Supporting research excellence

With an increased focus at the University of Cape Town on the internationalisation of research and interdisciplinarity, the support we offer researchers has become more complex and, at the same time, also more important. Traditionally, institutional support for research has been understood to function best as an invisible hand. However, visibility has become essential in order to connect researchers with resources and with each other, to achieve transparency in research administration, and to promote the dissemination and impact of research findings and outcomes. UCT’s commitment to these activities has prompted a range of new engagements between the Research Office and other professional and administrative departments to develop and promote a seamless service to researchers.

Another key focus of research support is the university’s aims for the transformation of academic cohorts and the development of a next generation of scholars and researchers. In alignment with these aims, the Research Office provides a range of support to researchers at different stages in their careers. The Emerging Researcher Programme, the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Capacity and the Supervision Training Programme contribute significantly to this goal, which includes providing comprehensive support to postgraduate students and postdoctoral research fellows. A number of externally funded programmes also play a crucial role in growing the next generation of researchers, including the Mellon Visiting and Retired Scholars Mentorship Project, which draws to an end in 2014. Over the last seven years, 39 mentors have supervised 229 mentees, and we are very grateful to the Mellon Foundation for funding this project.


In addition to the ongoing financial support received from the Carnegie Corporation for the Growing the Next Generation of Academics programme, UCT was recently awarded US$23 million by the MasterCard Foundation to develop both undergraduate and postgraduate students from South Africa and other countries in Africa, particularly those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Both these programmes demonstrate UCT’s and the funders’ commitment to strengthen higher education on the continent and to ensure that UCT attracts a culturally and internationally diverse community of scholars.

The University Research Committee (URC) plays an important role in the strategic distribution of internal research funds, which are allocated to researchers through a competitive, proposal-driven process in ways that advance UCT’s research strategy. The strategy aims to advance the next generation of academics, boost internationalisation and increase visibility and research excellence. Enhanced research quality, transformation, impact and engagement are all cross-cutting strategic imperatives. Internal research funding helps individual researchers and faculties to plan their research activities and manage the production of their research outputs. The Senate ethics committees are also vital to enabling and supporting research at UCT. These committees, serviced by the Research Office, provide policy-level oversight and guidance to all UCT faculties across the full range of topics in the responsible conduct of research and also receive appeals from faculty-level ethics committees. In addition, the Reseach Office provides researchers with tools such as Research Professional Africa, an online system that enables access to external funding sources through searchable databases and global compilations of research funding programmes, as well as science and technology news and innovation policy documents.

Research support in South Africa also entails participation in the rating processes of the National Research Foundation (NRF). The NRF evaluates researchers based on their recent research track record. UCT supports this unique measure of research quality and impact through a rigorous internal review process that draws on the best possible expertise in preparing submissions. This support includes providing bibliometric assistance to applicants, including web-based tips for academics to identify their own H indices and citation counts. We are proud of the high number of our researchers who have achieved an NRF rating: this figure currently stands at 457, the highest number in the country.

UCT recognises the importance and value of focusing its efforts and resources in order to keep raising the bar for the quality and impact of its research. A range of structures help to achieve this goal, including six Signature Themes for research and two national models for focusing expertise and resources: the DST/NRF Centres of Excellence and the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) (see pp38-9).

In response to an increase in demand for eResearch support, UCT has taken on the challenge of providing researchers with the information and communication technologies they need to conduct their work and, in 2013, began establishing an eResearch Centre (further described on p61). The eResearch Centre is one strategy to help researchers deal with the huge flow of data in all fields of research. These data sets are making it increasingly important for researchers to be able to store their data digitally, to analyse the data (sometimes through visualisation to enable it to be understood more fully) by making use of high-end computing and to collaborate virtually with research partners across the world.


Underpinning all these efforts is the work of the newly established Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which aims to promote the responsible conduct of research at the university and to ensure that university research policy documents and ethics guidelines are up to date and compliant, as well as accessible to users. Based in the Research Office, the ORI has conducted a review of ethics policies at UCT, laying the groundwork for a comprehensive conflict-of-interest policy that will cover the participation of UCT scholars in, among other initiatives, research projects that involve multiple sites in different jurisdictions. The ORI supports both UCT research and internationalisation, particularly initiatives that rely on research consortia, steering committees for scholarly resources and data-sharing agreements; it has also identified opportunities for input on relevant policy developments (see right).

The Research Office strives to make research administration as effective and efficient as possible, ensuring that the best service and support is provided at every level and through a variety of mechanisms. In doing so, it works increasingly closely with other key strategic partners at UCT, such as Research Contracts and Intellectual Property Services (RCIPS), the International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO), Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS), UCT Libraries, and the Finance Department. The office is grateful to its partners and stakeholders who share its vision and passion for providing streamlined support to researchers. Importantly, it recognises and thanks the funders and donors who have contributed this past year to supporting the UCT research enterprise.