Opening doors to postgraduate studies: The role of digital technologies and social media

  • S. Msimango University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Keywords: professional identity, digital technology, social-media, funding, undergraduate, postgraduate


Regardless of an expansion in enrolments, South Africa continues to encounter a shortage of quality postgraduate output particularly at the Masters and Doctoral levels. Studies have highlighted various explanations behind this shortage. These range from but are not limited to; a poor basic education, pressure from the labour market, curriculum patterns, family and financial responsibilities and a shortage of qualified supervisors. There is a paucity of studies on undergraduate experiences in South Africa and their possible effect on progression to postgraduate studies and knowledge creation in South Africa. The aim of this study was to gain an understanding of the factors that influenced the formation of professional academic identities and factors that made it possible for students to progress to and access postgraduate studies within their chosen fields. To achieve this, qualitative methods were used to collect data from postgraduate students at two universities, and from various faculties. The data was analysed using NVIVO software. It was found that there are many variables that contributed to the development of professional identities and access to postgraduate studies. This article presents two factors which contributed to facilitating access to postgraduate studies which are technology and social media. Taking into consideration South Africa’s higher education context, the funding implications will also be discussed. They form part of a larger model called Tlou Model of Professional Identity Formation, which can be used to help undergraduate students progress to postgraduate.

Author Biography

S. Msimango, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Commerce, Law and Management


Ashour, S. 2020. “How technology has shaped university students’ perceptions and expectations around higher education: An exploratory study of the United Arab Emirates.” Studies in Higher Education 45(12): 2513‒2525, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1617683.

Baker, V. L. and L. R. Lattuca. 2010. “Developmental networks and learning: Toward an interdisciplinary perspective on identity development during doctoral study.” Studies in Higher Education 35(7): 807‒827. DOI: 10.1080/03075070903501887.

Boud, D., R. Cohen, and D. Walker. 1993. Using Experience for Learning. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Boud, D. 2001. “Using Journal Writing to Enhance Reflective Practice.” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 90: 9–17. doi:10.1002/ace.16.

Bruno, A. and F. Bracco. 2016. “Promoting Safety through Well-being: An Experience in Healthcare.” Frontiers in Psychology 7: 1208. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01208.

Castello, M., S. Kobayashi, M. K. McGinn, H. Pechar, J. Vekkaila, and G. Wisker. 2015. “Researcher identity in transition: Signals to identify and manage spheres of activity in a risk-career.” Frontline Learning Research 3(3): 19–34.

CHE see Council on Higher Education.

Cloete, N. 2014. “The South African Higher Education System.” Studies in Higher Education 39(8): 1355‒1368.

Cloete, N., J. Mouton, and C. Sheppard. 2015. Doctoral Education in South Africa Policy, Discourse and Data. African Minds.

Corrin, L., L. Lockyer, and S. Bennett. 2010. “Technological diversity: An investigation of students’ technology use in everyday life and academic study.” Learning, Media and Technology 35(4): 387‒401. DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2010.531024.

Council on Higher Education. 2020. Vital Stats Public Higher Education. Council on Higher Education, Pretoria, South Africa.

Crocker, S. G. and J. P. Mazer. 2019. “Associations among community college students’ technology apprehension and achievement emotions in developmental education courses.” Technology, Pedagogy and Education 28(1): 37‒52. DOI: 10.1080/1475939X.2018.1562624.

Cruess, S. R., R. L. Cruess, and Y. Steinert. 2019. “Supporting the development of a professional identity: General principles.” Medical Teacher 41(6): 641‒649. DOI:10.1080/0142159X.2018.1536260.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2018. Annual Report. Pretoria, South Africa.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2020. Annual Report. Pretoria, South Africa.

DHET see Department of Higher Education and Training.

Engelbertink, M. M. J., J. Colomer, K. M. Woudt-Mittendorff, Á. Alsina, S. M. Kelders, S. Ayllón, and G. J. Westerhof. 2021. “The reflection level and the construction of professional identity of university students.” Reflective Practice 22(1): 73‒85. DOI:10.1080/14623943.2020.1835632.

Englander, F., R. A. Terregrossa, and Z. Wang. 2010. “Internet use among college students: Tool or toy?” Educational Review 62(1): 85‒96. DOI:10.1080/00131910903519793.

Erikson, E. H. 1959. Identity and the Life Cycle. International universities press.

Essop, A. 2020. The Changing Size and Shape of the Higher Education System in South Africa, 2005‒2017. University of Johannesburg.

Henderson, M., N. Selwyn, G. Finger, and R. Aston. 2015. “Students’ everyday engagement with digital technology in university: Exploring patterns of use and ‘usefulness’.” Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 37(3): 308‒319.

Herman, C. 2011. “Expanding doctoral education in South Africa: Pipeline or pipedream?” Higher Education Research & Development 30(4): 505‒517. DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2010.527928.

James, N. 2007. “The learning trajectories of ‘old-timers’: Academic identities and communities of practice in higher education.” In Communities of practice: Critical perspectives, ed. J. Hughes, N. Jewson, and L. Unwin. London: Routledge.

Kirkwood, A. and Linda Price. 2014. “Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: What is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review.” Learning, Media and Technology 39(1): 6‒36. DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2013.770404.

Lave, J. and E. Wenger. 1991. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.

Lee, S. and D. Boud. 2003. “Writing groups, change and academic identity: Research development as local practice.” Studies in Higher Education 28(2): 187‒200.

Lusigi, A. 2019. “Higher Education, Technology, and Equity in Africa.” New Review of Information Networking 24(1): 1‒16. DOI: 10.1080/13614576.2019.1608576.

Mead, G. H. 1956. The Social Psychology of George Herbert Mead. The University of Chicago press.

Mezirow, J. 1991. Transformative Dimension of Adult Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Motala, S. 2020. Transforming Ivory Towers to Ebony Towers: Lessons for South Africa’s Curriculum Transformation in the Humanities from Africa and African-American Studies. Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation. University of Johannesburg.

Motala, S., Y. Sayed, and T. de Kock. 2021. “Epistemic decolonisation in reconstituting higher education pedagogy in South Africa: The student perspective.” Teaching in Higher Education 26(7‒8): 1002‒1018. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2021.1947225.

Mouton, J. 2011. “Doctoral production in South Africa: Statistics, challenges and responses.” Perspectives in Education 29(3): 13‒29.

Msimango, S. 2020. "Professional identity formation at the undergraduate level : postgraduate students’ experiences at two South African universities." Doctoral dissertation, University of Johannesburg.

Munyoka, W., T. Runhare, and P. Dzimiri. 2019. “Using Social Networking Technologies for Postgraduate Research Supervision at a South African Rural-Based Historically Disadvantaged Institution.” Africa Education Review 16(6): 128‒150. DOI: 10.1080/18146627.2018.1464679.

Pluye, P. and Q. N. Hong. 2014. “Combining the power of stories and the power of numbers: Mixed methods research and mixed studies reviews.” Annual Review of Public Health 35: 29‒45.

Ruswa, A. S. and O. T. Gore. 2022. “Rethinking student poverty: Perspectives from a higher education institution in South Africa.” Higher Education Research and Development 41(7): 2353‒2366. DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2021.2014409.

Schlebusch, C. L. 2018. “Computer Anxiety, Computer Self-Efficacy and Attitudes Towards the Internet of First Year Students at a South African University of Technology.” Africa Education Review 15(3): 72‒90. DOI: 10.1080/18146627.2017.1341291.

Styger, A., G. W. van Vuuren, and A. Heymans. 2015. “Case study of Postgraduate Student Dropout Rate at South African Universities.” International Business and Economics Research Journal 14(1): 1‒14.

Tshivhase, M. 2017. “Towards a Normative Theory of Uniqueness of Persons.” DLitt et Phil (Philosophy). Unpublished. University of Johannesburg. (Accessed 15 September 2022.)

Wangenge-Ouma, G. 2012. “Tuition fees and the challenge of making higher education a popular commodity in South Africa.” Higher Education 64: 831–844. DOI 10.1007/s10734-012-9531-6.

Warhurst, R. P. 2008. “Cigars on the flight-deck’: New lecturers’ participatory learning within workplace communities of practice.” Studies in Higher Education 33(4): 453‒467.

Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

How to Cite
Msimango, S. 2023. “Opening Doors to Postgraduate Studies: The Role of Digital Technologies and Social Media”. South African Journal of Higher Education 37 (6), 175-92.