Unemployed Professors In South Africa

Unemployed Professors in South Africa: A Crisis in Higher Education


South Africa’s higher education system is facing a severe crisis of unemployment among professors. Despite the country’s growing need for skilled academics, a significant number of highly qualified individuals are struggling to secure permanent positions in universities. This issue has far-reaching implications for the quality of education, research, and innovation in the country.

Facts and Figures

  • In 2021, the Higher Education and Training Department (DHET) estimated that there were over 2,000 unemployed professors in South Africa.
  • The unemployment rate among professors is particularly high in the humanities and social sciences, where competition for permanent positions is intense.
  • The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many universities are facing financial constraints and are unable to create new positions.

Causes of Unemployment

  • Funding Shortages: Universities in South Africa rely heavily on government funding, which has been declining in recent years. This has led to a reduction in the number of permanent positions available for professors.
  • Competition for Positions: The number of qualified professors seeking permanent positions far exceeds the number of available vacancies. This is due to the growing number of graduates and the limited opportunities for advancement in the academic field.
  • Lack of Diversity: The lack of diversity in the professoriate contributes to the unemployment crisis. Many universities are struggling to attract and retain professors from underrepresented groups, such as women and black academics.
  • Ageism: Older professors are often overlooked for permanent positions in favor of younger candidates. This is despite the fact that they have valuable experience and expertise.
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Consequences of Unemployment

  • Loss of Expertise: Unemployed professors represent a significant loss of expertise and knowledge for the higher education system. Their absence weakens research and teaching capacity, which has a negative impact on student learning.
  • Brain Drain: Unemployed professors are often forced to seek employment outside of South Africa. This leads to a brain drain, which further depletes the country’s intellectual capital.
  • Erosion of Academic Freedom: The lack of permanent positions can undermine academic freedom. Professors who are not secure in their employment may be less likely to challenge the status quo or express dissenting views.
  • Social Inequality: The unemployment crisis among professors exacerbates social inequality in South Africa. Unemployed professors often come from disadvantaged backgrounds and face significant barriers to securing permanent positions.

Government Response

The South African government has recognized the crisis of unemployed professors and has taken some steps to address it. These include:

  • Increased Funding: The DHET has increased funding for universities in recent years, which has helped to create some new positions for professors.
  • Affirmative Action: Universities are encouraged to implement affirmative action policies to increase the representation of underrepresented groups in the professoriate.
  • Mentorship Programs: The DHET has established mentorship programs to support unemployed professors and help them transition into permanent positions.


To address the crisis of unemployed professors in South Africa, the following recommendations are proposed:

  • Sustained Funding: The government should provide sustained funding to universities to enable them to create more permanent positions for professors.
  • Targeted Recruitment: Universities should implement targeted recruitment strategies to attract and retain professors from underrepresented groups.
  • Mentorship and Support: Universities should provide mentorship and support programs to unemployed professors to help them develop their skills and prepare for permanent positions.
  • Age-Neutral Hiring: Universities should adopt age-neutral hiring practices to ensure that older professors are not discriminated against.
  • Academic Freedom Protection: The government should protect academic freedom and ensure that professors are not penalized for expressing dissenting views.
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The crisis of unemployed professors in South Africa is a serious threat to the country’s higher education system. The government and universities must work together to address the underlying causes of this issue and implement effective strategies to support unemployed professors and ensure the future of higher education in South Africa.