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RESEARCH OFFICE

It is the role of the Research Office to execute the University’s research vision by supporting research planning and policy implementation. It does this by managing internal and external grants funding, quality assurance for research, the government’s higher education subsidy distribution requirements, and the development and support of emerging and mid-career researchers. Besides administrating internal grant programmes that accommodate a range of research needs, we seek to expand access to national and international grants by building relations with funding agencies, research councils, and regional and government departments.

For purposes of this introduction, these roles – except funding, covered elsewhere in this report – are best illustrated through the Office’s involvement in a number of distinct, if overlapping, projects in 2009. These are the running of research development programmes, directing the University’s quality assurance programme through the peer-reviews of several research groupings, tracking the University’s publication count, submitting two major international proposals to enhance support capacity in the Office, positioning UCT in relation to global rankings as well as the national rating of individual researchers, and playing a part in forging new and strategic partnerships.

The University Research Committee’s Framework for Research Development is intended to support researchers at emerging, established (mid-career) and advanced stages of their academic careers. Under the aegis of this Framework, the Research Office offers four main programmes. An eight-fold increase in numbers is testimony of the success of the first, the Emerging Researcher Programme (ERP) – participation in workshops, seminars, mentoring opportunities or grant applications jumped from 45 in 2003 to 364 by the end of 2009 (see Figure 1). The ERP is also changing the University’s research face as a growing number of young black and women academics are signing up for one or more aspects of the programme. As postgraduate numbers grow, so does the demand for supervisors, and a pleasing number of postgraduates and academics – between 20 and 30 – attended regular Supervision Training sessions. The third initiative, the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Capacity (PERC) offered its second year of structured support for selected researchers, and a total of 122 academics attended one or more seminars and workshops in 2009. And in a PERC spinoff, titled African Research Project on Knowledge Production, a Carnegie grant allowed the Office to make four awards, each valued at R150,000 per year for three years, to cross-faculty research collaborations that highlighted the place of local knowledge systems. More such grants will be made in 2010. Finally, the Mellon Visiting and Retired Scholars Mentorship Programme ended its three-year cycle in 2009. Over this period, 20 local and international mentors have been hosted by UCT departments. While it is difficult to quantify the success of the Programme within the current time-frame, students’ and fellows’ project plans and narrative reports suggest that structured mentorship does impact positively on researchers’ professional and personal lives as well as on the institutional culture.

In 2009, quality assurance measures were again put in place to evaluate a specific cohort of UCT’s research groupings. During this process, 12 research groupings, including three Medical Research Council units and a UCT Signature Theme, the Marine Research Institute (MA-RE), underwent a second round of peer review. While the first cycle from 2003 to 2008 aimed to encourage good governance and objective setting, the second cycle included international peer reviews for the high performers from the first cycle. This process is described in detail later in this report.

The Research Office also co-ordinates UCT’s publication count. This is an annual submission of the University’s accredited research output – in the form of books, journals and conference proceedings – that is submitted to the national Department of Higher Education and Training (DoHET). In 2009, UCT was awarded 1086.15 units for these publications (recorded for the period 2008 and late 2007), thus representing an overall increase of 6.8 per cent over 2007’s figures (see Figure 2). This places UCT second only to the (larger) University of Pretoria in overall national publication figures as recognised by the DoHET. UCT has shown an average annual growth of 9.6 per cent from 2004 to 2008 for accredited publications.

In 2009, the Research Office submitted a successful proposal to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA, for an International Extramural Associates Research Development Award (IEARDA). IEARDA aims to provide training for grant managers in NIH policies and procedures and, by expansion, to enhance the support for all large international grants. It also provides funding to build up existing administrative infrastructure at UCT’s Research Office.

The 2008 research report introduced UCT’s Framework for Engagement with International Ranking Systems, this being the University Research Committee’s response to UCT’s rise in the world’s leading ranking systems, i.e. theShanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities and the Times Higher Education-Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings. The Framework aims to inform the way in which faculties position themselves in relation to these rankings. In 2009, faculties were beginning to shape their responses, but already it is clear that awareness of the indicators is focusing the minds of researchers on the impact of their research, and by consequence, on their evaluation and dissemination strategies. There is consensus that the impact and social responsiveness of research translate differently across the disciplines and that – in view of the diversity of purpose in higher education institutions – there is no ‘one size fits all’ way of measuring and evaluating activity. Rather than blindly trying to emulate institutions at the top of the league tables, there is a concerted effort to re-think impact and visibility in terms of our responsibility as research partners in and for Africa and to enhance performance in this regard.

Mindful of the controversy that surrounds international rankings, the Research Office was represented at the 3rd International Conference on World-Class Universities, held in Shanghai, China, in October 2009. The conference explored the challenges of setting up globally competitive universities. It was recognised, however, that any ranking system would need to consider the value that comes out of addressing the learning needs of an increasingly diverse student population. UCT thus joined the Times Higher Education Survey Platform Group, which sets out to develop a rounded picture – and ranking system – of what a higher education institution does and how well it does it.

All in all, the year showed continued growth for the University’s research community on both the local and international fronts. This trend should continue as we bed down the new initiatives commenced over the past year.
 
Dr Marilet Sienaert
Director, Research Office

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