Factors Enabling the Measurement of Return on Investment (ROI) for Academic Staff Training in South African Public Universities

Keywords: academic staff, enablers, ROI measurement, interventions, public universities, Return on Investment (ROI), training and development, training evaluation


Institutions spend billions of rands in providing staff with training and development interventions to prepare them to meet the demands of the current dynamic environment. However, executives and other stakeholders demand value from all investments. The increasing pressure from top management to rationalise the costs and benefits of training investments led to the measurement of Return on Investment (ROI). However, measuring the economic value of human capital development is challenging as compared to measuring overall business profitability and performance. This study aims to investigate the factors that enable the measurement of ROI for academic staff training in South African public universities. The study/methodology was qualitative and the philosophical approach of interpretivism was adopted. A multi-case study design was used and 14 participants were purposively selected. The cases were comprehensive universities, traditional universities, universities of technology, and government institutions responsible for funding academic staff in South African public universities. Interviews were conducted and the data was analysed through thematic analysis. The findings revealed that the enablers for measuring ROI for academic staff training included accountability, holistic approach to Human Resource Development (HRD), institutional systems, willingness to conduct ROI, and HRD policy that is explicit on ROI.

The study was qualitative and an interpretivism philosophical approach was adopted. A multi-case study design was used and 14 participants were purposively selected. The cases were comprehensive universities, traditional universities, universities of technology and government institutions responsible for funding academic staff in the South African public universities’ context. Interviews were conducted and the data was analysed through thematic analysis. The findings revealed that the enablers for measuring ROI for academic staff training included accountability, holistic approach to human resource development (HRD), institutional systems, willingness to conduct ROI and HRD policy that is explicit on ROI. The article contributed to the body of knowledge and practice by emphasising the enablers of the measurement of ROI, and providing recommendations for future studies and practice.


Alborough, L., & Hansen, R. K. (2022). Reframing fundraising research: The challenges and opportunities of interpretivist research practices and practitioner researchers in fundraising studies. Journal of Philanthropy and Marketing, 28(1), Article e1775. https://doi.org/10.1002 /nvsm.1775

Amjad, M. Y., & Azhar, T. M. (2023). Role of customer participation in technology innovation in higher education institutions (HEIs): A qualitative study on value co-creation and co-destruction. Journal of Management and Research,10(1), 1–25. https://doi.org/10. 29145/jmr.101.01

Ashofteh, H., & Orangian, E. (2021). Evaluating the effectiveness and calculating the rate of return on investment of training courses using Kirk Patrick and Phillips models. Journal of Management and Educational Perspective, 3(3), 143–189. https://dx.doi.org/10. 22034/jmep.2021.311156.1072

Bennington, K., & Laffoley, T. (2012). Beyond smiley sheets: Measuring the ROI of learning and development. Chapel Hill.

Bianchi, L. (2021). Exploring ways of defining the relationship between research philosophy and research practice. Journal of Emergent Science, 20, 32–37.

Bruwer, A. (2018). The impact of global influences on tertiary education in SA. Talent 360°. https://www.talent360.co.za/article/the-impact-of-global-influences-on-tertiary-education-in-sa/

Castleberry, A., & Nolen, A. (2018). Thematic analysis of qualitative research data: Is it as easy as it sounds? Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 10, 807–815. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016 /j.cptl.2018.03.019

Chmiliar, L. (2010). Multiple-case designs. In A. J. Mills, G. Durepos & E. Wiebe (Eds.), Encyclopaedia of case study research (pp. 583–584). Sage Publications.

Cotton, B. R. E., Cotton, P. A., & Shipway, J. R. (2023). Chatting and cheating: Ensuring academic integrity in the era of ChatGPT. Innovation in Education and Teaching International, 61(2), 228–239. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2023.2190148

Council on Higher Education. (2022). National review of South African doctoral qualifications 2020–2021: Doctoral degree national report March 2022. https://www.che.ac.za/news-and-announcements/ doctoral-degrees-national-report

Department of Higher Education and Training. (2015). Staffing South Africa’s universities framework – A comprehensive, transformative approach to developing future generations of academics and building staff capacity. https://www.justice.gov.za/commissions/feeshet/docs/ 2015-Staffing-SAUniversitiesFramework.pdf

Devarakonda, S. (2019). Calculating the economic viability of corporate trainings (traditional & eLearning) using benefit-cost ratio (BCR) and return on investment (ROI). International Journal of Advanced Corporate Learning, 12(1), 41–57. https://doi.org/10.3991/ijac.v12i1.9735

Dison, L., Padayachee, K., de Klerk, D., Conradie, W., MacAlister, F., Moch, S., & Krull, G. (2022). Reframing purpose and conceptions of success for a post-Covid-19 South African higher education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the South, 6(1), 33–54. https://doi.org/10.36615/sotls.v6i1.222

Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority. (2018). Skills planning and guide on scarce and critical skills 2016–2017. https://www.etdpseta.org.za/etd/sites/ default/files/2023-01/2018-ETDP-SETA-Scarce-and-Critical-Skills-guide.pdf

Fitrianti, D. T., & Bangun, M. Y. R. (2023). Relationship between training evaluation and perception about XYZ corporate university. International Journal of Current Science Research and Review, 6(2), 1399–1412. https://doi.org/10.47191/ijcsrr/V6-i2-59

Fuchs, K. (2023). Exploring the opportunities and challenges of NLP models in higher education: Is Chat GPT a blessing or a curse? Frontier in Education, 8, Article e1166682. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc. 2023.1166682

Gamede, B. T., Ajani, O. A. & Afolabi, O. S. (2022). Exploring the adoption and usage of learning management system as alternative for curriculum delivery in South African higher education institutions during covid-19 lockdown. International Journal of Higher Education, 11(1), 71–84. https://doi.org/10.5430/ijhe.v11n1p71

Gimba, J. T., & Anyanwu, C. C. (2022). Effect of human capital investment on financial performance of listed deposit money banks in Nigeria. Baze University Journal of Entrepreneurship and Interdisciplinary Studies (BUJEIS), 1(1), 95–103.

Govender, C. M., & Adegbite, W. M. (2023). Measuring human capital development (HCD) return on investment (ROI), risk, and knowledge gaps across selected occupations in South Africa. Journal of Management and Research, 10(1), 58–83. https://doi.org/10. 32350/jmr.101.03

Gustafsson, J. (2017). Single case studies vs. multiple case studies: A comparative study. Diva Portal. http://hh.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1064378&dswid=1850

Human Resource Development Council of South Africa. (2017). Draft revised HRD strategy towards 2030. https://hrdcsa.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Revised-HRD-Strategy-June-2017.pdf

Jasson, C. C., & Govender, C. M. (2017). Measuring return on investment and risk in training – A business training evaluation model for managers and leaders. Acta Commerc II, 17(1), Article ea401. https://doi.org/10.4102/ac.v17i1.401

Leibowitz, B., Bozalek, V., Van Schalkwyk, S., & Winberg, C. (2015). Institutional context matters: The professional development of academics as teachers in South African higher education. High Education, 69, 315–330. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-014-9777-2

Maguire, M., & Delahunt, B. (2017). Doing a thematic analysis: A practical, step-by-step guide for learning and teaching scholars. The All Ireland Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 8(3), 3351–3365.

Matta, C. (2022). Philosophical paradigms in qualitative research methods education: What is their pedagogical role? Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 66(6), 1049–1062. https://doi.org/10.1080/ 00313831.2021.1958372

Mishra, S. B., & Alok, S. (2017). Handbook of research methodology: A compendium for scholars and researchers. Educreation Publishing.

Moffatt-Bruce, S. D., Hefner J. L., & McAlearney, A. S. (2017). What is the return on investment for implementation of a crew resource management program at an academic medical center? American Journal of Medical Quality, 32(1), 5–11. https://doi.org/10.1177/ 1062860615608938

Musakuro, R. N., & De Klerk, F. (2021). Academic talent: Perceived challenges to talent management in the South African higher education sector. SA Journal of Human Resource Management, 19(0), Article ea1394. https://doi.org/10.4102/sajhrm.v19i0.1394

Nakash, M., & Bouhnik, D. (2022). Can return on investment in knowledge management initiatives in organizations be measured? Aslib Journal of Information Management, 74(3), 417–431. https://doi.org/10.1108/ AJIM-09-2021-0268

Ndebele, C., & Mbodila, M. (2022). Examining technology acceptance in learning and teaching at a historically disadvantaged university in South Africa through the technology acceptance model. Education Sciences, 12(1), Article e54. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12010054

Olexová, C. (2018). Establishing the financial returns arising from an evaluation of a retail training programme. Industrial and Commercial Training, 50(1), 20–31. https://doi.org/10.1108/ICT-02-2017-0016

Patel, M., & Patel, N. (2019). Exploring research methodology: Review article. International Journal of Research and Review, 6(3), 48–55.

Phillips, J. J. (2012). Return on investment in training and performance improvement programs (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Phillips, J. J. (2021, November 19). Why ROI: Understanding the barriers and benefits to successful implementation. HRDQ-U. https://hrdqu.com/roi-training/why-roi-understanding-the-barriers-and-benefits-to-successful-implementation/

Phillips, J. J., Phillips, P. P., & Schell, S. C. (2015). The value of motivation: How to measure the value, impact, and ROI of motivational projects, programs, and events. Performance Improvement, 54(5), 16–27. https://doi.org/10.1002/pfi.21480

Pillay, P. (2019). Staff professional development in South African higher education institutions: Needs and challenges. Gender and Behaviour, 17(1), 12299–12305.

Randhawa, M. (2023, June 28). Measuring the ROI of employee training and development. My HR Future. https://www.myhrfuture.com/ blog/measuring-the-roi-of-employee-training-and-development

ROI Institute. (2019a). The ROI methodology in 12 easy steps. https://roiinstitute.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/ROI-APPLICATION-GUIDE.pdf

ROI Institute. (2019b). Global leaders in accountability: All roads lead to ROI. ROI Institute Inc. https://roiinstitute.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/ROI-Institute-Brochure.pdf

Rudolph, J., Tan, S., & Tan, S. (2023). War of the chatbots: Bard, Bing Chat, ChatGPT, Ernie and beyond. The new AI gold rush and its impact on higher education. Journal of Applied Learning and Teaching, 6(1), 364–389. https://doi.org/10.37074/jalt.2023.6.1.23

Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2015). Research methods for business students (7th ed.). Prentice-Hall.

Shibiti, R. (2022). An integrated return on investment framework for human resource development in the South African higher education sector [Doctoral Thesis, University of South Africa]. UNISA Institutional Repository. https://hdl.handle.net/10500/29507

Shibiti, R., & Mulaudzi, M. C. (2024). Exploring barriers to measuring ROI for training and development interventions: A case study on academic staff in South Africa. International Journal of Research in Business and Social Science, 13(2), 163–173. https://doi.org/10.20525/ijrbs.v13i2.3200

Ullah, A., & Rafiq, M. (2022). Education and learning about research methodology: Views of LIS authors in Pakistan. Information Development, 38(4), 688–703. https://doi.org/10.1177/02666669211022022

Wang, G. G., Dou, Z., & Li, N. (2002). A systems approach to measuring return on investment for HRD interventions. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 13(2), 203–224. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrdq.1024

Webbstock, D., & Fisher, G. (2016). Overview. In South African higher education reviewed: Two decades of democracy. Council on Higher Education. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312889357_ South_African_Higher_Education_Reviewed_Two_decades_of_Democracy_including_chapter_on_Governance#fullTextFileContent

Webbstock, B., & Sehoole, C. (2016). Academic staffing. In South African higher education reviewed: Two decades of democracy. Council on Higher Education. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/3128 89357_South_African_Higher_Education_Reviewed_Two_decades_of_Democracy_including_chapter_on_Governance#fullTextFileContent

Zafar, N., Asadullah, M. A., Haq, M. Z. U., Siddiquei, A. N., & Nazir, S. (2023). Design thinking: A cognitive resource for improving workforce analytics and training evaluation. European Journal of Training and Development, 47(5/6), 653–675. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJTD-09-2021-0150

How to Cite
Shibiti, R., & Mulaudzi, M. C. (2023). Factors Enabling the Measurement of Return on Investment (ROI) for Academic Staff Training in South African Public Universities. Journal of Management and Research, 10(2), 145-164. https://doi.org/10.29145/jmr.102.06