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Type Journal Article - South African Journal of Science
Title Flaws in the approach and application of the Equity Index: Comments on Govinder et al.(2013)
Volume 110
Issue 1-2
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
Page numbers 1-5
URL http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?pid=S0038-23532014000100009&script=sci_arttext
Transformation of South African society post-apartheid, which includes higher education institutions (HEIs), is a national imperative, but it is a complex process which cannot, and possibly should not, be encapsulated in a single index, particularly one as poorly conceived, applied and interpreted as that presented by Govinder, Zondo and Makgoba1 (and Govinder and Makgoba2 before that). While these publications and some extreme interpretations of the results by the authors at various fora may have the benefit of stimulating debate, there is a very real risk that such reductionist monitoring could very well undermine, rather than encourage, the process of transformation.

Although the concept of an 'Equity Index' (EI) was initially presented in Scientific Correspondence in this journal by Govinder and Mokgoba2, the idea was presented and expanded upon in more detail in the more recently published paper by Govinder et al.1, and it is on this paper that most of our comments focus. The expanded paper applies the index to determine the extent of the deviation from a benchmark demographic profile of staff and students at 23 HEIs in South Africa in 2011. Apart from ranking the institutions on various components of staff and students, they also compute what they refer to as an 'equity-weighted research index' which purportedly adjusts research output for equity. In terms of instructional/research professional (IRR i.e. 'academic') staff, which was the major focus of their paper, they found that although no institution had a satisfactory EI, by splitting the ranges of the Eis and of output per capita of the HEIs into two halves, only two institutions - the University of Fort Hare (UFH) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) - were located in the best quadrant (that represents the lowest EI and highest output per capita). In terms of student profiles, they argue that, apart from no university having a satisfactory El, all but three universities had higher (worse) graduation EIs than enrolment Els, singling out five as showing a 'dramatic worsening'. From these results, the authors draw a number of often extreme and ill-reasoned conclusions.

Unfortunately, apart from the questionable mission of the paper, the authors make a number of algebraic, computational and conceptual errors in the implementation and interpretation of their index, which all but negate most of the arguments for and from the index. In fact it is quite surprising that a paper with so many flaws was deemed good enough to be published.

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