THE UNIVERSITY Strategy Committee (USC) has approved the immediate release of R3-million in budget relief to provide vital research equipment and to support research activities at UCT.
The decision was ratified at a Council meeting on September 4. The funds will be distributed according to the most urgent need, and through the University Research Committee (URC) (URC) and the University Equipment Committee (UEC), the Research Office will be liaising liaising with the deans and chairs of faculty research committees on the issue.
The desperate situation facing UCT researchers has been apparent for some time, but reached critical proportions this year, exacerbated by the fall of the Rand at the end of 2001. In September last year Monday Paper
ran a lead story (Vol 20#28)
describing a list of strategic initiatives to boost the University's flagging research output.
"UCT's researchers have been facing a crisis in a number of areas," Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Associate Professor Cheryl de la Rey agreed. "Urgent items of equipment cannot be funded, many routine research activities cannot be pursued, plans by academics to visit colleagues and present conferences, the lifeblood of research activity, are being postponed or cancelled altogether."
A survey among researchers, undertaken in 2001 by the Department of Research Development (DRD) and which attracted over 200 responses, half of these by associate or full professors, presented a stark picture. Results reflected a steady decline in research productivity in an environment of declining morale, with researchers battling to maintain modest levels of research activity in the face of relatively low levels of funding and even greater teaching and administrative demands on their time.
Serious concern was expressed about possible scepticism among researchers, leading to deeply embedded disillusionment with UCT's commitment to establishing itself as a research-led institution, with consequences for the recruitment and retainment of high-quality staff.
One of the main contributing factors to this situation is UCT's inability to meet the many "reasonable" requests for research support, De la Rey added. The situation is comparable to that experienced in the University Libraries in that the disciplines hardest hit are those that are reliant on the importation of specialised equipment and consumables.
At best, the R3-million will ensure that research activity is maintained at the "modest levels" of recent years. In the interim, the USC and the Senior Leadership Group are debating an appropriate research strategy for the medium term. The approved strategy plan will guide the manner in which the research budget at UCT is restructured in such a way as to be consistent with the University's research strategy.
In line with the drive to have research prioritised within the overall University strategy, an initiative to implement an action plan for research support is currently underway. This process will be launched at a symposium on October 23.