The impact of the pandemic-enforced lockdown on the scholarly productivity of women academics in South Africa

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Published in Research Policy, Volume 51, Issue 1, January 2022, 104403


The underrepresentation of women in research is well-documented, in everything from participation and leadership to peer review and publication. Even so, in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, early reports indicated a precipitous decline in women’s scholarly productivity (both in time devoted to research and in journal publications) compared to pre-pandemic times. None of these studies, mainly from the Global North, could provide detailed explanations for the scale of this decline in research outcomes. Using a mixed methods research design, we offer the first comprehensive study to shed light on the complex reasons for the decline in research during the pandemic-enforced lockdown among 2,029 women academics drawn from 26 public universities in South Africa. Our study finds that a dramatic increase in teaching and administrative workloads, and the traditional family roles assumed by women while “working from home,” were among the key factors behind the reported decline in research activity among female academics in public universities. In short, teaching and administration effectively displaced research and publication—with serious implications for an already elusive gender equality in research. Finally, the paper offers recommendations that leaders and policy makers can draw on to support women academics and families in higher education during and beyond pandemic times.

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