Celebrating research

24 May 2006

UCT's rated scholars and guests gathered at the 4th annual rating function held recently to honour their contribution to the university's reputation for research excellence.

The university continues to maintain its stature as a leading research-led higher education institution, boasting the highest number of rated researchers in the country.

In the past year alone, 31 newly-rated academics have been added to the fold, all of them first time applicants.

Guest speaker Dr Khotso Mokhele, outgoing president of the National Research Foundation (NRF) spoke about present and future issues regarding the NRF and South Africa's research landscape in general. He also went down memory lane by sharing revealing anecdotes on his challenging 14-year tenure with the organisation.

He commented on the proposed review of the NRF's funding policy, which seeks to re-establish the linkage between ratings and funding - a move that has been welcomed by the university as it will boost rated researchers' applications for five-year grants.

"I am also pleased to note that of the five researchers who received their P-ratings nationally, three of them are from UCT, and they are all women," he said.

Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey says that NRF ratings are a valuable instrument in research capacity development and for building a strong basis for future researchers.

"The increasing number of women and black researchers being rated is an indication that our attempts at research capacity development and the opportunities being made available via the Emerging Researcher Programme (ERP), for example, are bearing fruit. It is also particularly significant because a P-rating suggests that they have the potential to become future leaders in their field, thus giving us confidence that our history of having the highest number of A-rated researchers nationally is likely to continue into the future."

UCT is committed to creating an enabling environment for young academics who want to pursue careers in research.

"Through the ERP we advise young researchers to first obtain their PhDs and then their next goal should be to get themselves rated. This will open doors for them in terms of funding. Our approach is to see what support we can provide as an institution to assist them in reaching that level."

On South Africa's research landscape, De la Rey says that despite the challenges facing the country, the national government is committed to investing in research and development.

"I think that our government understands that if we are to be successful in the knowledge economy, we need to invest in research and development. It is a critical key to the success of our national economy. What is now necessary is for us to see that understanding translated into increased funding flows to support both excellence and capacity development."

A target for increasing government expenditure has been set for 1% of the Gross Domestic Product, which will be channelled through specific programmes like the South African Research Chair Initiative (for which UCT has applied for a number of chairs), and also for research in priority areas such as malaria and TB.

"There is still a need to address the baseline level of support for basic, disciplinary-driven research," argues De la Rey.

"We must express our appreciation for the role played by Dr Mokhele, particularly with respect to the rating system and advocating for increases in funding levels. Our engagement with him has been constructive over the years."

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