Covid-19 Academic
Research Study

The impact of the pandemic-enforced lockdown on the scholarly work and productivity of women academics

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The impact of the pandemic-enforced lockdown on the academic work of women

The proposed research is the first in a series of studies on the impacts of the COVID19 pandemic on education. In the process, Stellenbosch University will become a major holding site for studies on the broader educational consequences of pandemics including the development and maintenance of a major bibliographic database on the subject.

This particular study surveys women academics spread across South Africa’s 26 public universities, to determine the impacts of the lockdown on their academic work. Academic work in this specific context will refer to teaching and research. Once completed, the refined study will be expanded to all 26 public universities.

Why is this study important? We know from research that academic work is unequally distributed between men and women academics. Women, moreover, are subject to “the second shift” when they leave the academic office for their homes. This means that in a pandemic-enforced lockdown, of the kind experienced world-wide, it can be assumed that women will experience academic work differently from men. What we do not know yet is how exactly the novel coronavirus has impacted on women academics working from home - raising important research questions.

Background Reading


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

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

Authors: Cyrill Walters | Graeme Mehl | Patrizio Piraino | Jonathan Jansen | Samantha Kriger

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.

“Academic guilt”: The impact of the pandemic-enforced lockdown on women's academic work

Published in Women's Studies International Forum, Volume 88, September–October 2021

Authors: Cyrill Walters | Linda Ronnie | Jonathan Jansen | Samantha Kriger

According to anecdotal accounts, the guilt engendered by the conflict between employment and family that is pervasive in the academy (or “academic guilt,” in this paper) has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic-enforced lockdown. To date, there has been no systematic research that provides a detailed account of, and explanations for, the “academic guilt” experienced by women academics, in particular, outside of the Global North. The research team conducted a large-scale systematic survey of all female academic staff in a nationwide study of South Africa's 26 public universities during the period of the lockdown. A total of 2029 full responses were received from women at different stages in their academic careers. The survey included an open-ended section that allowed for detailed, unlimited responses by the participants; this section provided a substantial volume of qualitative data, which was coded and analyzed. Leveraging the richness of the open-ended survey data, this study presents findings showing significantly high feelings of “academic guilt” among women academics during the pandemic-enforced lockdown for a variety of reasons relating to the working conditions imposed by the lockdown mandates.

Research Team

Prof Linda Ronnie
Dr Cyrill Walters
Dr Samantha Kriger
A/Prof Marieta du Plessis
Prof Jonathan Jansen
Principal Investigator
Dr Armand Bam
Prof Patrizio Piraino
Graeme Mehl

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Wellness Contacts

The list below contains the contact details of the Wellness Centres at the 26 Higher Education Institutions involved in this study. Click on one of the links below to see the details: