Report on research at UCT

13 October 2018 | Vice-Chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Report to Council (October 2018) and Senate (November 2018) on Research at UCT

Executive Summary by the Vice Chancellor

As we pursue our focus of effecting radical transformation of research at our institution – which goes beyond simple demographics, to how we foresee the arrival of designated groups on our campus shaping the future space – I am happy to report that our researchers have set UCT firmly on track to become the inclusive, engaged and research-intensive African university that we envisage.

Via our framework of excellence, which we developed to effectively interrogate productivity, transformation, sustainability and impact, we are working hard to answer probing questions about our degree of success.

For the first time, this year’s report includes demographic data, and includes a stronger focus on transforming research as we work to forge a new identity that not only reflects more demographically-representative student and staff profiles, but also the overall diversity of the student body in terms of culture, values, heritage and epistemologies.

Some of our efforts in this respect include the following:

  • A 2017 Task Team review of relevant policies and practices was established in response to demands from a group of black postgraduate students, resulting in improved support for needs-based and “gap” Honours students and implemented for the 2018 intake.
  • The expansion of targeted donor funding for the black South African postgraduate cohort, with six black academics benefiting in 2018 from one such initiative, involving sabbatical grants from the FirstRand Foundation.
  • Both rounds of development funding in 2017 were restricted to black South African and Coloured researchers, with the representation of black South Africans in the Emerging Research Programme (ERP) significantly high when compared with UCT’s overall researcher demographics – 55% versus 25.6%.
  • The Engaged Scholarship (ES) Programme, which runs from the Research Office, continues to provide an alternative research framework to the dominant Western paradigms prevailing in universities generally.
  • To improve completion rates and reduce average completion times in respect of, particularly, black PhD students, ongoing training opportunities are being offered, and access to information relating to postgraduate funding and work is being improved via the postgraduate website.
  • UCT provided seed funding for new collaborations outside South Africa that include an African partner, and also ring-fenced internal funds to award grants through a competitive, proposal-driven process. This will enhance inter-institutional links, and help embed students into a community of global south scholars.
  • Bailout funding was provided for NRF grant applicants whose projects were approved, but not funded due to NRF funding shortages. Access to the bailout was restricted to projects where grant holder-linked bursaries were awarded to black students.

Meanwhile, our Research Dashboard shows that we boosted research income from external sources to R1.58 billion, and research contracts to R1.39 billion in 2017. A special highlight was that 2 363 contracts were processed in 2017, up from 2 266 the previous year. In addition, we saw 16 patents granted and four spin-off companies started.

Our postgraduate funding from all sources improved to R295 million, and funding for postdoctoral fellows to R80 million.

It is important to note that while UCT received R27.5 million from the NRF’s Incentive Funding for Rated Researchers Programme, a change in the programme’s funding policy implies a reduction of more than 60% of this amount going forward, with serious repercussions for many rated researchers who depend on their funds to support their students, and to carry out their research.

This makes it even more critical for our researchers to respond strategically and secure alternative funding. The NRF is also putting a much stronger emphasis on their transformation targets, which is already negatively affecting our university in terms of funding outcomes in most of the other competitive NRF programmes.

On a more positive note, in terms of research productivity UCT was awarded 1 843.87 units for publications produced in 2015 – a year-on-year increase of 190.42 units. Our university also maintains its top position nationally in terms of NRF Evaluation and Rating, with the highest number of rated researchers at 542, two of whom are new A-ratings and three new P-ratings. There has also been an overall increase in female, Black, Coloured and Indian rated researchers.

We have continued to grow critical mass in specific areas in recognition of the value of focusing our research efforts and resources to achieve improved quality and impact. Some such focussed national instruments hosted at UCT include the DST/NRF Centres of Excellence and Competence Centres, and the SA Research Chairs Initiative. We also continue to play a leading role in big data research thanks to South Africa’s successful Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid.

I would like to congratulate all our remarkable researchers for the host of prizes, awards and acknowledgements they brought home to UCT during this period, and for the entire university community’s commitment to continually raise the bar on excellence at our institution.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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