furthermore, there have been no attempts to date to develop an evidence-based understanding of the factors that enable, and the characteristics of, successful postdoctoral fellowships in Africa. PERKA thus also seeks to address this gap by investing in the study of successful models implemented in other parts of the world and engaging with stakeholders who are currently implementing and funding postdoctoral fellowships in Africa to develop and document a contextualised understanding of good practice for successful postdoctoral fellowships in Africa.

The two-year project is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The project is implemented (and is co-funded) by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa in collaboration with the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Visit the PERKA website

- Author Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee
Published by Kirsty Nepomuceno

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