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80-year-old graduates with a PhD from the University of Johannesburg

Henry Ford’s famous quote “Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young” rings true for 80-year-old PhD graduate Robert Jeffrey.

Dr. Jeffrey and his family


The accomplished scholar and retired businessman took to the stage at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Kingsway Campus auditorium on Thursday, 23 March 2023 to receive his PhD in Engineering Management. 

Accompanied by his family, Dr. Jeffrey said he was nervous and excited at the same time. He received a standing ovation from the audience present as he received his doctoral degree. 


Dr. Jeffrey’s thesis – Assessing the actual costs of alternative electricity generating technologies in South Africa in line with its economic development requirements is a subject that has interested him throughout his career. 

Now retired, the grandfather of 8, wanted to embark on a project that would give him some purpose, after losing the use of his legs leaving him wheelchair bound.

“It is necessary to have a purpose and I wanted a subject that would challenge me and would give a positive result for all South Africans especially the unemployed and poor.”

Education was a natural path for Dr. Jeffrey who briefly followed in the footsteps of his late parents, who were teachers. His father was once a Deputy Headmaster at St John’s College in Johannesburg.

Dr. Jeffrey’s educational qualifications include a BSc in Applied Mathematics and Statistics from Wits University, an MA in Economics from Cambridge University as well as an MBL (Master of Business Leadership) from Unisa.

“I originally was going to enter education. When I returned from Cambridge I completed what in those days was a Teachers Higher Diploma (TTHD) and taught for one year before joining a financial institution.”

His illustrious career has seen Dr. Jeffrey work as a managing director and financial director of major companies, an economic analyst and advisor to SARB, work in construction and energy evaluation and work on mergers, acquisitions, and capital projects in a variety of industries.

For the last seven years he has served as an independent energy and economic consultant.

Dr Rob Jeffrey at home where he spent hours working on his PhD

“I am extremely proud and satisfied about the objectives I set to get this PhD. Education is about developing the entire country and benefiting, through economic growth, the poor and unemployed. Sound education is the most important benefit a parent can give their child.”

His thesis is an independent economic analysis of the electricity generation industry in South Africa and an assessment of the best course of action that the country can take to develop its electricity generation resources. In this thesis, which took 4 years to complete, Dr. Jeffrey considered the impact of reliability of power supply – be it fossil fuel or renewable – on the development of a country’s economy.

This thesis comes at a time when South Africa is facing an electricity crisis with consistent load shedding causing strain on the economy.

Dr. Jeffrey chose UJ for his doctoral studies as the University allowed him the tools to work on a project that could lead to societal impact.

Thesis supervisor, Prof Andre Nel said that Dr. Jeffrey was a pleasure to work with, even dedicating himself through the Covid-19 period with ill health.

“He worked hard on the topic and put an amazing amount of effort into the thesis. It addresses the very real problem of balancing the cost and availability of power from different sources given their differing probability of delivery.”

An accomplished speaker, chairperson and presenter, Dr. Jeffrey plans to continue studying the progress in energy in the country while also focussing on his photography.

Dr. Jeffrey’s advice to scholars who are aiming to get their qualifications is to continue to have a purpose, an interest and determination to finish their projects.

*The Autumn graduations will take place until 19 April 2023 at the UJ Kingsway Campus auditorium.

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