Excellent, loyal, nurturers of a new generation

07 November 2019 | Story Helen Swingler. Photos Je’nine May. Read time 5 min.
UCT’s ranking as Africa’s top university was thanks to the support and excellence of its 35 National Research Foundation A-rated researchers, VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng said at an event in their honour.
UCT’s ranking as Africa’s top university was thanks to the support and excellence of its 35 National Research Foundation A-rated researchers, VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng said at an event in their honour.

Thanks to the invaluable role of its National Research Foundation (NRF) A-rated scholars, the University of Cape Town (UCT) can face the future with confidence, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said at the annual celebration of the institutionʼs top scholars.

These researchers are world leaders in their fields, comprising almost one-third of the country’s A-rated scholars.

“We want to thank you for what you do; acknowledge your work, and the quality of your work which put us on the map,” Phakeng said.

She added that their commitment to the university and their valuable leadership were cornerstones of the institution and its position as Africa’s leading university, established in all five global rankings.

“You give us comfort as the executive that we can face the future confidently.”

The event was hosted at her Glenara home and the guests included UCT’s P-rated researchers (potential world leaders in their fields, under the age of 35), as well as the 2019 cohort of Future Scholars. These are Dr Nomusa Makhubu (fine art), Dr Asanda Benya (sociology) and Dr Geoff Howarth (geological sciences).

Excellent, loyal, nurturers of a new generation
A-rated researchers (from left) Prof Daya Reddy, Prof Dan Stein, Prof Gary Maartens and Prof Harold Kincaid, with Carolyn Newton of the Research Office.

Rankings matter

Phakeng said 2019 had been a good year for UCT, especially in the field of research, one of the major contributors to its standing as the continent’s top university.

“When we talk about rankings, we pretend they don’t matter but they do things for a university: They attract goodwill, donors and good partners, and collaborators,” she stressed.

But this was all thanks to the work of the top scholars.

 

“Universities are not great in and of themselves; they are great because of the people who make different contributions – and your contribution is scholarship.”

“Universities are not great in and of themselves; they are great because of the people who make different contributions – and your contribution is scholarship,” Phakeng said.

She commended them for their leadership and for mentoring a young generation of UCT scholars who would take up the mantle in the future.

Excellent, loyal, nurturers of a new generation
P-rated researcher Dr Geoff Howard (geological sciences) (left), in conversation with A-rated scholar Dist Professor Philippe-Joseph Salazar (private law).

Referring to recent changes in the NRF’s funding policies and their impact on the number of researchers applying for NRF ratings, Phakeng said the UCT executive had decided to invest R30 million a year from 2019 to 2021 into UCT’s research and international portfolio. She challenged the gathering to be creative about using these resources.

NRF funding cuts had also affected postgraduate funding. Last year the university bolstered funding for honours students and this year master’s and doctoral students had been assisted.

“But that’s not enough,” Phakeng said, adding that UCT continued to contest criteria for PhD grants.

“We have to get other institutions to lobby with us because if we do it alone there’s a chance of being sidelined and seen as people who want special treatment. We’ve got to find a way to influence the NRF into rethinking postgraduate student funding.”

Valued excellence

Addressing the gathering next, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation Professor Sue Harrison said: “As a university we talk about valuing excellence, sustainability and transformation – and the excellence part is important to us. It’s the people who are here today who build that so strongly and we are very proud of our A-rated researchers.”

Harrison said that the Vice-Chancellorʼs introduction of the Future Leaders programme supported this drive for sustained excellence.

 

“Despite high teaching loads, resource constraints and all the demands, it is a tribute to you that you manage to achieve what you do.”

“Despite high teaching loads, resource constraints and all the demands, it is a tribute to you that you manage to achieve what you do.”

She invited the group to contribute ideas that would help UCT maintain its excellence and to facilitate the next generation of researchers.

Excellent, loyal, nurturers of a new generation
A-rated scholar Prof Igor Barashenkov (centre) in conversation with DVC Prof Sue Harrison and fellow A-rated scholar Emer Prof Doug Butterworth. Barashenkov and Butterworth are both in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics.

Research would also play an important role in UCT’s Vision 2030, she said. She encouraged the scholars to participate in conversations about how UCT positions itself to address the changing world and the country’s many demands, in addition to its own research agenda.

“What should we continue doing and what are we not doing? And your voice matters.”

To end, Harrison affirmed their commitment and loyalty to the institution.

“We appreciate that you could be living in much easier research environments, but you’re part of UCT, you’re part of nurturing our next generation [of scholars], you’re part of nurturing our students and we toast you and everything you do for excellence.”


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