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South Africa may up academics’ retirement age to 80

South Africa is considering increasing the retirement age for university professors from 60 to 80, in a move welcomed by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) on Friday.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said Thursday it was counter-productive to let university professors and lecturers retire at 60 when they could still help train desperately needed skilled professionals.

“We welcome the suggestion, we think it would play a remarkable role in retaining skilled academics,” NTEU President Norman Kemp told AFP on Friday.

“Universities are currently struggling to attract the right people, younger people are not interested in joining academia. They prefer working for the private sector.”

Sixty is the national retirement age for academics, though universities can extend professors’ tenure on a case-by-case basis.

“The average age of a South African academic as of 2012 is 59, so we are looking at this within the broader scheme of revitalising the academic profession,” Nzimande told a press conference.

“Some professors at 80 are as sharp as anything,” he added. “At some universities in South Africa they retire at 60.”

The proposal came as the government this year announced plans to build two new universities to help meet increased demand for higher education in the face of a 23.9-percent unemployment rate.

Nzimande said South Africa would recruit academics from major trading partners such as Brazil, China, India and Russia to staff the new universities.

The country currently has 17 public universities, all built by the apartheid government before 1994, and six institutes of technology.

The number of students enrolled in public higher education rose from 578,000 in 2000 to nearly 900,000 in 2010, with 46,579 professors and lecturers, according to the ministry.

Higher education, which was almost completely off-limits to blacks under apartheid, has proved to be one of democratic South Africa’s biggest challenges.

South Africa has one engineer per 3,166 people, for example, compared to 227 in Brazil and 543 in Malaysia, two other emerging economies.