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SARIMA Research Meetings: Changes Expected

The recent Research Managers, Deans and Directors’ Forum Meeting provided a great platform to share learning, experiences and strategies for research, research management and collaboration in times of uncertainty - and opportunity.

If what was discussed at the recent Research Managers, Deans and Directors’ Forum Meeting is anything to go by, the future of research at tertiary institutions will look very different to what’s gone before.

The environment for university research has changed: sponsorship is limited due to such matters as the Fees Must Fall Movement and the subsequent loss of investor confidence; many research projects are just too big for one institution to handle; and a more strategic approach to research management may make all the difference.

These were some of the concerns raised at the Research Managers, Deans and Directors’ Forum Meeting, co-hosted by the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the South African Research & Innovation and Managers’ Association (SARIMA). The event took place on 29 and 30 March 2017 at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Upper Eastside in Woodstock, Cape Town.

UWC’s Director of Research, Prof Thandi Mgwebi, kicked off the conference with a brief overview of the research challenges facing higher education institutions in South Africa.

At UWC, she noted, public funding contributes 42%, the highest proportion of institutional income, followed closely by student fees (contributing 41.5%). And as a result of disruptions related to the Fees Must Fall movement and the debate and discussion that resulted, some internal projects have been cut and others are experiencing income shortfalls.

Prof Mgwebi also touched on the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP), which aims to enhance development initiatives in universities. R900 million has been invested in the UCDP and this grant (along with the teaching grant) is the major means to closing the lack of financial grants within institutions.

Prof Mgwebi summed up the meeting as a great platform for university deans, directors and research managers to share learning, experiences and strategies for research and research management, and for collaborating in times of uncertainty and change.

“This is where university reps have the opportunity to report on current strategic projects and the future thereof,” she said. “The focus here is on sharing information pertaining to strategic issues related to government and its impact on supporting research and research management and we’re looking forward to staying involved.”  

Universities working together for a brighter research future

Several other stakeholders led sessions at the meeting, including: the Department of Science and Technology (DST); Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET); SARIMA; Universities South Africa Forum (USAf) and the National Research Foundation (NRF).

A discussion by Monash SA on the strategic value of public private partnerships among higher education institutions, was one of many topics which sparked great interest - and will most likely continue to do so in the upcoming meeting scheduled for October.

Also covered: how international sponsors who want to invest in local projects could continue doing so if the local sponsors are not doing the same - a question that is especially relevant for those research areas where funding is extremely scarce.

One suggested solution discussed at the meeting: more inter-institution cooperation, whereby universities conducting research on the same topic, for example, would work more closely together, sharing funding and new information emerging from their respective research.

“If university research is to survive and thrive,” Prof Mgwebi noted, “research institutions will have to be more collaborative - even while depending and competing for the same sources of funding.”