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Higher education's Naledi Pandor caps string of qualifications with doctorate

16 April 2019 - 12:54 By TimesLIVE
Higher education minister Naledi Pandor has graduated with a doctorate from the University of Pretoria.
Higher education minister Naledi Pandor has graduated with a doctorate from the University of Pretoria.
Image: Sunday Times / Simphiwe Nkwali

Naledi Pandor queued with other students, waiting in line to defend her thesis proposal and deferred to her professor even though she had previously been his boss.

Now she has lived up to her portfolio as higher education minister by graduating with a doctorate from the University of Pretoria, in the latest of a string of qualifications behind her name.

The official announcement is expected at 3pm but her wellwishers have already taken to social media to congratulate her over her PhD in Education, which saw her delve into transformation in higher education.

Ahead of the academic celebrations, the minister is on Tuesday releasing two reports regarding the performance of the post-school education and training system in SA.

Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor, originally from Durban, was appointed as the minister of education in 2004 before leading the science and technology and home affairs portfolios, then returning as the minister of higher education and training from February 2018.

She has been an MP since 1994 and a member of the national executive committee of the ANC since 2002.

Pandor's official CV states that she matriculated at Gaborone Secondary School in Botswana in 1972.

She holds a master's degree in general linguistics from the University of Stellenbosch (1997); a bachelor's degree and certificate for continuing education from the University of Botswana and Swaziland (obtained between 1973 and 1977); a diploma in education from the University of London obtained between 1977 and 1978; a diploma in higher education, administration and leadership from Bryn Mawr Summer School in 1992; and a diploma in leadership in development from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, obtained in 1997.

Her career prior to her official political posts include serving as a teacher at Ernest Bevin School in London in 1980, a teacher in Gaborone from 1981 to 1984, and a lecturer at the Taung College of Education in North West from 1984 to 1986.

Between 1986 and 1989, Pandor was a senior lecturer in English at the University of Bophuthatswana and from 1989 to 1994, she was a senior lecturer in the academic support programme of the University of Cape Town.

She also served as chancellor of Cape Technikon between 2002 and 2004; and she was a member of the council of the University of Fort Hare during the same period.

* After donning her graduation robes on Tuesday afternoon, Pandor, who is in her 70s, said in a statement the decision to study again was nerve-wracking.

“But I knew I had to try. I was nervous and slightly embarrassed, as I am an older student, but once I started, I did not want to stop. There were several really bright young students and they seemed so confident and relaxed; I sometimes felt I could not catch up to their confidence levels, but I wanted to do this, so I persevered.”

Being both a student and a cabinet minister was demanding, she acknowledged. “Every moment outside work and politics was given to my studies. I tried to balance but some areas were neglected, especially family. I made every effort not to negatively impact on my work schedule, but I did accept fewer invitations for three years of the four,” she said.

Professor Chika Sehoole, Dean of the Faculty of Education at UP, said it was an honour to supervise the minister for her PhD. He previously worked with her before the old Department of Education was split. “After I agreed to supervise her, she set the rules for the relationship. She said to me, ‘Now you are my Professor, I am your student. You call me Naledi, and I will call you Professor.’ That was a shocker! I could not believe it, especially given our previous relationship in the Department of Education.”

He said being her doctoral supervisor was not easy, especially in the early days of this relationship, as he had “to call her by her name. I even sought the advice of her personal adviser, who encouraged me to stay the course, and that I will warm up to it”.

According to Prof Sehoole, Minister Pandor was a good student. “She was the kind of student every supervisor would like to work with. She worked very hard and did not want to submit substandard or mediocre work.”

Not only did she attend classes, but she also came in person to register or renew her registration for her studies at the beginning of every year, said UP. Pandor was a regular face that was often seen around the Administration building around that time.

“She came to defend her proposal, queuing with other students outside the room, waiting for her turn. She managed to defend her proposal in the first year of her studies, which was a remarkable achievement, given her tight schedule,” said Sehoole.

Pandor said of Sehoole’s: “I had an excellent supervisor who built a positive relationship with me, knew when to advise or support, when to apply pressure, and when to leave me to my own devices. Even though there were one or so meetings where I felt weepy, the whole time with my supervisor was inspiring, and his belief that I could do it was a great motivation.”

* This article was updated 17/04/2019 to update the comments shared after the graduation ceremony