Funding, return to labs critical to research

18 May 2020 | Story Helen Swingler. Photo Michael Hammond. Read time 7 min.
Research funding and a return to laboratories and studios were central to DVC Professor Sue Harrison’s message during the vice-chancellor’s online special assembly on 14 May.
Research funding and a return to laboratories and studios were central to DVC Professor Sue Harrison’s message during the vice-chancellor’s online special assembly on 14 May.

Research funding and a return of students to laboratories and studios were central to Professor Sue Harrison’s message during the online special assembly hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng on 14 May. Harrison is Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

“These certainly are challenging times, but it is very inspiring to be a part, and in places the driver, of new initiatives and innovations that will take us to a better place post-COVID-19,” Harrison said.

But despite COVID-19-linked disruptions to UCT’s academic programme, “significant volumes” of academic writing and desktop research were being achieved “where it can because many of our academics are completely immersed in online teaching and the additional demands of home life”, said Harrison.

She commended UCT’s researchers for “their amazing contributions” to COVID-19 research, through the university’s COVID-19 Research Task Team.

The present challenges were also shaping UCT’s view of its role in future research.

“Our researchers are really responding to the many issues that will need to be addressed in our new world,” she said. “This moment is a critical one to think through the key research foci for the future – and the impact of UCT’s research.”

But the university would need to work aggressively to maintain healthy levels of research funding to sustain this, she said.

Besides securing research funding, it was also critical to secure funding to cover lockdown delays in postgrad projects, especially where postgraduates have not been able to lab, studio and field work. Around one-third of UCT postgraduates are funded from external “soft funded” sources, beyond the funding agencies who fund another third or more.


“We are in discussion with big funders to find solutions.”

“We are in discussions with big funders to find solutions, but we’re encouraging students on National Research Foundation [NRF] funding to apply now for extension funding.”

Her immediate foci will be, first, the research contracts UCT has signed with external entities, particularly monitoring the ramifications of delayed research delivery “and all its consequences” and on supporting students, postdoctoral researchers and soft-funded researchers.

“We have a task team working on understanding and mitigating the consequences on our research enterprise, focusing on externally funded research in general and soft-funded researchers in particular.”

Research adaptations

Those teams linked to research – administration, the technical teams and academics – are all working remotely except for a small team of critical COVID researchers and those attached to several projects where the risk to the patients involved in the studies far outweighed COVID-19 risks.

“We have a small team across the university maintaining critical facilities. And we have a fully resourced virtual library, thanks to library staff for the additional online resources available through negotiations with libraries worldwide.”

Online teaching

Although undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes have moved online, some programmes have not, for example, the performing arts and those that require practical work in schools, clinics or laboratories. Harrison said UCT was planning a safe and responsible return for these students, in line with national regulations.

“The institutional planning is under way. As soon as the framework is bedded down, we will begin the planning at the granular level.


“Many are missing the knowledge commons and the daily interactions with fellow researchers.”

“In our postgrad research programmes, laboratory- or studio-based students have had to rethink and reorder their work to be able to complete desktop research. All students have had to cope with working in a different environment – many are missing the knowledge commons and the daily interactions with fellow researchers.”

Harrison said there was a postgraduate online task team in place to handle aspects specific to postgraduate study.

Where students were concerned about being able to register for follow-on degrees, the university would adapt where necessary to keep the academic programme in place, allowing students to progress.

“We have considered the need for alterations in submission dates and the fact that some students who should have finished by year end will not. Similarly, we are in discussion with the NRF on awarding of bursaries for postgraduates if results are out later.”

She thanked those teams that had been instrumental in keeping the postgraduate programmes and students on track: the Postgraduate Funding Office; the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT); Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) for laptop delivery; the Research Office through the Postgraduate Hub; and the International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO).

Vulnerable postgraduates

Beyond the academic aspect, Harrison said many postgraduate students were in tough situations due to living conditions, connectivity, life demands, etc and in these cases course convenors or supervisors had access to the UCT CARES referral network, via their faculty contact people.

“The UCT CARES referral system works very well and works for both postgraduate and undergraduate students.”

Harrison urged supervisors to maintain close communication with their students.

“Not all our students are managing to stay as productive as they would wish.”

Not business as usual

While a return to research in laboratories and studios is top of mind for many students and researchers, the phased return will follow strict, university-wide protocols.

“We must plan this holistically within government regulations, following a socially responsible approach. We are entering a key planning phase on this now, although dates are not yet clear. We will do this with a task team enabling us to link across faculties to the granular, environment-specific level.

“We see laboratories all around the world grappling with this, as are we. It will not be business as usual and we will develop new norms. But I am sure we will embrace it, because disruptions are where innovation comes from.”

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 updates

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to implement a national lockdown from 26 March.

UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information. Please note that the information on this page is subject to change depending on current lockdown regulations.

Frequently asked questions


Daily updates

Friday, 5 February 14:20, 5 February 2021
Monday, 4 January 16:50, 4 January 2021
Friday, 18 December 11:30, 18 December 2020
Thursday, 19 November 09:30, 19 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 12:40, 13 November 2020
Friday, 16 October 10:05, 16 October 2020
Wednesday, 14 October 12:50, 14 October 2020
Tuesday, 22 September 14:10, 22 September 2020
Friday, 11 September 10:05, 11 September 2020
Monday, 31 August 12:20, 31 August 2020
Wednesday, 12 August 10:20, 12 August 2020
Friday, 7 August 11:24, 7 August 2020
Thursday, 6 August 18:26, 6 August 2020
Monday, 27 July 14:00, 27 July 2020
Wednesday, 15 July 09:30, 15 July 2020
Monday, 13 July 14:25, 13 July 2020
Monday, 6 July 16:20, 6 July 2020
Thursday, 25 June 10:15, 25 June 2020
Tuesday, 23 June 12:30, 23 June 2020
Thursday, 18 June 17:35, 18 June 2020
Wednesday, 17 June 10:45, 17 June 2020
Tuesday, 2 June 12:20, 2 June 2020
Friday, 29 May 09:25, 29 May 2020
Monday, 25 May 14:00, 25 May 2020
Thursday, 21 May 12:00, 21 May 2020
Wednesday, 6 May 10:00, 6 May 2020
Tuesday, 5 May 17:05, 5 May 2020
Thursday, 30 April 17:10, 30 April 2020
Tuesday, 28 April 10:30, 28 April 2020
Friday, 24 April 09:35, 24 April 2020
Thursday, 23 April 17:00, 23 April 2020
Wednesday, 22 April 14:25, 22 April 2020
Monday, 20 April 17:45, 20 April 2020
Friday, 17 April 12:30, 17 April 2020
Thursday, 16 April 09:45, 16 April 2020
Tuesday, 14 April 11:30, 14 April 2020
Thursday, 9 April 09:00, 9 April 2020
Wednesday, 8 April 15:40, 8 April 2020
Wednesday, 1 April 15:50, 1 April 2020
Friday, 27 March 11:40, 27 March 2020
Thursday, 26 March 18:30, 26 March 2020
Tuesday, 24 March 15:40, 24 March 2020
Monday, 23 March 15:40, 23 March 2020
Friday, 20 March 16:00, 20 March 2020
Thursday, 19 March 09:15, 19 March 2020
Wednesday, 18 March 16:00, 18 March 2020
Tuesday, 17 March 12:50, 17 March 2020
Monday, 16 March 17:15, 16 March 2020

Campus communications


New SRC and other updates 16:44, 4 November 2020
Virtual graduation ceremonies 13:30, 21 October 2020
Online staff assembly and other updates 15:09, 30 September 2020
Fee adjustments and other updates 15:21, 16 September 2020
Call for proposals: TLC2020 10:15, 26 August 2020
SAULM survey and other updates 15:30, 5 August 2020
COVID-19 cases and other updates 15:26, 5 August 2020
New UCT Council and other updates 15:12, 15 July 2020
Upcoming UCT virtual events 09:30, 15 July 2020
Pre-paid data for UCT students 14:25, 22 April 2020
Update for postgraduate students 12:55, 20 April 2020
UCT Human Resources and COVID-19 16:05, 19 March 2020
UCT confirms second COVID-19 case 09:15, 19 March 2020
Update on UCT COVID-19 response 13:50, 11 March 2020
Update on COVID-19 17:37, 6 March 2020


Video messages from the Department of Medicine

Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19

The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.

To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.

Useful information from UCT

External resources

News and opinions

Statements and media releases

Media releases

Read more  

Statements from Government


In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”


We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.