Response to the Statistician General – Dr Stephen Taylor


[Guest post – Stephen Taylor]

The Statistician General (SG) recently responded to my letter to the Business Day. A full version of what I have written is available here. I would simply reiterate what I wrote initially. In brief:

Numerous newspapers and media outlets were running with headlines such as “Black youth less educated now than 20 years ago” (Business Day) and “Stats SA claims black youth are less skilled than their parents” (Daily Maverick). The articles were referencing a recent Stats SA report as well as comments made by the SG.

My position is simple: These claims are factually incorrect and Stats SA reports and data do not actually say this. Note that I did not “adjudge a mistake” in the actual Stats SA report. I do not know exactly what the SG said at the release, which may have lead the media to run with the headlines they did, but I speculated about what I thought might have been causing the confusion.

The SG’s response has confirmed that I was right about what had caused the confusion. He had in mind a very specific “progression ratio” – the ratio of degree graduates to matriculants. This ratio may have been decreasing for black and coloured youth, but this is simply because the increase in degree graduates has not kept pace with the increase in matriculants. Importantly, both the likelihood of achieving a matric and the likelihood of achieving a degree have been fast increasing, especially for black youth. This means it cannot possibly be true that black and coloured youth are worse off educationally than their parents, which is the message the media were propagating. None of the media reports said anything about this “progression ratio” which the SG has now referred to. Instead the media were reporting that lower proportions of the entire black and coloured population were attaining a degree. And that isn’t true.

According to Higher Education data, the number of black degree graduates per year has increased more than four-fold from 11 339 in 1994 all the way to 48 686 in 2014.[Note: New SU Working Paper published by Hendrik van Broekhuizen last week on this topic]. This is much faster than population growth. For white youth, this number has essentially remained flat at roughly 20 000 graduates per year. Of course there is still a lot of inequality – these numbers mean whites are still about 6 times more likely to attain a degree than black youth.

This “progression ratio” may have some analytic value, as the SG points out. For example, it may reflect a greater policy prioritisation of secondary education relative to higher education. But this indicator must be clearly explained and it also has its limitations. I cannot imagine anyone celebrating improved educational outcomes if the numbers of black and coloured youth attaining a degree had gone down, while the numbers attaining a matric had gone down even faster, leading to an increase in the degree-to-matric progression ratio!

I know progress hasn’t been as fast as we need. But it is far from the truth to suggest educational outcomes have regressed.


One response to “Response to the Statistician General – Dr Stephen Taylor

  1. I think the point that Pali was trying to make is, loosely, as follows: if you are black or coloured, your chances of obtaining a degree, given that you have matriculated, are now lower than they were in 1994.

    Now, assuming this is accurate, interpretations of this trend will differ and may require investigation – although probably not worthwhile. To a first order approximation, one is left simply to blow the BASIC EDUCATION HAS BEEN TERRIBLE AND NOT EQUIPPING SCHOOL LEAVERS FOR POST-SCHOOL EDUCATION horn.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s