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RESEARCH OFFICE

The work of the Research Office is underpinned by the University’s vision of maintaining and improving its international reputation as a research-led university. The Office fulfils various roles in order to keep the wheels of research at UCT well oiled. Its work includes developing capacity and running research development programmes, accrediting and evaluating the University’s research groupings, tracking the University's publication count, building proposals, forging new and strategic partnerships, expanding access to national and international grants, and facilitating UCT’s engagement with the global rankings.

Two of our flagship projects are the Emerging Researcher Programme (ERP), which was launched in 2003 to develop young researchers at the start of their career, and the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Capacity (PERC), launched in the latter half of 2008 and designed to provide a career boost to mid-career academics. Through the work of a dedicated team of coordinators with established research credentials, these initiatives draw on the expertise of current and retired senior academics to transfer skills and build research capacity. With scores of new participants in the ERP and a full programme of activities in PERC, activity on both these initiatives accelerated in 2010.

Participation in the ERP has increased steadily since it was established. It offers two streams of support, one for the social sciences, law, humanities and commerce and another for the natural and health sciences and engineering. From 45 participants in its founding year, 432 academics received some form of support from the ERP during 2010, with 68 academics joining through the year. With a very positive demographic profile, the ERP has played an important role in developing the academic and research profiles of black and women academics in particular. The extent of the ERP’s reach is reflected in Figure 1, which shows that in 2010 the number of academics on the ERP’s ‘books’ (in other words, those who had signed up with the ERP and benefited from it in some way or other since 2003) amounted to 42% of all permanent academics at UCT.
 
Figure 1: Emerging Researcher Programme, 2003–2010
 
 

In 2010, PERC’s activities covered three broad areas: mid-career support, financial and intellectual support for Africa-based research and the production of Africa-centred knowledge. To boost the programme’s effectiveness, a full-time co-ordinator was appointed in January 2010.

PERC’s mid-career support initiatives were set up in response to requests from researchers for ongoing structured support for their research after progressing through the ERP. In 2010 this support included a series of mid-career seminars and workshops that covered various topics, presented by visiting international staff. Throughout the year, PERC made considerable progress in strengthening collaborative networks with partners in the global south and particularly in Africa.

In a continued effort to enhance cross-faculty and interdisciplinary collaborations, PERC also set up a reading and writing group in 2010 that has produced several papers through the year. These papers will be collated into an edited volume that will strengthen UCT’s position as a preferred southern partner for research on globally important themes. In collaboration with the donor-funded Sawyer Seminar Series in 2009–2010, the Research Office also launched a database that catalogues and provides access to scholarship from the global south in 2010 which is not readily available by conventional search engines.

Two other programmes run by the Research Office offer additional peer support to UCT researchers: the Mellon Visiting and Retired Scholars Mentorship Project and the African Research Project on Knowledge Production.

The Office is grateful to the AW Mellon Foundation for its continued support of the Mellon Visiting and Retired Scholars Mentorship Project, which provides structured mentorship to young UCT researchers by internationally recognised scholars. The project attracted high participation in 2010. Ten mentors were hosted by various UCT faculties and departments and mentored a number of emerging or mid-career staff. The project promises to bear excellent results over the next two years.

The African Research Project on Knowledge Production, which forms part of the work of PERC, entered its second year in 2010. Its goals are to encourage collaborative, cross-disciplinary research that interrogates and disrupts dominant, Eurocentric knowledge concepts. We are grateful for Carnegie’s continued support of the initiative, totalling R600,000 per annum. This is distributed in four annual grants of R150,000 and remains a welcome source of funding for team-based research proposals covering diverse topics with direct and immediate relevance to the South African and African context. In addition to the four new awards made in 2010, substantial progress was made on projects that received funding in 2009.

In addition to the work it does to support and enable researchers, the Research Office provides strategic support for research administration and management. In 2009 the Research Office submitted a successful application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for an International Extramural Associates Research Development Award, which aims to provide training for grant managers in NIH policies and procedures and to build up existing administrative infrastructure in the Research Office. UCT has already seen evidence of the impact of this award during its first year, with an almost 100% increase in NIH applications during 2010. A senior member of the Research Office also spent three weeks at the NIH offices in Washington DC getting exposure to and training in NIH policies and procedures, which are now being disseminated throughout UCT.

As international competition between universities is continually at the top of the UCT agenda, the Research Office took steps in 2010 to reinforce the framework for engagement with the international ranking systems, launched in 2008 by the University Research Committee (URC).

The Research Office also continued to manage UCT’s involvement with the Times Higher Education Survey Platform Group, aimed at developing a rounded picture of what a higher education institution does and how well it does it. These sometimes controversial rankings and the proliferation of league tables across the world demonstrate how knowledge is a key driver of economic growth and global competitiveness. With increased international visibility, UCT’s research effort needs to expand, strategically improving its international footprint.

While competitive rankings provide an insight into UCT’s performance on the global stage, it is also important to understand and measure how it is performing internally. UCT considers the periodic evaluation of its official research groupings essential in order to guarantee the quality of research and to achieve its aspiration of being research-led.  The Research Office facilitates a rigorous five-yearly peer-review evaluation process of the URC-accredited research groupings. Groups are evaluated on a number of criteria including their global footprint, their social engagement and their benefit to society.

At the end of 2010, the number of URC-accredited research groupings stood at 68. This number includes nine MRC/UCT groupings as well as five new research groupings which received URC-accreditation in the course of the year.

The first round of reviews of UCT’s Signature Themes was also completed at the end of 2010 – a process also facilitated by the Research Office.As per the Signature Theme policy, these groupings were required to undergo international peerreview after their first three years of existence. Hereafter, they will either transform into more conventional self-sustained entities or retain their signature theme status and seed-funding for another cycle.

Through interdisciplinary collaboration, performance benchmarking and evidence-based self-evaluation portfolios, UCT’s quality-assurance process will help to guarantee the quality of its research, reinforcing its standing as a research-led university.

In summary, the past year has been one of consolidation, in which progress was made on strategically important projects, and we have seen strong evidence of the success of these projects. We will continue to build on these successes as we move into the next year and beyond.

Dr MariletSienaert
Director, Research Office
 

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