UCT Research Support Transformation Project

04 April 2022

Dear colleagues

UCT launched an ambitious project to improve significantly the structures and processes that support and facilitate research. The Research Support Transformation Project aims to position UCT research to flourish and grow, facilitated through effective and efficient research support.

The need for this project is stark. UCT research has grown exponentially over the last decade and we recognise that the research support capacity within the university has not grown at the same rate. Presently UCT research support capabilities (people, processes, systems, finances, equipment) are not sufficiently aligned to the changed research landscape and many support processes are retrofitted from teaching and learning and, as a result, are not necessarily fit for purpose for the research endeavour. This puts UCT at risk: it is time to review and adapt our research support systems to better facilitate UCT’s research.

At the same time, the growth of inter- and transdisciplinary research together with global and continental partnerships, and more interfaculty interaction, requires new ways of working to be effective, including new policies, procedures, processes, and authority levels. These require collaborative design with researchers, research partners and possibly even funders.

Introducing Phase II of the Research Support Transformation Project

While the scoping of Phase I of this project, initiated last year, highlights addressing key “pain points” in the research landscape for which rapid solutions could be found (update to follow), Phase II addresses research support from a systems perspective. Running from January to December 2022, it is comprised of 12 workstreams.

Six high priority workstreams: project management, process optimisation, strategy, training, organisational design, change management.

The present focus is on the research support strategy. The support needs of researchers within the university vary based on stage in research career, nature of research, source of funding and whether researchers work individually or in teams, so a one-size-fits-all approach to research support will not be appropriate. Based on these aspects, researchers within all the faculties have been clustered into groupings based on nature of research activity. Workshops to identify support needs, as well as awareness and appropriateness of existing support capabilities, will soon be held with researchers from each grouping in each faculty.

This strategy process is critical to understand the research support processes across UCT and their intercalation across research funds centre, department, faculty and central UCT structures. It will inform the design of workstreams through the remainder of the project.

Research Support Transformation Project

Figure 1: Research Support Transformation Project high priority workstreams and objectives

Other workstreams include:

  • Benchmarking
  • Research Finance Model
  • Systems
  • Transdisciplinary/ Inter-Disciplinary Research
  • Research Administration Process Redesign
  • Governance
  • Postgraduate Support

Our project aims are ambitious:

  • A more nimble and agile capacity to facilitate and enable the fast-growing research enterprise in an increasingly challenging and complex funding environment;
  • Research taking its rightful place in university planning to fulfil the Institution’s aspiration of being research intensive;
  • A coherent research administration capacity tailored to the changing needs of external and internal research stakeholders with emphasis on interdisciplinary and collaborative research crossing traditional institutional/faculty boundaries;
  • Appropriate and enabling electronic systems to support research;
  • A research constituency (academic and support) with job security and promotion prospects;
  • Transparency and buy-in to funding flows – including cost recovery;
  • An active voice for research within university governance structures; and
  • An institutional culture, based on knowledge, whereby research is fully integrated into all aspects of the university, and supported by all its constituencies, removing the existing ‘us’ and ‘them’ which still prevails between research groupings and other stakeholder groupings within the university.

In conclusion

For this project to be successful, the voice and needs of all those involved in research, both academic and PASS, needs to be heard. The design of support systems, processes and structures must be tailored to ease the ever-increasing administrative burden presently placed on researchers and research entities. End-user researchers have been added to each of the workstreams to ensure this happens.

However, this is not enough. The ideas and insights from all research stakeholders need to be captured. For this reason, the Change Management workstream will have a strong mobilisation element to ensure this happens. Please reach out to researchtransformation@uct.ac.za in order to allow the team to make contact with you.

I look forward to working with you towards delivering an efficient, effective and enabling research support system at UCT to facilitate the strengthening of our research impact.

Warm regards

Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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