Digitisation of Postgraduate Funding Office processes

30 November 2023 | Professor Sue Harrison

Dear academic supervisors, postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students

As part of the Research Support Transformation (RST) project, a thorough review of the processes and practices of the Postgraduate and Postdoctoral Funding Office (PGFO) is underway with the aim of creating efficiencies and improving turnaround times. The PGFO processes postgraduate financial aid, postgraduate scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships.

One of the key improvements planned in this space is the digitisation of certain current manual and largely paper-based processes to improve process efficiency and reduce processing times. To this end, the project team is working closely with the Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) department to digitise repetitive, manual process steps and to prioritise system development requirements. A Project Implementation Committee (PIC) consisting of a representative group of stakeholders has been formed and meets regularly to ensure the project is properly governed and managed. Digitisation is expected to lead to improvements in turnaround times and make the process of applying for and receiving funding more navigable, transparent and user friendly for all parties involved.

Improvements to date

To date, the following improvements have been made through digitisation in the PGFO:

  • The postgraduate financial aid scholarship process moved online from the 2023 application cycle and has been refined for the 2024 application cycle.
  • A more user-friendly departmental awards online process has been implemented and allows for the administration of departmental awards to be completed seamlessly and timeously with less manual effort from staff and fundholders. Further refinements in this system are planned.
  • The means test for postgraduate students has been revised and is now far less cumbersome and time-consuming, requiring less information and supporting documentation.
  • A document upload functionality has been developed which allows for postgraduates applying for financial aid or needs-based funding to understand exactly what documentation is required for their application and to submit directly via the system.
  • All awardees are now able to accept their awards online through the PeopleSoft system.
  • The payment and refunds process has been optimised, digitised and automated where possible to eliminate the need for the PGFO to manually pay out awards. The revised process is not yet operational for monthly awards, which will be addressed in the next round of development.
  • The National Research Foundation (NRF) is in the process of migrating data from NRF Submission to NRF Connect. This system was rolled out for the first time in 2022 and a number of “bugs” and system errors were experienced. The 2023 cycle went a lot more smoothly with a number of the previous system errors now resolved. Universities across South Africa are wanting to integrate their systems with the NRF Connect system to enable smoother management and processing of claims. UCT has been in contact with the NRF to act as a pilot for this integration process. In the meantime, the PGFO has developed an infographic to assist in navigating the NRF pre- and post-award application process.
  • Customised ServiceRequest functionality has been built for the PGFO to replace the current generic email inboxes. This system allows for specific requests with respect to scholarships to be logged and allocated directly to the appropriate individual for addressing. This functionality will be rolled out to students early next year.

Current focus

The digitisation team is currently working on the postdoctoral admissions processes. The digitisation has been introduced to the faculties through the Deans Advisory Committee (DAC) and has been successfully “user tested”. Training material is currently in development and the system will be deployed in December in time for the 2024 applications. For more information on the new process, please contact Chantal Swartz in the PGFO.

And into the future

Work in the PGFO continues and you should begin to see further positive improvements in the postgraduate and postdoctoral funding space in the near future. I know these will be very much appreciated.

With best wishes

Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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